Michael Brantley will be the final player involved in Indians extensions talks this winter. We have already discussed Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis and, while it is possible the Indians would want to keep someone else around longer, there are no obvious candidates.
Brantley will be eligible for his first year of arbitration next season after being paid the league minimum for the past five years. He has been a huge part of the Indians team for the past three seasons and deserves to get paid at least for his 7.8 WAR over that span. To get an idea at what he is worth and what he will get paid (two different things), we can look at a former Indian who was very similar to Brantley through this point in his career, including a move from center field to left.
Coco Crisp had a little more power and speed, while Brantley has a much better arm and slightly better glove, but otherwise, they are about as close statistically as two players can get. In Crisp's first year of arbitration back in 2006 with the Red Sox, he earned a salary of $2.75M. Crisp has continued being himself in every year except an injury shortened 2009. Over that span he averaged more than 20 doubles and 25 steals a year, yet was not signed to a multi-year deal until 2012, when he signed for three years and $21M with the Athletics. Prior to this deal, in his year 32 season, he had never made more than $6M a year.
This shows how different Brantley's situation is compared to Kipnis, despite the fact that they are at a similar point in their careers. The fact is that left field is generally a power position and a player who can bat .300 and play flawless (literally a 1.000 fielding percent since June 3rd, 2012) is not in high demand. He was the third best Indians hitter in 2013 as well, but will likely get over shadowed by the seven players who hit more home runs than he did. He will likely get at least $3M in 2014, but spread over four years this doesn't come close to paying him back for efforts to this point, let alone compensate him for what he will do in 2014.
Because baseball as a whole has not moved on to advanced metrics, it is still an unfair world considering contracts. In the same year, Chris Perez is likely to be offered at least four times that amount, despite playing about 1,300 less innings each year and being far worse among his peers than Brantley (Brantley is a candidate for a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove while Perez was the 15th best closer in the AL). This is a chance for the Indians to show the loyalty to a player that they would like to receive in the future when that player becomes a free agent. They could actually give him what he deserves and sign him to a long term deal that takes him through at least 2018. That should absolutely not happen.
While he isn't the high flying (high risk) type of outfielder that Grady Sizemore was, there is no such thing as an injury risk free player. Usually when signing a player to a long term deal, a team is attempting to push back the big money years in exchange for a guarantee to the player that they will be paid no matter what. Brantley is not going to have any big money years. He is not going to magically transform into a 20+ home run hitter that could get him paid like Swisher, who is less important player to the Indians both offensively and defensively.
If the Indians want to reward Brantley for his service, they should overpay for his 2014 season, but there is no reason to saddle themselves with an unnecessary contract. Brantley has a chance to be one of the greatest defensive outfielders in Indians history as well as eventually becoming a career .300 hitter, so it would be nice to see him in an Indians uniform during his entire career, but this is not the time for an extension. Any talks of this should resume in 2015, when he is down to two years of team control left.
Brantley could be a big part of the Indians future.