News of Michael Brantley’s ankle surgery and four- to five-month recovery timeline raised questions as to whether the Indians will exercise his $12MM club option for the 2018 season. Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti addressed the issue with reporters today, stating that the team is still “working through” the decision about whether to pick up Brantley’s option (link via Jordan Bastian of MLB.com). Antonetti also reemphasized that the team has “always envisioned [Brantley] being part of our organization, not only in 2018, but beyond.” Asked about potentially buying out Brantley’s option and negotiating an incentive-laden deal at a lower base rate, Antonetti declined to delve into hypothetical scenarios. Antonetti also noted that Brantley’s ankle didn’t trouble him when hitting, which is why he was included on the team’s ALDS roster.
The Indians announced on Thursday that outfielder Michael Brantley underwent arthroscopic surgery yesterday to stabilize the ligaments in his ailing right ankle. Brantley is expected to require four to five months of recovery time before he’s cleared to resume baseball activities, per the announcement. The news of surgery comes as a fairly notable surprise, as the Indians had deemed Brantley healthy enough to carry on their postseason roster in the American League Division Series against the Yankees.
The shorter end of the provided timeline would put Brantley on track to be ready for baseball activity just before position players report to Spring Training, though if his recovery extends to the five-month mark or even a bit beyond, he’d only be ready for the tail end of Spring Training.
Brantley’s timeline is of particular note given that the Indians hold a club option over him for the 2018 season. As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian points out (via Twitter), Brantley’s third-place finish in the 2014 American League MVP voting boosted the value of that option from $11MM to $12MM, though the $1MM buyout price remains unchanged. That option long appeared a virtual lock to be exercised, but Brantley’s durability issues in recent years will at least somewhat cloud the possibility given the team’s relatively tight payroll capacity. After the season, president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti told reporters that the team has envisioned Brantley as part of the organization not only in 2018 but beyond (Twitter link via Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal).
The 30-year-old Brantley suffered a severe shoulder injury while diving for a ball in left field late in the 2015 season and ultimately required a pair of shoulder surgeries. He was limited to just 11 games and 43 plate appearances in 2016, though he did return with a considerably healthier and more productive campaign in 2017. This past season, Brantley took the field for 90 games and hit .299/.357/.444 with nine homers and 11 steals in 375 plate appearances. His shoulder held up throughout the year, but he still missed nearly half the season due to the ankle issue that necessitated yesterday’s surgical procedure.
Certainly, the upside of a fully healthy Brantley is enormous. The former seventh-round pick broke out as one of baseball’s best pure hitters in 2014-15, and a one-year commitment worth $12MM would represent a clear bargain. However, the Indians already have a bit more than $73MM committed to next year’s payroll plus another roughly $33MM worth of projected arbitration salaries. Adding Brantley’s $12MM to the books would bring next year’s projected payroll to a fairly hefty $118MM before the team even began to address any offseason needs. Cleveland’s payroll this season opened at $124MM and came in around $133MM in total, but the team also had a bit of added revenue from last year’s deep World Series run — a benefit they obviously won’t enjoy this year.
[Related: Cleveland Indians payroll outlook]
Bastian has written that the Indians could explore the possibility of shifting Brantley from the outfield to first base, and doing so would cross off one notable offseason need while also allowing for the possibility of Jason Kipnis playing left field, Bradley Zimmer manning center, Jose Ramirez handling second base and Yandy Diaz slotting in at the hot corner. It would also mean less running and diving for Brantley, which could bode well for the health of both his ankle and his shoulder.
On the other hand, buying out Brantley’s option would leave the Indians with a bit more offseason maneuverability as they look to address potential holes at first base/DH and potentially in the corner outfield and the bullpen. The team has until three days after the conclusion of the World Series to ultimately make a call on Brantley’s option, but that decision certainly looks more complicated in light of a significant operation and a potential five-month recovery period.
The Indians’ ALDS loss to the Yankees may well go down as Carlos Santana’s last hurrah in Cleveland, an organization he has been a member of since 2008. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is slated to reach free agency next month and has the credentials to rake in one of the richest paydays of the offseason. It’s possible Santana’s next contract will come from the Tribe, of course, but the small-market club is only a year removed from handing fellow first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion a substantial deal. The Indians could opt for a cheaper free agent to replace Santana, then, or perhaps they’ll turn to someone already on their talent-rich roster for aid.
If Santana has played his last game as an Indian, the Octagon client’s void will be a difficult one for the team to fill. Not only is he a switch-hitter who has consistently provided above-average offensive production from both sides of the plate dating back to his 2010 debut, but Santana has also been quite durable. Since 2011, his first full season, Santana has appeared in no fewer than 143 games in any individual campaign. He played in 154 games this year, giving him six seasons with at least 150 appearances.
The 2017 season, in which he earned $12MM to close out a bargain contract (six years, $33MM-plus), didn’t begin in ideal fashion for Santana. His production was down through June, somewhat mirroring his team’s win-loss output. The Indians sat a mildly disappointing 42-36 through the season’s first three months before going on a 60-24 tear to wind up as the AL’s top seed.
Santana played a key role in the Tribe’s memorable second-half run, as he posted a wRC+ of 169 in July, 161 in August and 119 in September. For the year, he put up a 117 mark and slashed .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and a .196 ISO across 667 plate appearances. Santana continued to show off his signature plate discipline along way, walking in 13.2 percent of trips and striking out only 14.1 percent of the time. It was the second straight year in which Santana struck out in under 15 percent of PAs, making him one of the few hitters trending in the right direction in a league with skyrocketing K totals.
Including his most recent output, Santana has batted .249/.365/.445 with a .196 ISO, to go with a 15.2 percent strikeout rate against a 17 percent walk mark, in his 4,782-PA career. And while Santana’s not known for his glove work, the former catcher excelled at first this season, setting career highs in games (140), Defensive Runs Saved (10) and Ultimate Zone Rating (4.8). Between his work at the plate and in the field, Santana was worth 3.0 or more fWAR for the second straight year and the fourth time in his career. He has never registered a worse fWAR than 2.1 during a full season and has accrued 23.0 in Cleveland.
To this point, Santana’s numbers look rather similar to the production former teammate Nick Swisher logged before signing a four-year, $56MM contract with the Indians as a 32-year-old in January 2013. In 5,013 PAs from 2004-12, the switch-hitting Swisher racked up 25.0 fWAR and hit a Santana-like .256/.361/.467, adding a .211 ISO and solid walk and strikeout rates (13.3 percent and 21.1 percent, respectively). Of course, the Swisher experiment failed miserably in Cleveland, which is a reminder that even free agents with seemingly safe skillsets can rapidly decline.
Although the Swisher signing came almost a half-decade ago, something in the vicinity of his contract still looks like a fair benchmark for Santana’s next deal. While the Indians, Red Sox, Mariners and Angels are among a few potential fits, it’s worth noting that most teams were averse to spending big on first base/DH types a year ago. The leaguewide reluctance to splurge on those positions played a part in the Indians unexpectedly reeling in Encarnacion for a three-year, $65MM guarantee, and if it carries into this winter, it might enable them to re-up Santana at a reasonable rate. Further, it probably won’t help Santana’s cause that fellow first base options Eric Hosmer, Logan Morrison, Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda and teammate Jay Bruce will join him in free agency after quality seasons of their own.
Hosmer and Santana are the class of the group and the only two who figure to garner qualifying offers, which could also drive down their appeal on the market. But if Santana rejects a $17.4MM qualifying offer from the Tribe and manages to land a guarantee of at least $50MM from another team, the Indians would be entitled to a compensatory pick after the first round because they’re a revenue-sharing recipient. So, while losing Santana would be a tough blow for Cleveland, at least there’s a chance the franchise would get a nice consolation prize in return.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Indians were obviously disappointed by the way things ended this year, as the club was knocked out with three-straight ALDS losses. President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, GM Mike Chernoff, and skipper Terry Francona discussed the state of affairs heading into the offseason in a media session, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports.
Broadly, Antonetti suggested that he thinks the organization’s processes remain sound. He also cited strong performance by the roster in all three major facets of the game, while emphasizing a commitment to continue “look[ing] to get better.”
In terms of how much cash the Indians will have to work with, that evidently isn’t yet known. Unsurprisingly, though, there’s no inkling that the organization will do anything other than continue to try to win with the current core.
The group of organizational leaders discussed a variety of players and situations in the lengthy dialogue, which is well forth a full read at the above link. There’s ongoing interest in bringing back Carlos Santana, though Antonetti was non-committal on how that would progress. He did suggest that Santana could be considered for a qualifying offer, which has been set at $17.4MM. Who’s on first if he departs? Per Antonetti, the team has internal options, plus “there’s a litany of guys on the trade and free-agent market that we’ll explore.”
Jay Bruce proved a big presence for the club after his mid-season acquisition, but he’ll hit the open market as well. Chernoff expressed satisfaction with Bruce’s performance and noted there is some “mutual interest,” though it certainly seems that both sides will also explore their alternatives as well. Francona offered high praise for pending free agent reliever Bryan Shaw for his steadiness and constant readiness to enter the game. Given that, it seems possible to imagine a return, though that wasn’t addressed directly. Antonetti did say the team will “absolutely” consider re-signing Austin Jackson, who he credited for a strong bounceback year.
A few other players could present interesting questions. Somewhat notably, Antonetti said it was a “significant decision” whether to exercise Michael Brantley’s $11MM option. While he credited Brantley’s work ethic, he noted that “just getting healthy” remains a priority for the oft-injured outfielder. Likewise, there’s some uncertainty surrounding Jason Kipnis, who is under contract but doesn’t have a clear position. The versatility is a good thing, says Antonetti, but the organization also needs to consider “what opportunities are out there externally for us” in all regards before deciding how it will line up its roster. Yandy Diaz is another versatile asset, Chernoff notes, though Francona suggested he hopes to give the youngster a single position to focus on — indicating he may best be suited to the hot corner.
Also, Francona (who will, as expected, remain in his position) fielded some questions on the team’s postseason performance. In particular, he emphasized that there’s no reason to believe at present that Corey Kluber — who faltered in Game 5 and has dealt with arm slot difficulties — is anything other than healthy. Francona also noted that he has never before been so physically drained by a baseball season, saying that he intends to work on his own conditioning over the offseason. You’ll want to check out the link for more on that and other topics of discussion.
Earlier tonight, we took a look at the Tigers’ managerial search, breaking down the list of candidates that are slated to interview and those that have been more casually linked to the vacancy in Detroit. The Phillies, too, have an opening in the dugout after surprisingly removing Pete Mackanin from that role and transitioning him to a front office role. Philadelphia had extended Mackanin just four months earlier, making the decision all the more unexpected.
As with the Tigers (and eventually with all of the managerial searches of the offseason), we’ll track the majority of the managerial chatter in a single place over the course of the search and update accordingly as the hunt progresses. Here’s the most up-to-date chatter on the Phils…
Will Interview/Have Interviewed
- The Phils have already interviewed Athletics bench coach Chip Hale, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. The 52-year-old fell out of favor with the Diamondbacks after just two years on the job, exiting along with GM Dave Stewart after a disappointing 2016 campaign.
- Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway is slated to interview with the Phils. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reported the initial interest, with Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reporting that Philadelphia has officially asked for permission to discuss the opening with Callaway. Now that the Indians have been bumped from the postseason, the path is cleared to discussions. As Hoynes notes, the 42-year-old Callaway has had quite some success with an excellent Indians pitching staff.
- The Phillies already have one strong internal candidate in Jorge Velandia, reports Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Currently a special assistant to GM Matt Klentak, Velandia interviewed for the opening on Wednesday and is a “strong candidate,” according to Salisbury, though other interviews are sure to be conducted with external candidates. Nonetheless, Salisbury writes that the 42-year-old Velandia is well versed in player development and has embraced the analytical side of the game. His work with Klentak and the rest of the front office should bode well for communication. He’s spent time on the Phillies’ big league coaching staff in the past and has also spent six seasons as a manager in the Venezuelan Winter League.
- Current Phillies third base coach Juan Samuel has also interviewed for the opening, as Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Daily News recently reported. Samuel, 56, has been on the Phillies’ coaching staff since 2011 after coming over from the Orioles, where he worked with Andy MacPhail, who was then the Orioles’ president and now holds that same role with the Phillies. Samuel spoke to Brookover about his own openness to incorporating more data-driven decisions into on-field decisions. “If you have something available to you that gives you an advantage over other clubs, you should definitely use it,” he said.
- Both Salisbury and Brookover list Triple-A manager Dusty Wathan as another internal candidate that is expected to interview. It’s not known yet whether the 44-year-old has interviewed, but he’s spent the past 10 seasons managing at various levels throughout the Phillies’ system, so he obviously has plenty of familiarity with the Phillies’ homegrown players and a number of the front office execs that have been with the club for an extended period of time.
Preliminary Candidates (Interview Status Unknown)
- In addition to a few of the other names already covered here, Heyman hears that the Phils have some level of interested in Red Sox bench coach Gary DiSarcina and possibly former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. Boston is in the midst of its own managerial hiring process, with the club leaving coaches like DiSarcina free to explore their options with other organizations.
- Like the Tigers, the Phillies are interested in speaking to Rockies bench coach Mike Redmond, per FanRag’s Jon Heyman. There’s been no definitive word of an interview, but the former Marlins manager has been building his dugout resume since calling it quits as a player back in 2010. At 46, he’d give the Phillies a considerably younger voice than they’ve had under recent skippers like Mackanin, Ryne Sandberg and Charlie Manuel.
Not in the Mix/No Longer in Consideration
- Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice.com reported recently that the Phillies won’t consider bench coach Larry Bowa or former GM Ruben Amaro Jr. for the post. Klentak has stated a desire for a “new voice” and a “new style” in the dugout, Lawrence notes, which wouldn’t be accomplished with the 71-year-old Bowa. As for Amaro, while he’d been previously connected to the role and is reportedly on the Tigers’ radar, Lawrence definitively characterized the chances of Amaro being on the team’s radar as nonexistent.
Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that with the Indians’ season now over after a stunning Yankees comeback, the Cleveland front office now faces the daunting task of determining which players they’ll retain for the 2018 season (and beyond, in some cases). The Indians hold an $11MM club option over oft-injured but supremely talented left fielder Michael Brantley, as well as a $3MM option over right-hander Josh Tomlin. Beyond that, Cleveland will have to gauge whether a middle ground can be found when negotiating possible deals to retain Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Bryan Shaw, Austin Jackson and Joe Smith each of whom will be a free agent when the World Series ends. Hoynes spoke to Brantley, Bruce, Santana, Shaw and Tomlin about the possibility of returning, and each unsurprisingly expressed a resounding desire to return. “I started a quest back in 2009,” said Brantley of his debut year in Cleveland. “I want to finish the right way. I don’t want to go out like this if it’s my choice. It’s not.”
Indians outfielder Brandon Guyer is set to undergo surgery on his left wrist, Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal reports on Twitter. The club provided a bit more detail in an announcement, noting that the procedure will involve a repair of the extensor tendon.
At this point, it’s not clear how long Guyer will miss; more will be known after he emerges from surgery. Regardless of the prognosis, he’s under contract for next season under the two-year, $5MM deal he signed in January. Cleveland also possesses a $3MM option (with a $250K buyout) for 2019.
Obviously, the injury news means that Guyer won’t be a part of the Indians’ postseason run, though that had largely become clear already. The 31-year-old endured an injury-limited and disappointing 2017 campaign. Through 192 plate appearances, he slashed just .236/.326/.327 with a pair of long balls.
Prior to the current season, Guyer has been a source of solidly above-average hitting line he carried to that point. While he has never done much damage against same-handed pitching, Guyer has been a weapon against lefties, posting a lifetime .281/.379/.448 batting line.
Right-hander Adam Plutko has undergone his own surgery, the team further noted. In his case, a procedure to repair his right hip labrum is likely to sideline him for four to six months. Plutko briefly cracked the majors last year but struggled to a 5.90 ERA in 135 2/3 Triple-A frames in 2017.
Here are the latest minor league moves from around the game, with the most recent transactions at the top of the post…
- The Indians outrighted right-hander Joe Colon to Triple-A Columbus, per a team announcement. Colon was designated for assignment earlier this week. The righty made 28 relief appearances for Columbus this season before being suspended on July 1 for a PED violation; this was the second PED suspension of Colon’s career, as he missed 50 games in 2016 following his initial violation. Colon, a 12th-round pick for Cleveland in the 2009 draft, has a 3.44 ERA over 568 1/3 career innings in the Tribe’s minor league system, and he pitched 10 innings for the big league club in 2016.
Rockies bench coach Mike Redmond is drawing interest from two manager-needy teams, the Phillies and Tigers, Jon Heyman of FanRag reports. Redmond isn’t far removed from managing the Marlins, who went 155-207 on his watch from 2013-15. The former big league catcher played with the Marlins from 1998-2004, giving him familiarity with Tigers general manager Al Avila. The executive was in Miami’s front office for a portion of Redmond’s tenure as a player there.
More from around baseball:
- With the Indians and Yankees facing off in the American League Division Series, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com flashes back five years to a decision that has impacted both franchises. The Indians signed former Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56MM deal in December 2012, a move that didn’t pan out for Cleveland but did help lead to the Aaron Judge era in the Bronx. By letting Swisher walk in free agency, the Yankees earned a compensatory draft pick in 2013, the 32nd selection, with which they chose Judge. Unsurprisingly, Cleveland passed on Judge at No. 5 in the first round (the Indians grabbed a different now-Yankees outfielder in Clint Frazier, whom the Tribe traded in a 2016 deal for reliever Andrew Miller), though one member of the club’s scouting department was particularly enamored of the hulking slugger. “One of our scouts liked him over [No. 1 overall pick Mark] Appel, which is crazy to think about,” Indians president Chris Antonetti told Castrovince. “It’s not necessarily how we had him on our board, but one of our scouts felt strongly about it. There were some questions about his size, but he also did a lot of things really well, and he was renowned for having a great makeup.”
- There haven’t been any contract discussions between the Rockies and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez since spring training, according to Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. The Rockies offered CarGo an extension back then, but he turned it down and proceeded to endure the worst season of his career. The 31-year-old impending free agent batted an uncharacteristically poor .262/.339/.423 in 534 plate appearances, but he did fare much better after the All-Star break (.314/.390/.531 in 207 PAs).
- The Diamondbacks won 93 games during the regular season and broke a five-year playoff drought, leading Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic to highlight some of the good work done by their past decision-makers. While first-year GM Mike Hazen is responsible for the J.D. Martinez, Ketel Marte, Daniel Descalso, Jeff Mathis, Taijuan Walker and Fernando Rodney acquisitions, among others, predecessors Josh Byrnes, Jerry Dipoto, Kevin Towers and Dave Stewart each have a hand in the current on-field product in Arizona – something Hazen realizes. “There are contributions all over the place,” he told Piecoro. “They should be proud of that, I think. We all know in the game things happen. Changes get made. For whatever reason, they get made. But it still doesn’t change the fact that there was good done, too.”
According to two tweets (separate links) from beat reporter Jason Beck of MLB.com, Cleveland Indians designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion’s MRI revealed no structural damage. He’s considered day-to-day with a sprained ankle. Encarnacion said he was relieved at the results, having initially feared something much worse. His goal is to get the swelling down with an expectation that he’ll play again this postseason.
Terry Francona had this to say on Encarnacion’s status when he met with reporters today (credit to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com, who tweeted an image with the full quote).
“He is, I would say, I don’t know if ’remarkably’ better is a good word, but pretty close. He’s doing much better today. I don’t think he’s going to start tomorrow, but he’s not been ruled out, either. So, we’ll take our time and allow him to continue to get treatment. But if he’s that close to being available, that’s a really good sign. So, we’re obviously not going to do anything roster-wise.”
This is certainly the best scenario the Indians could have hoped for after seeing Encarnacion leave last night’s game with a scary-looking ankle injury. That the Indians don’t plan on making a roster move to replace Encarnacion for the remainer of the series is an encouraging sign that the team truly believes he can get back on the field. The 34-year old veteran led the team with 38 home runs during the regular season and finished second only to All-Star Jose Ramirez in wOBA (.378) and wRC+ (132). His 15.5% walk rate ranked 8th in all of baseball. Any extended absence for him certainly would have been devastating to an Indians team with hopes of a second consecutive trip to the World Series.
It’s expected that All-Star Michael Brantley will take over DH duties if Encarnacion is unable to play in Game 3 against the Yankees on Sunday. Brantley went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts after replacing Encarnacion in Friday’s game.
Encarnacion came to the Indians just last offseason on a three-year, $60MM deal that includes a $5MM buyout on a $25MM team option for 2020. Full details on Encarnacion’s contract can be found here.