From little-known outfield prospect to fan favorite and World Series champion, the incredible career of Michael Brantley has officially come to an end.
News broke Friday morning that the Indian/Guardian and Houston Astro was retiring at the age of 36 after 15 years in Major League Baseball. “Dr. Smooth,” as he colloquially became known, helped Cleveland through its transformation into a perennial AL Central contender and playoff team from 2013-18 before signing with the Astros in 2019 and helping Houston win the 2022 championship.
After finishing his senior season at Fort Pierce Central High School in Florida with a stunning .595 batting average and 32 stolen bases, the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. He decided to head right for professional baseball, passing up the chance to play college baseball at Coastal Carolina. Though he made an immediate impression in rookie ball and Single-A, he struggled in limited time at Double-A after being promoted during the 2007 season.
Then, Cleveland’s front office made him one of the greatest Player to Be Named Later transactions in MLB history. They had to part ways with C.C. Sabathia to get something in return. Matt LaPorta and Zach Jackson were the big fish, along with minor-league reliever Rob Bryson. Jackson played sparingly across two seasons with the club. LaPorta became one of the biggest busts in team history. But then there was the tack-on to the deal, spurred solely because the Brewers made the playoffs and let the Indians choose between Brantley and Taylor Green. Cleveland tapped Brantley and helped change the fortunes of the franchise for years to come.
He went on to solidify himself as the club’s long-term option in left field. His smooth and simple swing led him to two All-Star appearances, a Silver Slugger Award and an incredible .295/.351/.430 slash line across ten seasons with Cleveland. Alongside the young crop of upcoming talent, he was - even as he began to get bit by the injury bug - a fan favorite. Brantley’s breakout season was in 2014, shortly after the club had locked him up on a four-year, $25 million extension prior to the season.
Brantley slashed .327/.385/.506 with 20 home runs and 23 stolen bases, finishing third in AL MVP voting behind Mike Trout and Victor Martinez. Cleveland chose to part ways with him following a 2017 season in which Brantley played in the most games since that All-Star 2014 season and was named to the All-Star team. Houston offered a two-year, $32 million contract to Brantley, something Cleveland didn’t want to give to an aging outfielder, then 31 years old, who had battled injuries over the last three seasons.
Brantley made the All-Star team two more times in Houston on a world-beating, scandal-riddled team that consistently made deep runs in the playoffs. But after playing just 15 games in 2023 due to more injuries, Brantley decided it was time to hang it up. He finished his career with a stunning 10.7% strikeout percentage, 720 RBIs, 1,656 hits and a batting average just shy of .300.