There are a few things to understand when talking about off-season moves in baseball, the first of which is: without a salary cap, it is hard to have a great idea of what a team’s budget is.
The narrative has been that the Dolans are cheap, yet the Cleveland Indians’ ownership group has ponied up more than enough money in the past few seasons to secure a World Series contender.
So with plenty of decisions to be made on their roster going forward having to do with players on the team currently, those hitting free agency, and external options; it is tough to gauge how much money can and will be spent this winter.
While it would be wonderful to sit and assume that the Dolans can continue to take on money, or at least hold serve, that may not be the case.
With news of surgery for Michael Brantley coming down the wire today, and the decision as whether or not to exercise his $12 million team option or $1 million buyout being first on the team’s docket, the matter becomes more pressing.
Brantley’s output when on the field has been above average to the tune of 15.6 wins or 112% of an average player offensively, depending on your metric of choice. His availability not so much.
Normally, retaining an All-Star fan favorite at a relatively inexpensive price would be a layup, but with the potential loss of two productive starters and a reliable reliever, Brantley could be the odd man out. All because of issues out of his own hands.
Team President Chris Antonetti said the team expects Brantley to return for ‘the start of the season or very close to the start of the season,’ and has mentioned multiple times that the organization has planned on the outfielder being in the mix past 2018. Antonetti also referred to Brantley as a ‘critical and important person’ in the organization.
Outside of compliments, Antonetti was unable to give many details into their decision making, as expected. He did say that the team would weigh Brantley’s expected production and availability into the decision.
For now, it seems that the Indians’ best course of action would be to decline the option and seek out a restructured deal. For a player into his 30s that has played just 111 games since 2016, to not leverage that number would not seem savvy for the team.
The availability of $11 million into a budget would be better served towards first baseman Carlos Santana, who has missed 12 games since 2016. If Santana’s salary was already in the cards, that money could make up the difference in what Bryan Shaw (the leader in relief appearances three times in four seasons) would be offered on the open market.
Ultimately, predicting whether or not Brantley would be back seems a rather pointless exercise without knowing the financial parameters of the decision. If one were to predict the decision, the idea that the two players who could be retained in lieu of Brantley are two of the most available players in baseball would make the guess more educated.
The Indians will not know the true market values for Santana or Shaw until later in the off-season, but it seems as if it would behoove the organization to see what that of Brantley would be as well.