12:50pm: Indians head athletic trainer James Quinlan told reporters, including Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (links to Twitter) that Brantley won’t begin swinging a bat for four months. The five-month timeline refers to Brantley getting into rehab games, Hoynes adds, meaning it’s more likely to be six before Brantley can play in a Major League contest.
Bastian adds, also via Twitter, that Brantley’s injury was diagnosed as a small tear in the labrum of his right shoulder.
12:15pm: Indians outfielder Michael Brantley underwent surgery to repair a right shoulder injury today, the team announced (Twitter link). He’ll be ready for game activity in five to six months, according to the club.
Brantley appeared to suffer the injury while coming up just short of robbing Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks of a triple on Sept. 22 (video link). Brantley would take his next plate appearance but came out of the game the following inning and would go on to start just two more games over the remainder of the season. As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian tweets, Brantley and the club both thought he could avoid surgery following the season, but the discomfort in his shoulder lingered two weeks into his rehabilitation program, prompting the surgical procedure.
The 28-year-old Brantley has broken out as one of the game’s best all-around players over the past two seasons, hitting a combined .319/.382/.494 with 90 doubles and 35 homers across a pair of excellent seasons. Among qualified hitters, only Victor Marintez has a lower strikeout rate than Brantley’s 8.4 percent since the beginning of Opening Day 2014, and no player has a higher contact rate than Brantley’s 91.9 percent in that time.
Clearly, the five- to six-month timeline is an unfortunate one for the Indians, as it means Brantley will be sidelined for all of Spring Training and likely for the early portion of the regular season as well. Losing your best player for the beginning of the regular season isn’t the way that any club wants to begin an offseason, especially not a team like the Indians, which fancies itself a possible contender in 2016 due to its strong core of controllable pitching.
The Indians were already expected to pursue outfield upgrades on the trade and free-agent markets this winter, and the loss of Brantley, even for a potentially short period of time, only figures to increase the club’s urgency to add depth in the outfield. While outfield targets like Alex Gordon, Dexter Fowler and Colby Rasmus could prove to be too costly for Cleveland’s tastes (both in terms of dollars and draft-pick forfeiture), second-tier names like Gerardo Parra, Alejandro De Aza and Nori Aoki make sense as players that can fill the temporary Brantley void and also handle other outfield positions if necessary.
Brantley is entering the third season of a four-year, $25MM contract. He’ll earn $6.5MM next season, $7.5MM in 2017 and is under control via an $11MM club option for the 2018 season as well.