The Indians off-season has been extremely quiet as the team seems to be relying on internal improvements rather than an increasingly expensive free agent class. Making this even more clearly, the Indians extended Michael Brantley through his arbitration years with an option for 2018. Already, players like Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are all already under team control through 2017 and now Brantley can be added to the long term mix.
The deal works out to $1.5M for this season, $5M for 2015, $6.5M in 2016 and $7.5M in 2017. In addition, Brantley will receive a signing bonus of $3.5M and an $11M option for 2018 with a $1M buyout. In total it is a $25M, four year deal. Compared to other extensions this off-season, like Freddie Freeman's $135M eight year deal, Brantley is a complete steal for the Tribe. While Freeman's deal is longer, he is a younger player (by three years) than Brantley and is not that significantly greater. Considering the past two seasons, their WAR is very similar with Brantley accruing a 6.0 and Freeman a 7.7. While Freeman is obviously a superior power hitter, Brantley brings much more in terms of speed and defense.
Another positive side of the deal from the Indians stand point is that the amount he will earn in 2014 is less than he would have made had the two sides went to arbitration. He had originally asked for $3.8M with the Indians making a counter offer of $2.7M. After being a starting position player for the last three seasons, it is hard to imagine him losing this case, so, depending on how the signing bonus is considered, the Indians saved more than $2M off this year's salary. Brantley would likely have earned the other yearly totals through arbitration in the coming seasons anyway, so the only risk taken by Cleveland is the risk of injury.
While there is always a chance of that, Brantley seems to be a pretty safe bet here as well. He doesn't seem to be as fragile as Grady Sizemore was and he plays a much more conservative game. While still playing defense worthy of a Gold Glove, Brantley isn't one to go running head first into walls. While he will dive when necessary, it is with grace and a stable motion that should save him from knee injuries in the long term.
Often overlooked due to the power of Carlos Santana and the amazing start of Jason Kipnis, Brantley has been a key contributor to the line-up since 2011 and should now be solidified as the lead-off hitter and starting left fielder. While every other player on the team has more power (ISOP of just .105), Brantley brings something different to the game, like the greatest outfield arm in Cleveland since Casey Blake. In fact, after his 11 outfield assists and 1.000 FLD% in 2013, he is on the fast track to becoming the greatest defensive left fielder in Indians history (there isn't much competition).
It's refreshing to see a keystone of the team not argue over what is a large amount of money, but a small percentage of total salary and to see a team reward that loyalty with a guarantee. Any true Indians fan knows that the team is much deeper than the current face of the franchise, Nick Swisher and the best overall player on the team, Jason Kipnis. Brantley is a large part of the depth and now there is no more worry, he will be in Cleveland for at least the next four seasons.