Should fans rely on a big Michael Brantley return?

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May 3, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (23) hits an RBI single during the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
May 3, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (23) hits an RBI single during the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Cleveland Indians are expecting Michael Brantley back in 2017, but his presence may not be needed for the team to return to the World Series.

Cleveland Indians fans will always wonder what could have been in 2016 if the entire roster was healthy. And while much of the focus was on the pitching staff, a big piece of the lineup missed nearly the entire season.

Michael Brantley only played in 11 games last season, making him a constant fixture on the disabled list during the team’s most successful season in two decades. He was coming off two consecutive seasons with a batting average above the .300 mark, and was supposed to be the best hitter on the team.

But nagging shoulder injuries kept him on the bench, allowing players like Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor to become the stars on offense, while Tyler Naquin was given a chance to prove himself in the outfield all season.

This brings us to 2017, when some fans are automatically assuming Brantley is going to not only return to the starting lineup, but return to his former ways at the plate. This is a lot to ask for a player who missed nearly an entire season, and one who may be dealing with lingering shoulder problems.

But whether Brantley returns or not, he may not be needed for the Indians to once again compete for a World Series title.

It may be bold to expect the Indians to repeat their offensive success from 2016 in 2017, but the addition of Edwin Encarnacion already serves as a major upgrade. His presence allows Carlos Santana to not have to carry the load in the power category, while also taking the stress off of the rest of the lineup.

A healthy Michael Brantley makes this team even better, but placing hope in a dominant return may be too much to ask, and possibly an unrealistic wish. This does not mean Brantley cannot once again be an All-Star in 2017, but fans must temper their expectations until it is clear he is ready to return injury-free.

If Brantley does indeed return, there will likely be struggles considering he was out for most of the past year. So while a return is possible, no one should get mad if he is not performing at a high level early in the season.

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But after watching so many players surprise us all in 2016, an MVP season from Brantley is always a possibility. Such is the beauty of being a baseball fan.

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