Indians outfielder Michael Brantley looked to be moving toward a return to the field, but the Indians announced tonight that Brantley has suffered “a recurrence of right shoulder symptoms while progressing through hitting activities late last week.” Dr. Stephen O’Brien of the Hospital of Special Surgery in New York City examined Brantley yesterday and determined that his symptoms are consistent with chronic biceps tendinitis, per the team. Cleveland is gathering additional information and weighing its options, and president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said today that surgery is a possibility (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian).
The 2016 campaign is looking more and more like a lost year for Brantley, who emerged as one of the game’s best all-around players with a breakout 2014 campaign and delivered a similarly excellent season in 2015. Late last season, however, he injured his shoulder while making a diving attempt at a ball hit to the left-center gap in Minnesota, and he ultimately required offseason surgery to repair a tear in his labrum. Brantley came back a bit ahead of schedule, debuting in late April, but he appeared in just 11 games before landing back on the disabled list due to shoulder fatigue. Bastian tweets a timeline of the various setbacks and treatments Brantley has encountered in his quest to get back on the field, but another setback significantly reduces the likelihood that he’ll make a contribution to the club’s playoff push. Certainly, surgery would figure to take him out of the picture for the remainder of the 2016 season.
That Brantley has only played in 11 contests this season makes Cleveland’s current three-game lead on the AL Central all the more impressive. The Indians entered the season with one of the murkiest outfield mixtures in all of baseball but has received a tremendous breakout from former first-rounder Tyler Naquin as well as one of the finest seasons of Rajai Davis’ big league career, thus helping to soften the blow of losing Brantley — arguably the team’s best player. A healthy Brantley would only make Cleveland all the more imposing as the playoffs approach, but the perhaps surprising production they’ve gotten from their current outfield alignment lessens the need for Antonetti and his staff to seek outfield upgrades from outside the organization, even if Brantley doesn’t suit up again until 2017.