The Cleveland Indians announced on twitter this afternoon that they are exercising their 2018 club options on outfielder Michael Brantley and starting pitcher Josh Tomlin.
Indians have exercised their 2018 options on both Michael Brantley ($12M) and Josh Tomlin ($3M).— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) November 3, 2017
The implication to me is that Craig Breslow and Boone Logan — the other players with team options — will not return to Cleveland.
No on is surprised to hear the news about Tomlin. Any time a team can hire a serviceable starting pitcher for $3M, they should do it. Too many arms are almost enough in today’s game.
Brantley comes as a bit of a shocker. Just two weeks ago, the Indians announced that Brantley underwent surgery (again) and wouldn’t resume baseball activities until after spring training (again). $12M is not a small chunk of change for a small market team like the Indians in any season. This year, with pending free agents like Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, Carlos Santana, and Lando Carlossian, the Indians have difficult financial decisions to make. They made one today with no hesitation.
This brings into question the opportunity cost of signing Brantley for another season. When healthy, I never have to write sentences about him that begin with that disclaimer and that’s almost as satisfying as his skill at the plate. Unfortunately he’s played about 100 games in the last two seasons.
Santana, meanwhile, sports a wRC+ of 123. Over the span of his career (we’ll forget 2010 since he played for about eleven seconds), there are only 29 players with a higher wRC+ and at least 3,000 plate appearances. Consistently good baseball from one player for most of a decade is a rare, rare thing. For comparison, Jose Altuve’s wRC+ is 124 in that timeframe.
While Santana is 31, and likely on the downslope of his career at this point, Brantley is 30. Santana’s injury history also fits on a Post-It note. My guess is that the Indians are pretty confident that Santana will get an offer north of $17.4M, which represents the Qualifying Offer. Ryan wrote an excellent piece going in-depth on the subject here, but long story short: I think the Indians extend the QO and likely get draft pick compensation when Santana signs elsewhere.
I just don’t see how the Indians find the money for Bruce and Santana with the Brantley contract on the books. To me, that suggests the Indians think they can bring back either Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith, or both, and that beyond that, the other opportunities to spend that $12M pale in comparison to the probability of a Brantley Resurgence. If the other opportunities suck, that changes the pain of the cost quite a bit, no?
It’s going to be a busy offseason for the Indians. We now know that it’s also going to be an unusual and intriguing one, as well.