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Orbiting Cleveland: Extending Michael Brantley

To extend or not extend, that is the question

Orbiting Cleveland: Extending Michael Brantley
May 24, 2013
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There are so few constants in life, but thankfully for the Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley seems to be one of them.

Plain and simple, Michael Brantley is a joy to watch.

The left-handed hitting outfielder is a great throwback to an era of baseball that time seems to have forgot. He’s a great teammate, hard worker and excellent defender — a true pro’s pro.

With all of the Tribe’s new offseason acquisitions, a great deal of pressure has now been taken off the shoulders of Brantley — and it shows.

Brantley is currently in the middle of a breakout season as he’s hitting .306/.362/.388 with six doubles, one triple, two home runs and 24 RBIs. He’s also been especially effective in the clutch as he’s hitting .359.426/.513 with runners in scoring position and .364/.417/.591 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

Of course, for every yin there is a yang, and Brantley’s success seems to bring about a new dilemma for the Indians — contract negotiations.

With Brantley under team control through the 2016 season, it would appear as if now is the time for the Indians to entertain the possibility of a contract extension with Brantley. However, this is obviously a task that’s easier said than done.

As a center fielder playing a corner outfield position, it’s almost impossible to get a read as to what kind of contract Brantley could be due. Brantley is far from a power hitter, but he does still stroke plenty of doubles, and his value to the team cannot be denied.

Brantley played the 2012 season as a center fielder, and Baseball Reference has his WAR estimated at 3.3. Fangraphs was not as generous but still had Brantley’s value estimated at 2.6 wins.

It’s likely that Brantley could surpass both of those numbers by the conclusion of the 2013 season. According to Baseball Reference, he’s been worth one win so far while Fangraphs has his value at 0.7 wins.

All the numbers do point back to the type of value and consistency that Brantley brings to the club, but it’s still incredibly difficult to come to any type of conclusion as to what type of extension Brantley deserves. While he is now in left field, Brantley is still a center fielder by trade, and he should probably be paid somewhat accordingly.

His numbers appear to be below-average for a corner outfielder, yet his numbers are actually quite solid for a center fielder, so how do we go about figuring out an appropriate contract?

It’s tough to find the appropriate answer to this question as there are simply so few players that can compare to Brantley. However, one possible starting point can be found if you go back to the end of the 2007 season.

Detroit Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson was coming off his second full season and had hit .302/.361/.552 with 23 home runs and 74 RBI. For his efforts, the Tigers signed Granderson to a five-year, $30.25 million deal with a club option for 2013. With the team option, it’s ended up being a six-year deal worth $43.25 million. Considering that Granderson was worth a whooping 7.6 wins the previous season, this extension appeared to be the bargain of the century.

With the new deal, the Tigers were able to gain two years of free agency of a five-tool player, who provided plus power in center field. These types of players are not easy to come across, and they’re especially not easy to wrap up for this type of money.

However, the Granderson deal is also indicative of the type of dilemma that the Indians’ front office finds itself in now. Unlike Brantley, Granderson has power — loads of it.

He also had already proven that point and was fresh off a tremendous season, so his extension offer was almost modest when you consider his skill set. This was also six years ago, and inflation does need to be accounted for, but it’s hard to think the Indians could even offer Brantley as much as what the Tigers had offered to Granderson.

Compare Brantley’s 2012 to Granderson’s 2007. Granderson was nearly worth more than twice as many wins, so it seems somewhat ignorant to suggest that Brantley should get anything close to Granderson money.

But then what is actually a reasonable price point for Brantley? Is there one? Just how difficult is he to resign when you consider his unique skill set combined with his lack of power and now banishment to left field?

Also, if the Granderson deal is the ceiling in regard to what the Indians could expect to pay Brantley for an extension, then what’s the floor?

There may be no better comparison than Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata. Like Brantley, Tabata is essentially a center fielder who has been forced to play a corner outfield spot because of better alternatives.

In August 2011, the Pirates resigned Tabata to a six-year, $15 million deal with three options tacked on at the end, which could bring the deal all the way to nine years worth $37.25 million.

When the deal was signed, Tabata was in the midst of a season in which he ended up hitting .266/.349./.362 with 18 doubles, one triple, four home runs, 21 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 91 games.

While it was not exactly the same, there are noticeable similarities between that season and the one Michael Brantley had in 2011: .266/.318/.384 line with 24 doubles, four triples, seven home runs, 46 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 114 games.

With that in mind, it seems reasonable to suggest that had the Indians approached Brantley about a contract extension two years ago, then a Tabata-like deal may have been appropriate and also could have got done. But what about now?

Brantley now is clearly a far superior player than Tabata was when he signed his deal in 2011. According to Baseball Reference, Tabata was worth merely 0.3 wins during the 2011 season and still look at the contract he received.

Thus, it’s fair to assume that Brantley would be in for a decent raise should the Indians decide to go this route.

Of course, the Indians also have to decide if this is something that they do indeed want to do. Since he’s only 26 years old and not even in the prime of his career, it seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not so simple for a small market team like the Indians.

The Tribe just committed a total of $104 to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn this past offseason. Would they even have the assets to extend Brantley at this point?

The other thing to consider is Brantley himself. Everything looks good so far, but what if he is truly nothing more than a fourth outfielder in disguise?

It’s probably quite likely that the Pirates are now having second thoughts about the Tabata deal, and he was player deemed very similar to Brantley less than two years ago. Tabata has since signed his contract extension and watched his value plummet. The Indians would need to ensure that a similar situation does not happen with Brantley.

However, it does seem as if a Brantley extension is a much safer move than the Pirates’ resigning of Tabata. When Tabata was resigned, he had less than two full Major League seasons under his belt. Also, his 2011 season was noticeably worse than his 2010 campaign, so there may have been some signs that an extension was a tad premature.

In comparison, Brantley has watched his value increase every year. In 2010, he hit .246/.296/.327 before hitting .266/.318/.384 in 2011, which was of course followed by last season’s breakout of .288/.348/.402.

Brantley’s also off to the best start of his career so far, which can only be considered a positive.

There is still one question that remains though. If it’s now been concluded that the Indians should indeed resign Brantley, then what should the extension be worth?

With using the Granderson and Tabata deals as a reference point, here is the happy medium that I developed.

A nice number to me would be 5-years, $25 million with a sixth-year club option worth $10 million, which would bring the overall value of the deal to $35 million. The deal would be backloaded, so the majority of the contract would be paid in the latter years.

The contract would also kick in for the start of the 2014 season, so it could potentially keep Brantley in Cleveland through the 2019 season.

We know that Brantley is not the player that Granderson is — not even close. But he also is a much better talent than Tabata, whose performance has not matched the extension that he signed years ago.

A deal like the one proposed seems to benefit all parties involved. Brantley can get some further security from a team that honestly probably values him more than others anyhow while the Indians are able to lock up a core member of both its offense and defense.

Anyway you look at it though, it just seems hard to imagine the Indians going any higher in their contract offerings. Resigning a player is much easier said than done though, so it will ultimately be up to Brantley and the Indians to come to an agreement. $20 million? $25 million? $30 million?

Let’s just hope the price is right.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

realistic1
August 11, 2013 - 2:33 AM EDT
Actually, with the comments I'm reading here, I would rather see Michael traded to a team and fan base who realize what they have. With the recent crackdown on PED's fans will see a dramatic change in players and their projected numbers. Milky Cabrera, Ryan Bruan and Nelson Cruz, just to name a few. Players like Brantley will play well in the new game of baseball. Brantley has shown he is a plus defender no matter where he plays, currently in the top 5 defensive LFers. Brantley also hits the balls to all fields as well as anyone, reminds me of a your Derek Jeter. If Brantley can develop just a little more gap power he would be a top 50 outfielder in the major leagues for year to come.

If I were Michael I would take no less than $5.5 a year, if that doesn't happen, continue to play hard improve and grow and when your FA year comes get paid what you deserve. All good things come to those who wait.

Me, I prefer the Indians trade him to the Mets or a team like that, a team who will value what he brings to the table and a fan base who will appreciate the kind of player he is and will become.re
Adam
May 25, 2013 - 12:08 PM EDT
The question is...why would they? Locking up Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis should both be a higher priority than locking up Brantley. Brantley wont be a free agent until after 2016, and his skill set is simply not one that gets overpaid during arbitration. With Bourn, Swisher and Stubbs in the fold for at least the next few years, there is no great need to lock Brantley up right now. If the Indians feel as good about the Naquin pick as they claim, that's another reason that Brantley isn't a real high priority. He's a good contact hitter for the bottom third of the order. But he's not a good centerfielder, he's not a good leadoff hitter. He's a good role player. That's not the kind of player that this club should be locking up long term IMO. Jason Kipnis is that kind of player, and Justin Masterson is that kind of player. Get those two locked in, then worry about Brantley.
Roger
May 24, 2013 - 5:45 PM EDT
The name i have seen used in correlation to michael brantley and i do it myself is garrett anderson formerly of the angels. During the time referred to in the metaphor of granderson a lot of comparisons to curtis were of grady pre-injuries. However as michail brantley gets older he may like garrett anderson get significately stronger and hit more dingers. all of a sudden you are talking some kind of special talent so signing him thru the decade is not a bad idea at least with option years.
We may have more there than meets the eye and i have always thought that michail brought intangibles to the mix maybe like garrett anderson did. The kipnis signing although important isnt as pressing as brantley and masty. 2014 is the year to extend kipnis not 2013.
Tony
May 24, 2013 - 5:39 PM EDT
Not sure I see Brantley signing a 5 year $25 million deal with a club option for a 6th year when he would be 3 years from FA. I also think $10 million for one season for a player like him, as much as I love him, is a bit much. I often refer to him as a poor man's Garrett Anderson, and maybe he becomes more of that player down the road.....but with the need to resign Justin Masterson looming over their heads in the short term, I wonder how much attention Brantley (and Kipnis) really get with an extension. If I were the Indians, I'd try and extend all three at the same time....what a coup that would be and another shot in the arm with the fans.

The best comp may be Denard Span who signed for 5 years $16 million in 2010, although with a longer time before free agency. His numbers are quite in line with Brantley's and even better. I think 4 year $20 million would be fair for Brantley, and then a club option for a 5th year at $7-8 million. I just think $10 million is pricey, and it will likely come with a $1 million or so buyout.
Kia Stevens
May 24, 2013 - 3:42 PM EDT
Really don't want to lose him either -- think he's a good asset to this team as it is now.

Gotta love the Tribe outfield right now -- really don't want to see it change.
Matthew
May 24, 2013 - 3:41 PM EDT
Great breakdown.

The other thing to keep in mind is the way the Indians recently approached extensions with other guys they consider to be part of the "core." With both Santana and Cabrera, the Indians were able to get team-friendly Average Annual Value on deals that bought out their arbitration years and one additional year. For the players, the tradeoff is some level of financial security going forward, a little more money in the short term, but they give up one year of potential on a big free agent deal. Cabrera's deal gave him an average salary of $8.25M for 2013 and 2014, and Santana's deal gave him an average salary of around $5.5M for 6 years, if you include the club option.

So, if Michael were to sign an extension this season, I would guess that it would be a deal that locks him up for 4 additional seasons (through 2017) for something in the neighborhood of $18M, and probably an option year in 2018 for another $8M with a $1M buyout. Pretty similar to the conclusion you reached above.
Seth
May 24, 2013 - 3:33 PM EDT
I don't think it's that important either way. He's not the type of player who's going to get a huge contract when he does hit free agency, so unless you're getting something you think is real good value there's no good reason to extend him, especially with Bourn locked in for 4 years in CF. I've always liked the Dr. Smooth nickname for Brantley, but in my head he also has an evil alter ego named Mr. Glass who suffers from frequent ankle and wrist injuries that seems to crop up every year and cause big dips in production. He's a decent player with some injury risks who's already under control for 2.5 more years, and 2.5 years is a long time. Who knows what the team, Brantley or the free agent market will look like then.
Canadian Joe
May 24, 2013 - 3:16 PM EDT
Good article, and a situation the Indians seriously have to look at with an extension. With that batting stroke, can see him being a contender for a batting title, while showing some decent extra base power. Would not like to lose him, but understand the problem this could become. Revenue streams would have to increase appreciably when Brantley, Kipnis and some others reach the age of richness. Here's hoping it does, as these guys, with Santana, Chisenhall and the like will be the cornerstones going forward.

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