Michael Brantley Rumors

Indians Notes: Francona, Free Agency, Lindor

The Indians should be poised to contend for the AL Central title next year because the Tigers and Royals are going to take a hit in free agency, opines Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in the latest edition of his “Hey, Hoynsie” column. Free agency won’t damage the White Sox, Hoynes adds, but they are in need of pitching to complement their power while the Twins are still putting together the pieces after four consecutive seasons of at least 92 losses.

Here’s more on the Indians from Hoynes:

  • Manager Terry Francona had clauses inserted into his contract when he was hired by the Indians allowing him to leave if President Mark Shapiro or GM Chris Antonetti are fired. Would Francona ever follow Joe Maddon’s lead? Hoynes notes Andrew Friedman left the Rays voluntarily and isn’t sure whether such a departure by either Shapiro or Antonetti would trigger Francona’s opt-out.
  • The Indians will not be bidding on the premier bats available in free agency (e.g. Pablo Sandoval (#5 on MLBTR’s 2014-2015 Top 50 Free Agents list), Victor Martinez (#6), Russell Martin (#8), and Nelson Cruz (#9), according to Hoynes, who sees the club setting their sights on the likes of Michael Morse (#28) and Ryan Ludwick (unranked) once other moves are made.
  • Jose Ramirez will be the Indians’ 2015 Opening Day shortstop, Francisco Lindor is probably ticketed for Triple-A, and Zach Walters, acquired in the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, will have to make the team as a bench player.
  • The Indians are not in the position of needing to trade their core players, so Hoynes would be surprised if Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, or Michael Brantley are dealt this winter.

Indians Notes: Kluber, Brantley, Willingham

Corey Kluber‘s emergence as the Indians‘ ace began on a rainy day with Triple-A Columbus in 2011, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian writes in a close at why Kluber has been so successful this season. That day in 2011 is when Kluber began experimenting with his two-seam sinker, which has since become the pitch that allows him to set up his cutter and curveball. Kluber also adds that he’s gotten much better at commanding his cutter this season. Here are more notes on the Indians.

  • The four-year, $25MM extension to which the Indians signed Michael Brantley in February now looks like a bargain, Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan writes in a piece for FOX Sports. Brantley has broken out in a big way, hitting .322/.380/.512 while producing 4.8 fWAR this season. Sullivan points out that Brantley’s offensive improvement this season has been bigger than any player’s except that of the Reds’ Devin Mesoraco. Brantley has increased his power while reducing strikeouts, and that’s a good combination for a player who already hit for a good average. Sullivan explains that Brantley’s increase in power has partially been the result of him being more of a pull hitter against fastballs. He’s also swinging at more strikes than he used to.
  • The Indians are on the fringes of the playoff race, but they decided they didn’t want Josh Willingham, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. The Twins ended up trading Willingham to the Royals. Cleveland offered Willingham a two-year deal prior to the 2012 season, but he ended up taking three from Minnesota. Willingham was very productive in the first season of that deal, but the Indians may have had a point about that third year — Willingham’s production has slipped since 2012.

Indians Extend Michael Brantley

The Indians have announced a four-year extension with outfielder Michael Brantley via press release. First reported on Monday, the deal will guarantee Brantley $25MM over its four years, and comes with an $11MM club option for 2018. The 26-year-old is a client of the Legacy Agency.

Brantley

Brantley has established himself as a solid ballplayer over his early career, though he has yet to post a true breakout campaign. Since becoming a full-time player in 2011, Brantley has posted a cumulative .280/.334/.394 triple-slash, with 23 home runs and 42 stolen bases over 1,716 plate appearances in that three-season period. Last year, he checked in with a .284/.332/.396 line, but did post a career-best 10 home runs and 17 swipes (he was caught only four times).

Making way for Michael Bourn, Brantley switched from center to left field last season and figures to remain there for the foreseeable future. Advanced defensive metrics view Brantley as an approximately average outfielder over the last few years, whether playing up the middle or in the corner. (In 2012, at center, Brantley posted a UZR of -0.7 and DRS of -1; in left last year, he notched a -4.1 UZR but was +2 per DRS.)

Brantley had been preparing to go to an arbitration hearing in his first year of eligibility, and was set up to qualify for free agency after the 2016 season. Instead, he will now be under team control through 2018. If Cleveland exercises that final-year option, Brantley will hit the open market after his age-31 season.

Brantley's contract calls for him to receive a $3.5MM signing bonus. His annual salary breakdown is as follows: $1.5MM (2014), $5MM (2015), $6.5MM (2016), and $7.5MM (2017). The 2018 club option is for $11MM and comes with a $1MM buyout. The structure of the deal gives Brantley a big payday up front, but spreads the $3.5MM signing bonus over the life of the deal for purposes of the CBA. That also means that Brantley's 2014 salary will not set a high bar for arbitration purposes: it lands at just $2.375MM, well under the respective $3.8MM and $2.7MM filing figures.

The most obvious comparable for Brantley's deal is the five-year, $25MM extension inked by Cameron Maybin with the Padres before the 2012 season. Though that deal covered an additional guaranteed year, Maybin was also a year further from free agency. Though featuring a Brantley-esque .264/.323/.393 triple-slash, Maybin's pre-extension season was better than anything that Brantley has put together: he also swiped 40 bags and played a stellar center that left him credited with better than four wins above replacement. Though Brantley has a longer track record, he has maxed out at about three WAR and is somewhat older than was Maybin.

But Maybin's deal is now two years out of date, a hugely significant factor given the observed increase in spending in the interim. (The four-year, $20.5MM Franklin Gutierrez extension signed in 2010 is even further out of date.) Viewed thusly, the Indians seem to have done fairly well to land Brantley for a term of years and amount of money that fits comfortably in the mold of earlier extensions.

Indeed, Brantley's extension is the first of three-or-more years signed by a player with less than six years of service since the massive extension signed by Freddie Freeman (and that of Clayton Kershaw, for that matter). As I wrote recently, though Freeman's deal potentially set the stage for less solid but non-premium young players to command somewhat greater extension guarantees, prior extension models remain valid until proven otherwise. The Brantley deal confirms that, as it seems to reflect mostly measured growth in the market.

Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer first reported the deal, as well as its length and guaranteed money, via Twitter, and was also first to report that the sides were close. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com was first to report the annual breakdown (on Twitter).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Indians Nearing Long-Term Extension With Michael Brantley

The Indians and outfielder Michael Brantley are closing in on a long-term deal, reports Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Twitter links). The deal could be for four years with an option, says Hoynes. Brantley is represented by the Legacy Agency.

As things stand, the sides still have to resolve a pending arbitration case ($3.8MM vs. $2.7MM) for the 26-year-old. Brantley, who slashed .284/.332/.396 last year in 611 plate appearances, is presently under team control through 2016. A four-year deal would cover one free agent year, with an option extending to another. 


Indians Rumors: Jimenez, Outfielders

The Indians are reportedly open to trading Justin Masterson and have been in contact with the Yankees, but there are reportedly no legs to those talks and Cleveland isn't near a trade of any player. A couple of other Tribe notes…


AL Notes: Brantley, Indians, Hendrickson, Angels

While the Indians didn't get much for Cliff Lee, they did get one significant player in their 2008 trade of another Cy Young winner, C.C. Sabathia, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer argues. That would be outfielder Michael Brantley. Pluto stops short of defending that trade (which also included Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson) but notes that Brantley's hitting has gradually improved — he's hitting .312/.366/.399 this season. Here are more notes from around the American League.

  • With the fifth pick in the upcoming draft, the Indians would consider selecting Jonathan Gray, Mark Appel or Kris Bryant, if any of them fall that far, Paul Hoynes of the Plain-Dealer reports. That seems unlikely, however. Beyond that, Indians scouting director Brad Grant says Cleveland will "take the best available player," although he doesn't tip his hand about who that might be.
  • Mark Hendrickson of the Orioles is busy in Triple-A trying to make it back to the major leagues at 38, Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com reports. Hendrickson signed a minor-league deal with the O's in February. Now he's pitching entirely as a sidearmer. Dubroff notes that Hendrickson has played for four NBA teams (the 76ers, Kings, Nets and Cavaliers) as well as five MLB teams (the Blue Jays, Rays, Dodgers, Marlins and Orioles). He last appeared in the big leagues with the Orioles in 2011.
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia is happy with his team's pitching depth, reports Robert Falkoff of MLB.com. Billy Buckner, who started on Saturday for the Angels, is the team's 10th starting pitcher of the season, and its 29th pitcher overall. "The organizational depth has been tested," says Scioscia. "It's an important part of what we need to do. I think we've seen the last couple of weeks that our pitchers have performed better. The fact that we've used so many is obviously not the template, but these guys are important to us."

Quick Hits: Scioscia, Brantley, Cosart, Marmol, Garza

Today is Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of Mexican heritage, pride, and culture. The holiday traces its roots to the Battle of Puebla in 1862 where the undermanned Mexican army defeated the French, regarded as having the world's premier army at the time. More than 100 Mexican nationals have played Major League baseball, including Cardinals' lefty Jaime Garcia and Brewers' righty Marco Estrada. The pair squared off against each other at Miller Park this afternoon in the first-ever matchup between two Mexican-born starting pitchers on Cinco de Mayo and the 37th such meeting overall (per the Brewers via the Elias Sports Bureau). Garcia was masterful scattering eight hits across eight innings in the Cardinals' 10-1 victory. Estrada, meanwhile, channelled the French army allowing eight runs and six hits while issuing a career-high five walks (two with the bases loaded). Adding insult to injury, Chorizo lost the Sausage Race (h/t Adam McCalvy of MLB.com via Twitter). Por otras partes en béisbol:

  • Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com believes Angels manager Mike Scioscia needs a fresh start and proposes the Dodgers as the most obvious possibility. Rosenthal notes owner Artie Moreno would recoil at the idea of Scioscia managing the crosstown rivals, but the Angels would be better for it if they could obtain a significant player or two in a John Farrell-style trade. 
  • Indians outfielder Michael Brantley hasn't heard anything about contract negotiations and that's by design, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes. "Once the season starts, it's time for me to concentrate on baseball," Brantley said. "I don't need distractions like that. If my agents have anything going on, they'll get in touch with me."
  • The Astros have dropped Erik Bedard from the starting rotation and need a starter for Friday's game against the Rangers. MLB.com's Brian McTaggart doesn't sense the Astros are in a rush to start the service clock of top prospect Jarred Cosart, who is 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA and 9.5 K/9 in 27 1/3 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City. Cosart's next scheduled start is tomorrow night. 
  • Cubs manager Dale Sveum told reporters, including Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald, Carlos Marmol's status remains unchanged a day after he failed to retire any of the three batters he faced (two walks and one HBP). "Obviously he had a bad outing and couldn’t throw strikes," said Sveum. "Like I said he’s one of the seven guys, and he’s got to pitch, and we’ll get him back out there in some fashion. You can’t hide people. They have to pitch." Marmol pitched a perfect sixth inning today.
  • Matt Garza will pitch his second minor league rehab start tomorrow for Triple-A Iowa, writes Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. Garza, number seven on MLBTR's 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, is scheduled to throw three innings.

Indians, Kipnis Table Extension Talks

The Indians and Jason Kipnis have put their extension talks on hold now that the regular season has started, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Kipnis and his agents at the Beverly Hills Sports Council had been in discussions as recently as March. Hoynes writes:

"Once the regular season started, the negotiations stopped," said Kipnis before Friday's game against the Rays. "We didn't want the distraction during the season. I think they felt the same way."

Kipnis tells Hoynes that he's interested in resuming extension talks following the 2013 season. The 26-year-old has a little more than one year of service time and isn't eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season.  Kipnis hit .257/.335/.379 with 14 homers in his first full season in 2012.

Hoynes adds that there's no word on whether or not talks with outfielder Michael Brantley are still in progress.  Brantley, 26 in May, will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after this season.  

The Indians worked out one other extension this winter when they agreed to a two-year pact with infielder Mike Aviles.  You can keep track of all contract extensions with MLBTR's Extension Tracker.

Zach Links contributed to this post.


Extension Candidate: Michael Brantley

When the Indians signed Michael Bourn this offseason, the move was a response to Bourn's free agent price dropping (to the tune of four years and $48MM) and to an overall desire to upgrade their outfield.  Acquiring Bourn didn't mean the Indians were at all dissatisfied with incumbent center fielder Michael Brantley — in fact, the Tribe aims to keep Brantley in the fold for a whiUspw_6608968le, as evidenced by the fact that the team is interested in a multiyear extension with the 25-year-old.

Brantley played in a career-high 149 games in 2012, hitting .288/.348/.402 with six homers, 60 RBI, 12 steals and 63 runs scored.  He swung at 7.9% more pitches inside the strike zone than he did in 2011 and cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 9.2%, so there is plenty of indication that Brantley is entering his prime as a hitter.  The UZR/150 metric doesn't like his defense in center field (-12.2 for his career as a CF) though he has a +3.3 UZR/150 as a left fielder, which will be his new position now that Bourn is in Cleveland.

As noted by FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal in his original report, the Indians are looking to lock up Brantley and Jason Kipnis to contracts that cover their arbitration years and more than one of their free agent years.  In Brantley's case, that would be a minimum of a five-year commitment, as Brantley is arb-eligible for the first time this coming offseason and is scheduled to reach free agency after the 2016 season.

Brantley has two years and 131 days of Major League service time under his belt.  When looking at the deals signed by other outfielders with between two and three years of service time on the MLBTR Extension Tracker, the two comparables that jump out are Curtis Granderson's five-year, $30.25MM extension with the Tigers in February 2008 and Cameron Maybin's five-year, $25MM extension with the Padres from last March (both deals included an option year).  It's worth noting that both players were center fielders at the time of their extensions, so Brantley's shift from a premium defensive position will cost him and his representatives at the Legacy Agency a negotiating chip.

Maybin's deal covered a free agent year, three arb years and one year of pre-arbitration eligibility, so a five-year Brantley extension would be more expensive due to the extra free agent year.  I would guess that Brantley's deal would've been larger anyway given his superior offensive numbers to Maybin, though in Maybin's defense, he delivered 40 steals and a strong CF glove in 2011 and had his batting output dampened by Petco Park.  (Brantley, interestingly, also had trouble hitting at his home ballpark, posting a .682 OPS at Progressive Field and an .815 OPS on the road in 2012.)

Like Brantley, Granderson was also entering his first year of arbitration eligibility and signed a deal that covered his three arb years and first two free agent years, plus a 2013 option year that was picked up by the Yankees for $15MM after last season.  The difference was that Granderson was entering his age-27 season at the time of his extension (Brantley turns 26 in May) and Granderson was a much more proven hitter, coming off a 23-homer, .913 OPS season in 2007.  Though Granderson has been criticized for his strikeouts and declining glove, he still posted a .832 OPS and 160 homers over the five guaranteed years of that contract, making it a nice bargain for the Tigers and Yankees.

With all this in mind, I'll split the difference between the Maybin and Granderson extensions and predict that the Tribe will sign Brantley to a five-year, $27.5MM deal.  The contract will almost surely include at least one option year given that Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti had added club or vesting options to almost all of the team's recent major signings, save for Asdrubal Cabrera's two-year extension.  The deal gives Brantley a nice payday and cements another young building block in place for the Tribe as they look to be regular contenders in the AL Central.

Photo courtesy of David Richard/USA Today Sports Images


Indians Talking Extension With Kipnis, Brantley

The Indians are discussing extensions with outfielder Michael Brantley and second baseman Jason Kipnis, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The team is interested in buying out all of the players’ arbitration years plus multiple free agent years, Rosenthal writes. Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported this past weekend that the Indians will approach the players about extension talks.

The Indians began discussing an extension with Brantley before they signed free agent Michael Bourn and moved Brantley from center field to left field, according to Rosenthal. It’s possible the position change will complicate talks with the Legacy Agency client. Brantley, who narrowly missed out on super two status last winter, will be arbitration eligible for the first time next offseason. He's on track to hit free agency after the 2016 season.

Kipnis has just one year and 69 days of MLB service, which means he's two years away from arbitration eligibility. Beverly Hills Sports Council represents Kipnis.

As MLBTR’s Extension Tracker shows, the Indians have not shied away from locking players up before and during their arbitration years. The club successfully extended many young players under former GM John Hart during the 1990s.