The Indians have announced that they have picked up the club options over both outfielder Michael Brantley and righty Josh Tomlin. The decision on Brantley, in particular, represents an important part of the team’s offseason puzzle.
Entering the winter, it seemed unclear whether the Cleveland organization would elect to retain Brantley at an $11MM price tag or pay him a $1MM buyout. While he’s one of their best players when healthy, shoulder and ankle issues have impacted him quite a bit in recent years. His ability to stay on the field will likely have a significant impact on the club’s fortunes in 2018.
Brantley, 30, emerged as one of the game’s most productive hitters in 2014-15, blending outstanding contact skills with good pop. But he missed almost all of 2016 and wasn’t quite as productive when on the field in 2017. Brantley still produced a strong .299/.357/.444 batting line with nine home runs and 11 steals over 375 plate appearances, but underwent a significant ankle procedure after the end of the season.
The decision on Tomlin didn’t require quite as much of a gut check. He’ll earn a relatively meager $3MM (rather than a $750K buyout) for his services in 2018 before qualifying for free agency. Cleveland can utilize him in the rotation or out of the bullpen, depending upon how things shake out.
The 33-year-old gave the Indians 141 frames over 26 starts in 2017, posting only a 4.98 ERA but carrying more promising peripherals. In particular, the soft-tossing control artist posted a solid 7.0 K/9 vs. 0.9 BB/9. That said, Tomlin will need to tamp down on the long ball (1.47 per nine in 2017).
Retaining Brantley puts the Indians at over $120MM in likely 2018 payroll as the offseason gets underway. (That rough estimate includes guaranteed contracts and projected arbitration payouts.) Cleveland will see Carlos Santana (assuming he declines an anticipated qualifying offer) and Jay Bruce hit the open market. With Brantley on the books, it seems unlikely that the Indians will be able to retain both of those players, though certainly it’s still possible to imagine one more significant position-player contract.
There are still plenty of moving parts in Cleveland. The team could conceivably line Brantley up at first base and slide Jason Kipnis into left. If Brantley stays in the outfield, then it’s unclear what’ll become of the veteran second baseman, who seems likely to be bumped off of his usual position by Jose Ramirez. Third base, too, is largely unresolved, though the organization has a few options there (including, perhaps, Ramirez — if Kipnis stays at second).