CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians’ off-season began with less than ideal news.
The Tribe’s most consistent offensive player over the past three seasons, Michael Brantley, underwent surgery on his right shoulder to repair a small tear in the labrum on Monday, the team announced through a press release. The procedure is expected to sideline the outfielder for 5-6 months, which would put Brantley’s timetable to return to rehab games somewhere near April or May.
The left-handed hitter originally injured his shoulder on a dive attempt on September 22 in Minnesota.
After recording just seven plate appearances following the injury, the Indians decided to shut Brantley down for the remainder of the 2015 campaign.
At the end of the season, the 28-year-old was hopeful he would be able to avoid surgery.
“I mean, that’s the whole goal,” Brantley said in his year-end meeting with the media. “Nobody ever wants to go under the knife. As it stands right now, we’re headed in the right direction. We have a great gameplan going forward, a great week-and-a-half, two-week process that we’re going to move on from this point and see how it goes.”
Unfortunately, after progressing to a rehabilitation program in mid-to-late October, persistent symptoms led to a second opinion consultation with Dr. Craig Morgan, who recommended and performed the surgery in Wilmington, DE.
While the team knew surgery was always a possibility upon initially seeing his labrum tear, the medical staff was hopeful a more conservative management would help Brantley avoid it. In the end, the procedure was necessary.
“He did everything he could to avoid surgery,” Indians head trainer James Quinlan said. “As time went on and he went through this program and hitting, he did a great job of balancing that out, and he put everything into avoiding the procedure but realized he wasn’t where he needed to be. That led to where we are today.”
Brantley followed up his All-Star campaign in 2014 by slashing .310/.379/.480 this past season. While the shoulder injury and back issues limited him to just 137 games, the outfielder still clubbed 15 homers and drove in 84 runs, stealing 15 bases in 2015.
He will be able to spend a portion of his rehab at home in Florida, but Brantley will not be able to swing a bat for roughly four months.
“Our goal is to have him ready for the start of the season, obviously, but we need to be prepared for this to carry into April,” Quinlan added. “That depends on how the body responds.”
Here some other notes and observations on the Tribe:
1. Now what?
As the GM meetings begin on Monday, the need for Cleveland to pursue offense this off-season has increased significantly with the news of Brantley’s surgery and expected recovery time. The Indians were hopeful to avoid dealing one of their cost-controlled pitchers for a bat, but given their new situation, Chris Antonetti may be forced to display more urgency in his quest to improve the position player side of the roster.
That help will not come from Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, who the Minnesota Twins will negotiate with after winning a blind bid to win the right to discuss a deal.
Cleveland was one of several clubs who reportedly submitted a bid, coming up short.
2. Who else?
With Joe Mauer already entrenched at first base, the potential addition of Park could perhaps make Trevor Plouffe available in Minnesota. Plouffe is currently blocking sensational rookie Miguel Sano from playing third, but any deal with Park could lessen the Twins’ desire to keep the right-handed hitting Plouffe.
Of course, any wish Minnesota has to trade Plouffe is purely speculative, given no deal with Park (53 homers in Korea this past season) has been worked out yet.
In 2015, the 29-year-old Plouffe slashed .244/.307/.435 with 22 homers for the Twins. He is under club control through the 2017 season and earned $4.8 million in his first year of arbitration.
While the infielder/outfielder may not be a top-tier level impact bat, his 102 wRC+ this past season (110 in 2014) makes him a slightly above average offensive player at a position the Indians could look to upgrade, third base. His right-handed swing would also help balance Cleveland’s left-handed dominant lineup.
3. Other suggestions?
One other trade prediction came from MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince, who suggested the Los Angeles Dodgers should trade young outfielder Yasiel Puig to Cleveland.
Castrovince writes: “What’s clear is that Terry Francona is fully capable of handling whatever distractions Puig might present, and this is the one kind of deal — for a potential middle-of-the-order, right-handed bat under reasonable contractual control ($24.6 million over the next three years) — that could lure the Tribe into trading away a prime pitching piece. Not sure if Carlos Carrasco is too much for Puig or if Danny Salazar is not enough. I do know that either of those guys would augment the starting setup for a Dodgers team that might very well lose Zack Greinke.”
A Dodgers-Indians deal presents the same sorts of appeals and drawbacks as potential matches between Cleveland and the Chicago Cubs.
Carrasco or Salazar could net the Tribe a legitimate young thumper — something the Indians desperately need — but trading away either hurler takes away from an area which seperates the Tribe as special.
As the New York Mets proved in October, a dominant rotation, such as the one the Tribe could possess, is capable of carrying a club to the World Series if other factors fall in your favor.
Even given news of Brantley’s surgery, giving up a cheap, controlled and talented arm is not something easily done. The talent coming back to Cleveland would be to be equally as special — and absolutely dominant.