Cleveland Indians: Could Michael Brantley return to Cleveland?

After spending two seasons with the Houston Astros, Michael Brantley is once again a free agent. Could a reunion with the Cleveland Indians be in order?

Former Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley is set to hit the free agent market once again after spending the last two seasons with the Houston Astros. Once the soul of the Indians’ clubhouse, is there any chance that Brantley returns to the Tribe?

Coming back to Cleveland after time away is something that we’ve witnessed time and time again, especially recently. Carlos Santana and Rajai Davis each spent just one season away before coming back to Cleveland. Santana was in Philadelphia before returning to the Indians while Davis split time between Oakland and Boston in his season away.

Others spent a bit more time away between stints, like Jim Thome who came back in 2011 after eight seasons elsewhere. Some even played in Cleveland more than twice, like Kenny Lofton who played for the Tribe from 1992-1996, spent the 1997 season in Atlanta, was back in Cleveland from 1998-2001 and then returned again in 2007 for the postseason run.

So could Michael Brantley become the next player to return to the Cleveland Indians? It isn’t impossible, but it might take some convincing.

Part of the draw to Houston for Brantley was the perspective of winning a World Series, something he wasn’t able to accomplish in his two seasons there. If ring chasing is still the drive for Brantley, then maybe Cleveland isn’t the place to be. With the idea of trading Francisco Lindor before the season starts, and maybe others, the Indians days of being a title contender might be on hold.

So what would be the draw to Cleveland for Michael Brantley? Why would he go to a team that isn’t pushing for a title and is also trying to save money?

For Brantley, the reality is that he is 33-years old and entering his 13th season in 2021. The idea of returning to his roots and the team that gave him his start could be an intriguing prospect. In Cleveland, he was the star of the team for a long time and could very easily reclaim that role.

While in Houston he saw success, being an All-Star in 2019 and winning a multitude of games. However, he was in the shadow of the rest of the roster that consisted of young, rising stars in the game like Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa to name only a few.

Over his two seasons in Houston, Brantley slashed .309/.370/.497 with 27 home runs and 112 RBI over just 194 games. Despite those impressive numbers, he didn’t receive much attention outside of being an All-Star selection in 2019. Now, attention isn’t what Brantley plays for, but being shadowed the way he was could cause teams to overlook him.

This is where the Cleveland Indians could benefit. Being a team that is always looking for a bargain to stay on the cheap side while still contending, the Indians might be able to snag Brantley for well below his market value. He’s an older player with plenty of pop left, but he didn’t get the coverage to push him to the top of some free agent lists.

While it’s a long-shot, the Indians could also be given a hometown discount of sorts. Brantley was, and in many circles still is, a fan favorite in the city of Cleveland. That love could be another driving force to bring Michael Brantley back to the Cleveland Indians.

Brantley’s most recent contract earned him $32 million over two seasons, which is well out of the price range of the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe turned down Carlos Santana’s $17.5 million option and won’t pay Francisco Lindor his arbitration price that is expected to be north of $20 million. However, Brantley could cut Cleveland a deal.

The last contract that Michael Brantley signed with the Indians began back in 2014 and was a four-year deal worth $25 million, paying Brantley about $6.25 million a season. While that number is far too low for Brantley now, perhaps the Indians could pull him down a bit from his current price.

Should Brantley show an interest in returning to Cleveland, maybe a short-team deal can be agreed upon. That would give Brantley flexibility to move elsewhere to close his career for one last title run if he wants, while still coming back to the Indians. If Brantley would be willing to come down into the range of $10-$13 million, that’s a number the Indians might be willing to pay given what he could bring to the team in the coming seasons.