The Indians also did not extend the offer to any of their other eligible free agents, including relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
Brantley, Miller and Allen are unrestricted free agents, along with Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, Josh Tomlin, Rajai Davis, Josh Donaldson, Oliver Perez, Melky Cabrera, Brandon Barnes and Adam Rosales. Brantley was thought to have the strongest case among the team’s free agent crop to receive the one-year qualifying offer based on the likelihood that he would turn it down and sign elsewhere, resulting in draft compensation for the Indians.
President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said a big part of the decision not to extend Brantley the offer that could have kept him in a Cleveland uniform for at least one more season was the club’s desire not to lock in so much payroll this early in the offseason.
“Ultimately, the first week of the offseason, as we looked at our path ahead, it wasn’t the best decision to potentially allocate ($17.9) million dollars right now," Antonetti said.
A three-time All-Star with the Indians, Brantley has spent his entire big league career in Cleveland, joining the club as a rookie in September 2009 after he was acquired as the player-to-be-named-later from Milwaukee in the 2008 C.C. Sabathia trade.
Brantley, 31, battled through shoulder and ankle injuries in 2016 and 2017 and was among the best contact hitters in baseball in 2018, ranking first in the majors in contact percentage (90.9 percent) and tops in contact percentage on pitches in the strike zone at 97.3 percent according to Fangraphs.com.
The Indians gambled by picking up Brantley’s $12 million contract option last offseason after two injury-plagued campaigns, and it paid off with one of left fielder’s finest all-around performances in a Cleveland uniform. Appearing in 143 games, he led the team with a .309 batting average and was second in total hits (176) while driving in 76 runs and making his second-consecutive All-Star appearance.
Brantley stands to see a significant bump in salary no matter where he signs in the offseason. Spotrac.com lists Brantley’s potential market value in the four-year, $77 million range, commensurate with past free agents Yoenis Cespedes, J.D. Martinez, Justin Turner and Eric Hosmer. That could be well out of Cleveland’s price range as the Indians are already projected to have at least a $135 million payroll even if they don’t add much in the way of free agents.
Brantley’s leadership in the clubhouse was a source of pride for Antonetti and manager Terry Francona, who noted after the season that no matter what obstacles Brantley faced, he was always a tremendous example of character for hist teammates.
Antonetti said Brantley’s 2018 season also showcased his work ethic and competitiveness.
MLB’s qualifying offer jumped to $17.9 million for the 2019 free agent class after registering at $17.4 million last year according to MLB Network Insider Joel Sherman.
The qualifying offer is the average of MLB’s top 125 highest-paid players. Free agents who spent the entire 2018 season with one club are eligible for the offer.
If a player rejects the qualifying offer, the club that extended the offer receives draft compensation if he signs with a different team. Should the free agent sign for more than $50 million, that pick would occur just after the first round. If the player signs for less than $50 million, the pick would be after Competitive Balance Round B.
Last year, nine players received qualifying offers, including ex-Indians first baseman Carlos Santana, and none were accepted. The Indians selected RHP Ethan Hankins with the compensatory pick they received from Philadelphia when Santana signed there.
Besides Brantley, other free agents expected to receive qualifying offers from their teams this year include Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton. Free agent infielder Manny Machado is not eligible for the qualifying offer since he was traded from Baltimore to Los Angeles during the season.
The deadline for players to accept or reject the qualifying offer is 5 p.m. on Nov. 12.
Indians release OF Barnes, add six to 40-man roster
CLEVELAND — Outfielder Brandon Barnes has elected to become a free agent after he was granted his outright release by the Cleveland Indians, the club announced Friday.
Six players who were on the 60-day disabled list were also activate by the team and added to the 40-man roster. Those players include pitchers Cody Anderson, Nick Goody, James Hoyt and Danny Salazar along with outfielders Leonys Martin and Tyler Naquin.
The moves bring Cleveland’s 40-man roster to 34 players.
Barnes, 32, joined the Indians on a minor league contract in 2018 as a non-roster spring training invitee. He appeared in 19 games and hit .263 with a home run and two RBI in 19 at-bats. Barnes spent the majority of the season at Triple-A Columbus where he hit .273 with 14 homers and 81 RBI and was named an International League All-Star.