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Three different ways Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley might perform after his return

Indians fans are excited to witness the return of one of their best players, but there is still some uncertainty about how his return will go.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Brantley is slated to return to the Indians roster as early as today. Without Dr. Smooth in the lineup, the Indians jumped to a 9-7 record. This is the best record that the team has had through 16 games since 2011, and now will the Indians be able to deploy their best all-around offensive player to add to that start. There are a few questions surrounding the return — what will happen to Tyler Naquin/Marlon Byrd? How quickly will he return to peak performance? Will he or Lonnie Chisenhall need to spend time in center field to spell Rajai Davis? — but none of them figure to hamper his return long-term.

So, what can we expect from the Indians now that the slugger is back in the lineup? Here are a few scenarios to consider.

Brantley starts slowly, but returns to form by the All-Star break

This appears to be the most reasonable scenario. While Brantley played well in his rehab games, it's a different game entirely at the Major League level. That, plus the combination of fatigue and the mental aspect of injuries — am I really at 100% again yet? How hard do I want to push this? WebMD said the soreness in my arm is canceraids — can delay an all-star's ability to immediately begin contributing at the highest level. As a veteran, Brantley might be able to ramp back up quicker than usual. The good news is that the offense has found plenty of ways to produce in his absence, so even if it takes him some time, the Tribe won't be doomed.

By the end of the season in this scenario, I expect the following outcomes.

Brantley: .295/.365/.495, 14 HR, 39 2B, plenty of handshakes with Francisco Lindor.
Indians: 2nd place in the AL Central, win one of the wild card spots.

Brantley is a shell of his former self and everything is awful

I find this to be a rather unlikely scenario, but it's interesting to consider in a perverse kind of way. Torn labrums aren't the easiest injury from which to recover. Suppose he feels a twinge in it, and pain after games. Two weeks or so into his return, he isn't showing power to the alleys, and he's struggling to locate pitches in the zone. This is where Brantley used to dominate. His confidence erodes. In a game against Kansas City he makes two errors in the outfield, strikes out three times, and stares despondently at himself in the mirror after the game wondering just what happened to his life. He stops shaving. Teammates begin to whisper about whether or not they should step in and help, but what is there to do? He's not making poor life choices, it's just not the same Dr. Smooth that we remember. "It's difficult to reach in and make a guy reach his levels," Tito says in August. "He's got to look inside and figure it out again."

Brantley takes this to heart. At the end of the season he holds a press conference and announces that he's going to seek guidance in Punjab from the Vipassana masters. Years later, he re-emerges in public view and puts up two of the great all-time seasons in Indian cricket history.

By the end of the season in this scenario, I expect the following outcomes.

Brantley: .245/.205/.415, 4 HRs, 10 2B, way too many at bats where he looks like he belongs in a Caravaggio painting.
Indians: 3rd place in the AL Central, miss the wild card by four games, try to lure Brantley back in 2025 as a hitting coach.

Brantley plays better than ever but is seduced by his limitless power

At age 28, Brantley is still right in the middle of his prime years. Hitters peak at 27 and begin to decline thereafter, with an accelerated rate of decline after 32. This is true of the average player, but it becomes clear quickly that Michael Brantley is no longer average. The time away from the game gave him a chance to refocus his mindset and workout regimen. His impact on the lineup is immediate; Brantley launches 25 home runs before the All-Star break and the Indians are a full ten games ahead of the Royals. After the break, he somehow plays even better, on pace for 60 home runs and 150 RBIs.

However, there's something different about him since the return. Not a swagger, not an attitude, but something darker. Some component in the machinery of his soul returned from the surgery oddly misshapen, and it drives him to humiliate others for personal gain. He flips his bat after every hit, but that's just the beginning. He takes outrageous financial risks on several robotics and artillery startups and wins. Big. He buys the team. He buys the city. He buys the state.

With a legion of robotic supersoldiers at his disposal, led by General Kluber, the Empire of Brantlantium (formerly known as Ohio) secedes from the union. NATO does its best against the robotic menace, but what can the western world do against a horde of hyperintelligent drones that blot out the sun with their numbers? As part of the peace deal the United States swears vassalage to Brantlantium. All of his at-bats are required viewing for citizens of the empire. They are all 600 foot home runs. Cleveland wins every championship for the rest of eternity, but at what cost? Only freedom and free will for the people of Earth.

By the end of the season in this scenario, I expect the following outcomes.

Thrice-Exalted Emperor Michael Augustus Brantley: 1.000 / 1.000 / 4.000, according to official Imperial records. Many statues with this pose all over the globe.
Indians: Now almost entirely robots. 162-0, victories against France, Germany in Atlantic theatre according to official Imperial records.

Conclusion

I think that every Indians fan wants Brantley to come back and succeed. He's one of the better players on the team, and at his best, the heart of the offense. May he play well, but not so well that his heart turns dark.