Michael Brantley started his career as a seventh round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers. He was traded to the Indians as a Player to be Named Later as part of the CC Sabathia deal. I’m sure Milwaukee still regrets sending him over to this day. Brantley’s first and second year with Cleveland were very average but, after that, he became the definition of consistency for that ball club. From 2011 through 2018, he had a slash line of .298/.355/.440 and had over 1000 hits in 951 games. He has always been a player who could really do it all and someone who you would love in your lineup when you need a hit. In 2019, he signed with the Houston Astros and has helped that lineup tremendously as they made the World Series in 2019 and snuck into the playoffs again in 2020. Brantley really only plays left field but can certainly be put in right field if needed. He is 33, and is heading into his second run on the free agent market, and I’m sure his agent will be fielding a lot of calls, as adding him to the middle of a lineup can turn an average roster into a much more dangerous one.
The Case to Bring him Back
The Astros are on the verge of losing George Springer, as almost all reports are saying that he is done in Houston. I think their full attention should be on Brantley now, because if they lose both of those guys, their lineup is going to take a major hit. Bringing back Brantley would at lest help the team cope with losing a top 5 center fielder. Brantley is really important to that team when it comes to getting their big bats more RBI opportunities. Bregman and Altuve are great, but you need guys like Brantley to get on base, hit in clutch situations, and start rallies that most average players are not capable of doing. There are obviously other options the Astros can look at, but I don’t know why they would let Brantley get away, as he seemingly fits the team perfectly. If they let him go, I think they will regret it and see how important he actually was to their lineup and to their overall success the past 2 seasons.
The Perfect Fits
Last season, the Phillies had an OPS of .668 in left field and a batting average of .224, as they used many different names including Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce. It was one of the team’s major holes, and a big reason, aside from their bullpen, that they failed to push into the playoffs. Michael Brantley would be the perfect fit for the Phillies because he’d instantly give them an everyday player in left field who could consistently give Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins more RBI opportunities. The Phillies should be building their team around those 2 players, as they will be the main sources of their run production for the next 5+ years. Putting Brantley next to those guys makes that lineup a lot deeper and, even if they lose Realmuto, they can replace his production with Brantley’s. If they bring Brantley in, they can also move McCutchen to center field full time, Kingery to shortstop, and perhaps get some pretty good value in return for Jean Segura to help the bullpen out. Brantley would be a great way for the team to get major production on a not too outrageous price and plug one of the glaring holes they had in the 2020 season.
Another NL East team in the perfect fits. The Braves currently don’t have a left fielder on the roster. They are going to need to replace Marcell Ozuna’s crazy production when they inevitably lose him in free agency. I don’t know about you, but I can almost see Michael Brantley in a Braves uniform already. Last season, Adam Duvall and Marcell Ozuna manned left field in Atlanta for the most part, but it seems both may be on their way out. What a great opportunity they have to replace that talent and pay significantly less. Brantley seems to fit perfectly hitting next to Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuña Jr. That team loves their high OPS and Brantley would help them keep that stat up. Credit to the Braves GM, Alex Anthopolous, because he is very good at finding great value in the free agent market, as we saw with Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel in 2019, and Marcell Ozuna in 2020. Bringing in Brantley on a 1-3 year contract seems very on brand for the Braves, and I would not be shocked at all to see him go there.
The Good Fits
In 2020, the Cubs really didn’t have a guy they could run out to left field everyday. They used a mixture of Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Kris Bryant, and a few others. They already non-tendered Schwarber this offseason, and Bryant may be on his way out as well, via trade. Chicago needs a guy they can call on everyday to play the position. I think Brantley fits the team because although they might lose one or two of their stars, they are still going to be in major contention to win the NL Central in 2021, as it seems almost every team in that division may regress this offseason. This Cubs team seems to have a lot of holes, but it felt like their team (outside of Ian Happ) went through a major cold streak this entire season. Perhaps bringing in a guy like Brantley, who can really stay hot the entire season, would help the other guys in that lineup get back to hitting the ball with consistency. He could make pitchers have to think twice about how they pitch to Javy Baez if Brantley can be on second base while Javy is hitting, instead of having Javy striking out with no one on base 4 times a game. Brantley would help the team raise its overall OPS while also taking a lot of stress off of David Ross’ shoulders when he is submitting the lineup card everyday.
The Cardinals have been very quiet this offseason, outside of their pursuit of Yadier Molina. They’re in a weird position, as they really aren’t set at any position outside of 1B. They had an OPS under .800 at every position except first base. Their team OPS for left field was .676, as they had five different guys play the position over the season’s 60 games. None of the names they played were household names, and they could really use someone who can play there everyday and give them another bat in the lineup to turn to outside of Paul Goldschmidt. I think he would be a good fit for the “Cardinal Way” because he is a winner and would add a great veteran presence next to Goldy in that locker room. The Cardinals have a lot of work to do if they want to be successful in 2021 and they should have at least some money to spend, so bringing in Brantley would make a lot of sense for that team.
The Weird Fits
I think Brantley to the Twins is a really good fit, but I am putting it as a weird one because I don’t think they have the money to pull it off. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was quoted the other day saying he wants them to re-sign Nelson Cruz. If they are able to do this, I do not see them bringing in Brantley, at all. However, I see Nelson Cruz getting big money somewhere else, which would leave some spending room for the Twins. Last season, Eddie Rosario was their main left fielder, but they already non-tendered him this offseason. I think Brantley would slot in perfectly in that position, as he would give the power bats in that lineup a lot more opportunities to drive in runs and would also be able to hit some dingers himself. Brantley would fit that team very well statistically and could really help them replace and maybe even outdo some of the production they are losing this offseason. Brantley could also help them finally get over the hump in the playoffs and win a game, as he has a lot of playoff experience and could help that young team and young manager have better success in the playoffs.
Boston’s Left Field OPS in 2020 was a paltry .683, as they trotted out nine different players at the position. The Red Sox have already brought in Hunter Renfroe to take over right field, but left field is still a question mark. I think that Brantley would be a good fit for them to sign because then they can let Jackie Bradley Jr. walk and move Alex Verdugo to center field full time. The Red Sox’s biggest problem in 2020 was certainly not their hitting, their pitching was just atrocious, but bringing in Brantley would just make them a better team in general. It is a weird fit though, because you’d expect a team that is more ready to win to snag Brantley, but I think Chaim Bloom has a plan in place that can have Boston back to their winning ways by 2023 at the latest. Maybe Brantley is a good way to bridge the gap for the Red Sox from the 2020 season back to the form of the 2018 Red Sox. Brantley would certainly make the team more competitive and could even help young third baseman Rafael Devers continue to grow his game. Even though Boston might not make the most sense for Brantley, I think him going there could end up benefitting both parties.
I am under the assumption that Brantley will end up with an NL team that is going to be competitive in 2021 as most of the competitive AL teams are pretty much set at left field (outside of the Astros, of course). I think he will have a lot of offers on the table but I am not sure as to the length of these offers given his age and the current state of the market.
Prediction: Brantley signs with the Braves on a two-year, $28 million dollar deal.
As a Mets fan, I really hope I am wrong on this prediction but, Brantley in a Braves uniform just looks too real at the moment for me to predict him going anywhere else. Thank you for reading, and if your team signs Brantley, be excited because the guy is a winner and a pure hitter.