12:37pm: MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian tweets that Cleveland won’t issue any qualifying offers. That means Brantley, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen will all reach free agency without the burden of draft compensation attached to them. The latter two were never really viewed as candidates for a QO, though each will be among the most intriguing relievers available this winter — even on the heels of a down season.
Brantley, 31, was a borderline case for a QO and may have received one were he on a team without such tight payroll constraints. The three-time All-Star bounced back from shoulder and ankle injuries in 2018 to post an excellent .309/.364/.468 batting line with 17 homers and a dozen steals in 631 plate appearances, marking his healthiest season since the 2014 campaign. He was amog the toughest players in the league to strike out, as he went down on strikes in just 9.5 percent of his plate appearances this past season.
Brantley’s ability with the bat has never been in question, but his durability has become a concern in recent seasons. “Dr. Smooth” averaged 148 games and 623 PAs per season from 2012-15 but suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery late in that 2015 campaign. He was limited to 11 games as a result the following season and was held to 91 games in 2017, due largely to a series of ankle issues.
Nonetheless, Brantley is a career .295/.351/.430 hitter and a .311/.371/.475 hitter dating back to a 2014 breakout that saw him finish third in American League MVP voting. The Indians, though, already project to carry what would be a club-record $145MM payroll for the 2019 season (including arbitration-eligible and pre-arb players) and likely didn’t feel comfortable risking nearly $18MM more on a player with Brantley’s injury history accepting that sizable one-year offer. Had he accepted, Brantley would’ve been ineligible to be traded without his consent until June 15 of next year.
The decision means that, barring a last-minute change of heart, Cleveland could lose Brantley to free agency without any form of draft-pick compensation. That’s not an ideal scenario for the Indians, though it’s a trickle-down effect of the recent success they’ve had atop the AL Central, as the franchise-record payroll is largely the product of investing heavily in Edwin Encarnacion and ponying up on contract extensions to retain aces Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.