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Michael Brantley Should Remain on the Indians’ 2021 Radar

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Let’s start simple and to the point: The Indians could use a guy like Michael Brantley in 2021.

The Cleveland Indians have been one of the most consistent teams when it comes to frequently putting on winning teams. They haven’t had a losing season in eight years, however, for a while, they didn’t have much competition within the AL Central division. For three years, it didn’t matter whether Cleveland put on its 2017 102-win team or the weak 2018 team.

The 2020 campaign clearly showed that the Indians will have a lot more headaches in the upcoming seasons. The margin between the three powerhouse teams was just one game. Moreover, the Indians joined the Twins and the White Sox as three teams from the AL Central who reached the postseason.

Both Chicago and Minnesota were very active last winter and show no signs of stopping. Cleveland will have to add upgrades in order to stay relevant. Needless to say, they have a lot of work to do to feel confident about their 2021 chances.

Departures of starters such as Carlos Santana and Cesar Hernandez have left the Indians infield shorthanded entering the offseason. However, another component was already a significant issue that devalued the impact of other prolific batters. Unsurprisingly, the Indians have one of the least productive outfield groups currently in MLB. Fortunately for general manager Mike Chernoff, the market is often rich in talented power-hitting outfielders., therefore, it provides many opportunities for the 2020 Indians free agency.

Last season, the unimpressive trio of Jordan Luplow, Delino DeShields Jr., and Tyler Naquin started the majority of the games. None of them posted an OBP higher than .300 or an OPS better than .663. Their contributions were virtually negative, with all three recording WARs below zero.

Why Michael Brantley?

None of the three came into the year with any expectations, even DeShields, who joined during the Corey Kluber trade. Yet, after another abysmal year, the need for upgrades is avid. As Cleveland ranked 25th within MLB in runs scored, they will have to add a prolific bat to their lineup. As mentioned, there are quite a few names available but nobody comes closer to former Indian Michael Brantley.

The 33-year-old Washington native already has a taste of what it’s like playing in Cleveland. MIcahel Brantley made his major-league debut in 2009 and played 10 seasons before leaving in 2018.

Michael Brantley missed about the entirety of the essential part of his tenure – just 101 games between 2016 and 2017. Michael Brantley’s return from injury was so good that the Astros gave him $32 million. Now he has entered the market having reached each of the last three All-Star games. Also, Brantley had four straight seasons with a .350-plus on-base figure. Furthermore, Michael Brantley has batted over .300 in each of the past three years. In that span, Brantley ranks sixth in batting average and 26th in OBP.

Michael Brantley has become one of the best hitters in pro baseball and there’s little doubt regarding his value. The Indians don’t just need an outfielder. They also badly need a good batter like Brantley – at any position. There’s no question whether that investment would be worth it. However, a more challenging question is if it is worth it in Cleveland’s situation.

According to Spotrac, the Indians have allocated just $87 million on their payroll. This is the 25th-lowest in Major League Baseball. Contrary to belief, a low-budget winning team is not hard to come by. In fact, the Rays and the Marlins have both spent less than the Indians in salary money. This is three of the 16 postseason teams within the bottom six in payroll.

With no inside information, nothing is known. However, don’t expect the Indians to follow the low-budget path of Tampa Bay and Miami. They haven’t been among the biggest spenders recently. Nonetheless, a ton of holes and a talented rotation should be a warning to the club. The latter is a particularly important detail. The team needs an upgrade over their current middle-of-the-AL level, otherwise, it risks throwing away one of the best pitching staffs in recent history.

Cleveland’s starting pitching put on the third-lowest starters’ ERA in all of professional baseball. They did that without Trevor Bauer, who went cross-state to the Reds during the previous trade deadline. Every piece of that dominant rotation is signed until at least 2024. With performances by the lineup like last year, the pitching staff isn’t going to give Cleveland a postseason pass for long.

It needs to be acknowledged that the Indians have serious needs in the infield. Moreover, they are much more likely to be a low-budget team than a high-budget club.

Still, Michael Brantley is projected to be valued at $21 million a year. Even that price has the possibility of dropping. Teams will be reluctant to spend big bucks due to recent COVID-related losses within the industry.

It will be difficult for teams to meet the demands of the players and their agents this winter, however, the Indians are among the teams that can benefit from this drop in prices.

In the meantime, they could easily spend another $20 million on an elite batter like Michael Brantley. Meanwhile, they are far from the $210-million luxury tax threshold. Then, they can address the remaining needs with efficient additions of undervalued players.

Adopting that approach to all needs will not help fix a very unproductive lineup. As precedents have proven, this is possible, but the Indians can afford to add another expensive value asset as a high-note start. That is if their spending incapabilities aren’t as severe as reported. That might also be looming in the future, according to The Athletic.

The Cleveland Indians have not been the biggest spenders in recent memory and things are unlikely to change soon. Financial liabilities from 2020 and the possibility of an even worse two-year upcoming span don’t do much justice.

Clubs across the boards should be quiet until the final moments of the offseason. This could force prices to drop well below the expectations. In such a case, the Indians have to finally add a game-changing hitter to fill one of the many holes. Micheal Brantley is one of the few players that guarantee a terrific return on whatever the investment.

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Teodor Tsenov is a writer in the NFL Department of Overtime Heroics. Teodor joined the media in March 2020, previously writing for Franchise Sports UK. Also a second-year International Sport Management student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in Den Haag, the Netherlands. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.