With some big questions looming over the Indians roster for the 2018 season, two of those were answered on Friday as Cleveland announced that team options on outfielder Michael Brantley and starting pitcher Josh Tomlin were picked up, giving the two long-time Tribe veterans at least one more season in town.
The decision on Tomlin’s option was much easier to make than Brantley’s, but both players were retained as Tomlin provided another consistent season for the Indians while Brantley lost a half season while dealing with significant injuries for a second straight year.
“Josh and Michael have been integral parts of our team for the last number of years,” shared team president Chris Antonetti on Friday in a quote on Indians.com. “And we’re excited to be able to have both guys back with us in 2018. They’ll hopefully help contribute to us winning a World Series.”
Tomlin’s numbers in 2017 made his $3 million option an easy one to pick up. He was one of five pitchers in the rotation to tally double-digit totals for wins, doing so for the third time in his career. He made 26 appearances for the Tribe this past season, posting a 10-9 record with a 4.98 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 141 innings of work. He struck out 109 batters and walked just 14 on the season. His 0.89 walks per nine inning rate was the best number in the Majors among pitchers to work at least 65 innings and the best mark of his big league career.
As the Indians have learned all too well in recent seasons, a team can never have enough starting pitching depth. Tomlin will be in a starting rotation mix that includes Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer as definitive locks at the front of the rotation, with Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger, and Ryan Merritt in the mix for the final two spots with the 33-year-old eight-year Major Leaguer who has spent his entire career in the Indians’ organization. He was a 19th round selection by the club in the 2006 draft out of Texas Tech University.
Keeping the well-liked Brantley around for 2018 on his $12 million option would have been a much easier decision had he not lost so much time in the last two seasons to injury. After missing nearly all of the 2016 season with complications from an offseason shoulder surgery and biceps issues that followed, he started the 2017 strong and made the All-Star team, but landed on the disabled list for ten days before the All-Star break and then missed nearly all of the last two months of the season with what was described at the time as a right ankle sprain. While he returned to the roster in the final days of the regular season and made the postseason roster, the injured ankle required surgery after the Indians’ run in the playoffs ended. The 30-year-old is expected to need four to five months to recover from the procedure done to stabilize ligaments in the ankle joint, putting him on pace to return to baseball activities sometime during spring training.
Brantley played in 90 games in 2017, slashing .299/.357/.444 with 20 doubles, 1 triple, 9 homers, and 52 RBI. His Fangraphs WAR of 1.6 ranked 62nd among all outfielders last season and that was accomplished in just over half a season.
Had the Indians declined his option and paid him the $1 million buyout agreement in his contract, he could have been an attractive name on a free agent market light with quality outfielders. J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain are the top two players available after Justin Upton signed a contract extension with the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday, taking his name out of consideration for other clubs. The list drops from there, with guys like Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Rajai Davis, Andre Ethier, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Jon Jay, Adam Lind, Cameron Maybin, and Eduardo Nunez, as well as 2017 Indians teammates Jay Bruce and Austin Jackson making up the next tier of available, but aging and/or underperforming, options.
Brantley returns to an outfield with some question marks moving forward. Bruce and Jackson could be gone from the mix, leaving Lonnie Chisenhall and Bradley Zimmer as potential starters for the club and Greg Allen, Abraham Almonte, Brandon Guyer, Jason Kipnis, and Tyler Naquin as other options on the roster. Brantley could also factor in at first base, a move speculated for some time, depending on how the Indians’ offseason plays out.
The Indians have until Monday to make a decision on the one last team option pending – a $7 million tender to left-handed reliever Boone Logan. The 33-year-old made just 38 appearances (21 innings of work) in an injury-shortened season after suffering a left latissimus dorsi strain in July. He was 1-0 with a 4.71 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP in his limited action. The emergence of lefty Tyler Olson, who performed impressively in Logan’s absence, may make Logan expendable.
The club also needs to decide whether or not to extend a qualifying offer to free agent first baseman Carlos Santana by Monday. The team is expected to extend said offer (a one-year, $17.4 million deal) to Santana, giving the Indians draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere in free agency.
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