I’m like you. I sort of forgot that Michael Brantley existed. You just always assume he’s hurt, and you do so for so long that you kind of wonder if he existed in the first place. You know you’ve heard Cleveland fans and media mention what an addition he’ll be if he can make it back from whatever fell off of him/went TWANG!/bus ran him over. But then you wonder if you and they aren’t being gaslighted and Brantley was never there.
Well this came as a surprise to me, and maybe to you, but for the first time in four seasons, Brantley actually completed a full season and didn’t turn into something you’d put caution tape around. Which came just in time for him to hit free agency. Funny how that works.
Position: Left field
2018: 631 PA, .308/.364/.468, 17 homers, 60K, 48 BB, .286 TAv, 2.9 WARP
How He Fits: Like I mentioned in the Andrew McCutchen summary, if the theory that the Cubs really miss the ’16 season from Dexter Fowler, that’s what Brantley just put up. He showed slightly more pop, but not quite that level of on-base skill. Brantley doesn’t strike out, and the Cubs could probably use more guys who don’t strike out. He doesn’t walk that much, which is a shame as if he did he could be an OBP monster. Brantley just gets the bat on the ball, even though he hardly swings at anything outside of the zone. Inside it, he makes contact on 97% of the pitches he swings at, and 90% overall. It works, so we don’t question it.
There may be more to unlock with Brantley, who has walked over 10% of the time in a season as recently as 2015, and has slugged over .500, which he did in 2014. The optimist view would be that as he gets farther and farther from his injury problems, he could show a little more power. The pessimist view is that those injury problems that lasted a good three seasons have permanently robbed him of whatever power potential there might have been, and also they’re always lurking like a gargoyle over his head. Plus, you know, he’s getting older, and skills inevitably atrophy.
Because of those injury problems, you can’t imagine that he’ll be that expensive. He’s just coming off a deal that paid $6.25 million a year, an extension he worked out with Cleveland over his arbitration years. He will get a raise out of that, but can you really see him getting more than $12 million a year? Maybe $14 million? If the Cubs spend big in other places than the outfield, he certainly fits in with what they will have left over.
Why It Won’t Work: Well, the injuries are never too far out of the discussion with Brantley. You can’t miss basically two years and ever be free of them. So there’s that to consider.
Second, Brantley only plays left. He hasn’t played center since a fill-in role there in 2015, and seems entrenched. Which means you’re moving Kyle Schwarber. As far as Brantley in for Schwarbs, that’s basically a push. They go about it different ways, but they essentially had the same season last year in terms of TAv, WARP, and a couple other categories. The idea is that you get Brantley’s production plus whatever you get in return for Schwarber, I guess. But Schwarber has the much bigger potential to be something more than this, whereas this is more likely what Brantley is now.
Brantley will turn 32 in May, and as exhaustingly discussed, that is the mark where it is feared hitters stare at the precipice with great trepidation. It’s not true for all players, but you’d be wary of handing him a bunch of years. Given his last season and this is probably his only chance to cash in, Brantley is probably looking for more years than you’d be comfortable giving him.
Alternatives: McCutchen, Markakis, one Bryce Harper, leaving Schwarber where he is, or sticking Ian Happ there.
Lead photo courtesy Keith Allison, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 License