Indians left fielder Michael Brantley has been sidelined since May 10 due to inflammation in his surgically repaired shoulder, and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that there is now serious concern within the organization that Brantley will miss “a significant amount of time” due to the injury (links to Twitter).
Meanwhile, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti downplayed the significance of Brantley’s injury to FOX’s Ken Rosenthal (links to Rosenthal on Twitter): “Nothing really new. We are focused on working with Michael to help him get to the point where he’s not only healthy, but strong enough to make a meaningful impact on the balance of our season. We don’t have a clear timetable for that yet but are encouraged by [the] progress he continues to make.” As Rosenthal points out, though, it’s not in the Indians’ best interest to not acknowledge any kind of serious problem, as they may very well need to address their outfield on the summer trade market.
Brantley initially injured his shoulder in the final days of the 2015 season while laying out in an attempt at a diving catch in left field against the Twins, and while he didn’t immediately undergo surgery, it was determined in early November that surgical repair was the best option for him. The team announced on Nov. 9 that Brantley had undergone surgery to repair a small tear in his labrum, and his initial timeline to be ready for a rehab assignment was five to six months. However, Brantley was back in the Majors in about five and a half months, as Cleveland activated him from the disabled list on April 25. That aggressive timeline will now look questionable to some in retrospect, as Brantley batted just .231/.279/.282 in 43 plate appearances before landing back on the disabled list. Brantley was said to be battling fatigue in the shoulder prior to going back on the DL, and he said following his second placement on the disabled list that he did not question the earlier-than-expected date of his return because he had felt that he was indeed ready to go.
A prolonged absence for Brantley is the last thing the Indians need at this juncture. Cleveland lost center fielder Abraham Almonte to an 80-game PED suspension prior to Opening Day, and they’ve now lost Marlon Byrd, who had been enjoying a productive season, to a 162-game ban for a PED offense of his own (the second of his career). The team’s outfield mix currently includes Rajai Davis, Tyler Naquin and converted infielders Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez.
An extended stay on the disabled list for Brantley would only serve to further enhance the club’s need to add outfield help from outside the organization, though the Indians are known to be rather constricted in terms of payroll; the club opened the season with a payroll of about $96MM (when including salaries for sunk costs Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Chris Johnson), and the typically tight-budgeted team seems unlikely to be equipped to add a significant financial investment to the ledger. Of course, the Indians could always agree to pay a steeper price in terms of prospects in order to convince a trade partner to include significant financial relief in a trade for an outfield bat.
Beyond the financial component, however, it’s also simply unlikely that any realistic acquisition target for Cleveland would be able to replicate the production of a healthy Brantley. The 29-year-old broke out as one of baseball’s best hitters in 2014 and enjoyed an outstanding repeat season in 2015. Overall, he batted .319/.382/.494 with 35 homers and 38 steals (in 40 tries) from 2014-15 while drawing more walks (112) than strikeouts (107).
Brantley is earning $7.375MM in 2016, the third season of a three-year, $25MM contract signed prior to that 2014 breakout. He’s guaranteed $8.375MM next season, and Cleveland possesses an $11MM club option for the 2018 season that comes with a $1MM buyout.