MLB: Cleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics

Yesterday, the Cleveland Indians signed outfielder Michael Brantley to a four-year contract extension, worth $25 million with an option for a fifth year at $11 million. It’s a fine deal for the first-year arbitration eligible player, buying up his three remaining arb years and possibly two of his free agent years.

It is a mostly unremarkable deal for a mostly unremarkable player. After a signing bonus of $3.5 million, MLBTR reports his annual salary will grow as follows: $1.5MM (2014), $5MM (2015), $6.5MM (2016), and $7.5MM (2017). Again – a wholly unremarkable deal.

We probably could credit Cleveland for inking their 26-year old outfielder now before his arb rewards grow or maybe we can simply wonder why?

Cleveland will likely save a little bit of money on this deal in the long run. Brantley’s first arbitration reward figured to be in the $3MM range for 2014. Now they have him at a more controlled rate. But is this savings really worth the effort?

Michael Brantley is a nice enough player, a center fielder forced to a corner spot. He is about league-average at the plate (.286/.340/.399 over the last two years, with 16 home runs and 29 steals), pretty good on the bases and mostly average in the field. In center field, that is a valuable. In left field, with zero power to speak of, I’m not so sure.

Cleveland got a nice deal on Michael Bourn last winter, installing him as their center fielder until at least 2016. So maybe Brantley gets to move back to center at age 30, ahead of his potential free agency.

Other than saving a few dollars, there isn’t much upside to this contract. Brantley gets the certainty and Cleveland has a somewhat useful player for a few years extra?

All the comparable deals by term and dollars to Brantley’s went to center fielders. Cleveland is paying him like a center fielder because he plays like a center fielder who just so happens not to play center field anymore. Perhaps Cleveland’s astute front office likes his defensive impact more than the metrics available to us, and thinks playing two CFs at once helps their pitchers?

At these prices, it is hard to quibble. If, by some miracle, Brantley shoots out of the gate and suddenly puts up huge numbers, it becomes a great deal. And even if Cleveland looks to upgrade their outfield starters or if a guy like Clint Frazier pushes him aside, it isn’t hard to envision paying more for a free agent fourth outfielder than they already have Brantley under contract.

Unsexy but solid, I guess. A deal with basically zero downside and barely more upside. Very Cleveland. Every dollar counts, I suppose.