Indians Notes: Brantley's headed to Houston, what's next?

Will the Indians use free agency to improve the outfield?

James Rapien
December 18, 2018 - 10:59 am
Sep 22, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (23) hits a single to score the game winning run against the Boston Red Sox during the eleventh inning at Progressive Field. The Indians won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Scott R.

© Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Michael Brantley is headed to Houston according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The 31-year-old is expected to sign a two-year, $32 million contract with the Astros.

Brantley spent the first 10 years of his career with the Indians. He was a three-time All-Star, finished third in MVP voting after the 2014 season and gave fans a decade of memories.

The Indians acquired Brantley from the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 as part of the CC Sabathia trade. He was the best player Cleveland received in the deal, but they almost didn’t get him. Brantley was the player to be named later in a trade that included Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson. Mark Shapiro and the Indians were torn between third baseman Taylor Green and Brantley. Utimately, Cleveland made the right decision and Brantley was a member of the Indians organization. Green posted a .207 batting average, hit three home runs and 15 RBI in 78 Major League games for Milwaukee.

There was some hope that the Indians could re-sign Brantley for the 2019 season, as they’ve shaved nearly $22 million in salary. They were unable to reach an agreement and now the left-handed hitting outfielder is Houston bound. Brantley has dealt with injuries, but he’ll give the Astros a versatile bat in the middle of their lineup. He’s expected to play left field, first base and DH on some nights. It’s clear that Houston is loading up. They’re reportedly interested in trading for catcher J.T. Realmuto and have kicked the tires on potentially signing Nelson Cruz.

Will the Indians Sign an Outfielder?

How will the Indians respond? What is their plan? They’ve saved enough money for 2019 to hang onto Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber, but that doesn’t mean they can compete with the top teams in the American League. Their weaknesses are obvious – they need help in the bullpen and the outfield. Are Greg Allen, Tyler Naquin and Leonys Martin scaring anyone? It’s one thing if you have to start the trio on an occasional basis, but it’s a problem if those are your starting outfielders.

A.J. Pollock is someone the Indians should target. The 31-year-old center fielder has dealt with some injuries, but would be a significant upgrade for Cleveland. He was an All-Star in 2015, before injuries derailed most of his 2016 season. His 2015 season was something to behold. He hit.315/.367/.498 while driving twenty home runs, stealing 39 bases, and providing high-end defense in center. Pollock posted a .257 batting average, hit 21 home runs and 65 RBI in 2018.

Could the Indians get him for a reasonable price? He has the talent, but much like Brantley, injuries have gotten in the way. The Indians have to do something and Pollock would be an upgrade to a below-average outfield.

Can They Find Bullpen Help in Free Agency?

It’s no secret that the Indians need to add multiple relief pitchers. They have a great starting five, but those guys need support. Can they find it in free agency? The answer is yes – there are a bunch of relievers that the Indians should consider signing. Since they’re competing with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, let’s start with a reliever that both teams reportedly covet. Adam Ottavino hasn’t been signed yet, even though he’s drawing interest from multiple clubs. What better way to improve the bullpen? Ottavino could be pricey, but taking someone the Yankees and Red Sox covet would be huge for the Indians. This might be farfetched, but the 33-year-old appeared in 75 games last year for Colorado, had 112 strikeouts and a 2.43 ERA.

Other free agent relievers include Joakim Soria, Craig Kimbrel, David Robertson and Oliver Perez. Kimbrel is an interesting name to watch. ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote about Kimbrel’s status and why his market isn’t hotter in a recent column.

“The market in which Kimbrel sits is absolutely overrun with alternative options,” Olney writes. “Any team leery of a six-year or five-year or even a four-year offer to Kimbrel can focus on the many cheaper free-agent closer options like David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Joakim Soria, Kelvin Herrera, Cody Allen, etc.”

The Indians aren’t expected to re-sign Miller or Allen, but the market is flooded with relievers. That is great news for the Indians. They need bullpen help and they should have enough salary to go out and sign Soria, Kimbrel, Robertson or one of the many free agent relievers on the market.

The Indians have options, but they need to get to work. If they use the $21.5 million they saved on the right free agents, then they’ll give themselves a chance to compete with any team in the American League. If they sit on their hands and don’t make the necessary moves, then this could be a team destined for another playoff exit in early October.

I discussed Brantley signing with Houston, the direction of the Indians and more with Ken Carman and Anthony Lima. Listen to the podcast below.