Two mainstays in the Indians' clubhouse will be back for at least one more season, though how they might fit into the construction of the 2018 roster remains to be seen.
The Indians on Friday exercised the 2018 club options for outfielder Michael Brantley and starting pitcher Josh Tomlin, valued at $12 million and $3 million, respectively.
Whether Brantley would return to the Indians was one of the main questions heading into the offseason. Brantley underwent surgery to stabilize his right ankle on Oct. 18 and had an original timetable of four to five months for his return. Issues with his right ankle, which led to him missing most of the last two months of the season and then to only getting 11 at-bats in the American League Division Series, came after two years of problems related to his right shoulder and biceps.
Brantley effectively missed the 2016 season and then had his 2017 season cut short. His status for Opening Day 2018 is still in question.
When Brantley was healthy this past season, he produced, hitting .299 with nine home runs, 20 doubles, 52 RBI and an .801 OPS in 90 games and was an All-Star selection.
Picking up his club option is a gamble on his health, one the Indians felt worth taking considering his status as one of the AL's better hitters when in the lineup.
"There's a high likelihood of success with the surgery that he had performed, so we're very optimistic that Michael will be able to contribute for a meaningful part of next year," president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. "And, as we've seen, when he's on the field, he's a very productive player, and we think there's a good chance that he'll be on the field for the majority of next year."
The first question the Indians had to answer, as it relates to Brantley, was if it was worth it to take that gamble on his health. The second question is how he'll fit onto the 2018 roster. That has yet to be answered.
Brantley could stay in left field or potentially move to first base, where he has some experience in the minor leagues. That could potentially affect how hard the Indians try to retain Carlos Santana, who is a free agent. Aside from Santana and the question of first base, giving Brantley his $12 million could also affect Jay Bruce, another impending free agent who can hit the open market.
Beyond the financial aspect is an issue of roster construction, and it doesn't just include Santana and how the club handles first base. The Indians still have to figure out where Jason Kipnis, if he isn't traded, will play in 2018. That could include a move to left field, which adds another layer of unknown to Brantley's situation.
It is still a convoluted situation, but not one the Indians can yet map out with free agency looming.
"I think first and foremost we just want Michael to get healthy and continue his rehab this offseason and as he gets further in that process, we can begin thinking about alternatives and where he may fit best on the team," Antonetti said. "I think the one thing we know is he's a really productive offensive player when he's on the field and in the batter's box and that he's got some versatility."
Antonetti added that Kipnis hasn't yet been given much direction as to his 2018 position, either.
"We have a variety of different ways we can configure our roster," Antonetti said. "Some of that will be dependent upon what other alternatives are out there for us to improve our team. I said when we connected at the end of the season, Kip deserves a great deal of credit for the work he put in to have that versatility."
The decision to pick up Tomlin's option was likely an easy one, as $3 million for a capable starting pitcher is well below market value. Even with Tomlin, the Indians now have options with their rotation thanks to Mike Clevinger's strong end to the season, so it isn't yet clear in what role he'll pitch next year.
"I think the one thing we know about Josh is he's capable of contributing in a variety of roles, and he is the ultimate teammate," Antonetti said. "The only thing he cares about is finding a way to contribute to help the team win the World Series. He'll go into camp, obviously, as a starting pitcher, but if we need to adjust, and circumstances need to dictate that, we'll have a conversation with Josh and adjust accordingly."
The Indians still have one decision to make as it relates to club options, that being reliever Boone Logan's $7 million option for next season.
That decision might have been muddied by Tyler Olson's terrific showing in which he didn't allow a run in 30 appearances, giving the Indians another option -- one much cheaper than Logan -- as a second left-hander to join Andrew Miller.
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