Hot Stove

In a sea of free agent stars, Michael Brantley could provide real value



Brantley could be an underrated but effective free agent target for the Phillies (Photo: Keith Allison)

As free agency opens, many eyes will look towards Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. They’re right to do so. The duo are generational talents and are likely to command enormous, record-breaking contracts.

However, there are many other players who will be hitting the market and who might provide genuine production at half the cost of a Harper/Machado contract. Outfielder Michael Brantley is one of them.

Brantley is a 31-year-old who will turn 32 in May of 2019, and who was a three-time All-Star for the Cleveland Indians. Brantley broke out in 2014, when he hit .327 with 20 home runs and 97 RBIs, finishing third in the American League MVP voting. He followed that season up with another solid campaign in 2015.

Injuries became an issue, and Brantley was only able to play 101 games combined between 2016 and 2017. He did manage to hit .299 in the 90 games in which he played during 2017, however.

Brantley managed to come back in his contract year this past season, slashing .309/.364/.486 with 17 home runs and 76 RBIs while also stealing 12 bases. He registered a bWAR of 3.6 in 2018, the highest number Brantley has produced since his big 2014 resulted in a 6.7 bWAR mark.

As ESPN reported, the Indians did not offer Brantley a qualifying offer by the November 2nd deadline. That offer would have been worth $17.9 million. If the Tribe had offered, Brantley could have either accepted it and played on a one-year deal worth $17.9 million or declined it and go into free agency with draft pick compensation attached to him.

Since Cleveland didn’t offer him the QO, that means Brantley won’t have to worry about teams having to sacrifice a draft pick in order to sign him. That has draft pick compensation has proven a hindrance to some free agents in the past.

While his injury history will likely give pause to some interested teams, his consistency should more than make up for it. Since 2012, Brantley has hit above .284 in every season but one, and that was the season in which he only played 11 games.

Jim Bowden gave a list of needs for each team in Major League Baseball. One of those needs was improving the offense. Bowden mentioned Brantley as a possible Phillies target. To be clear, there have been no published reports that the Phillies have actually shown specific interest in the player to this point.

Whether or not the Phillies could show interest in Brantley may depend on what happens with Harper. Bovada, courtesy of Oddshark, released each team’s odds of signing the major free agents.

The odds for the Phillies were at ‘even’ on their signing Harper. That means the club has the greatest chance of signing the superstar. The Phillies were also co-favorites to sign another free agent outfielder, A.J. Pollock. If the Phillies were to sign either Harper or Pollock, all three outfield spots would be taken up with a few logjams to boot.

A more likely scenario in which the Phillies sign Brantley would be if they signed Machado rather than one of the big outfield free agents. Machado is expected to slide in at shortstop wherever he signs, which is a position he has desired to play in the past.

MLB Trade Rumors released their list of the top 50 free agents and predicted what it would cost for them to sign. Brantley came in at 10, and was projected to receive a contract of three years and $45 million.

Again, these are simply predictions, so anything can still happen depending on how the market shakes out. But it provides a good barometer of just how much Brantley could command.

The Phillies could easily offer a contract of $45 million even in addition to signing Machado, given as there have been rumors of the Phillies potentially signing both Machado and Harper by some outlets.

It remains to be seen if the Phillies will take a chance on an oft-injured player, but in Brantley’s case, he may well be worth the risk. He wouldn’t require a large investment, nor does it appear that a long-term contract will be necessary. That would allow the Phillies to continue to make upgrades in other areas, such as to both the rotation and bullpen.

Most of all, Brantley would improve the Phillies offense. Just look at the basic batting statistics. For example, Maikel Franco led the team with a .270 batting average. Brantley’s average last year was .039 higher. Brantley’s OBP would have been tops on the team, as well.

Building off of last season is the goal for these Phillies. While it’s easy to say they should just throw all the money they can at Machado and Harper, it’s never actually that simple. Finding the right players at a good value is just as important as signing a top free agent to a mega-deal.

With players such as third basemen Nolan Arenado and outfielder Mike Trout likely hitting free agency in the next couple of years, managing payroll is essential. Brantley would fill a need while still keeping money available for the future.

 

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