Breakout stars Brantley, Gomes win first Silver Sluggers
First time a pair of Indians teammates captures the award since 2000 season
CLEVELAND -- They each arrived quietly. Michael Brantley was acquired by the Indians as a player to be named in a blockbuster trade with the Brewers six years ago. Yan Gomes was included in a three-player trade with Toronto three winters ago.
It is safe to say that they are no longer unknowns.
On Thursday night, Brantley and Gomes earned American League Silver Slugger Awards for their respective showing with the bat this past season. Since being plucked from other teams by the Tribe, both Brantley and Gomes have developed into cornerstone players for Cleveland, which signed the pair to long-term extensions earlier this year.
"We're going in the right direction. We have some players in place," Indians manager Terry Francona said earlier this week. "There's a core group of guys that not only are really good players, but they're exceptional people. That bodes well for us."
Brantley and Gomes are among a handful of key players who are under control for Cleveland for the foreseeable future. During Spring Training prior to this past season, the Indians signed Brantley to a four-year pact that includes a team option for 2018, and they inked Gomes to a six-year deal that has team options for '20 and '21.
If the 2014 season was any indication, Cleveland's future core has a solid foundation in place with Gomes behind the plate and Brantley in the outfield. This marks the first time since 2000 (Roberto Alomar and Manny Ramirez) that the Indians have two Silver Slugger winners in the same year. Brantley is the first Tribe outfielder to win the honor since 2008 (Grady Sizemore), while Gomes is the first Cleveland catcher to win a Silver Slugger since 2004 (Victor Martinez).
Cleveland's last Silver Slugger winner overall was shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in 2011.
This year, Brantley -- one of the top-three vote-getters for the AL Most Valuable Player Award (the winner will be unveiled on Nov. 13) -- became the first batter in franchise history to compile at least 20 homers, 20 steals, 40 doubles and 200 hits in a single season. He led all qualified AL outfielders in batting average (.327), doubles (45) and hits.
"Honestly, I'm so, so thrilled for Mike, man," Gomes said. "He had an unreal year, and to be recognized as an MVP Award candidate, and to me, the Silver Slugger for him was just a hand's down thing. He had an amazing year. I credit him a lot for me having the year I had. Seeing him in front of me, he kind of set the tone for the lineup. That helped me out a lot."
In 156 games, the 27-year-old Brantley had 20 home runs, 23 stolen bases, 94 runs, 97 RBIs and nearly as many walks (52) as strikeouts (56). His 8.3-percent strikeout rate was the lowest among qualified AL outfielders, and he ranked second in on-base percentage (.385), fourth in slugging percentage (.506) and was tied for second in WAR (6.6), according to Fangraphs.com.
Brantley's 155 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) ranked third among AL outfielders behind only Mike Trout (167) of the Angels and Jose Bautista (159) of the Blue Jays.
"He's a complete player," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said at the end of the season. "And we think he's deserving of MVP consideration with the year he had. He was a huge part of our success and we think one of the best players in the American League."
Gomes, 27, posted a .278/.313/.472 slash line in 2014 during his first full season as a starting catcher in the Major Leagues. Among AL catchers with at least 400 plate appearances, Gomes ranked first in slugging percentage, WAR (4.6), runs (61) and OPS (.785), while ranking second in average and RBIs (74), third in home runs (21), fourth in plate appearances (518) and fifth in OBP.
Gomes' 121 wRC+ ranked second in the AL to only Oakland's Derek Norris (122) among catchers with at least 400 plate appearances.
"He had a spectacular year," Francona said. "[He's] turned into a force behind the plate."
Brantley was happy to see Gomes join him in taking home some hardware this offseason.
"It's very exciting," Brantley said, "because you see all the hard work that he puts in each and every day. He's a great teammate. He's one of the leaders on our team. He's in the cage with me side by side and he works hard each and every day. As a catcher, it's not easy to catch as many games as he does."
Like Brantley, Gomes was also a finalist for a Gold Glove Award this season.
"I think Yan's by far the best catcher in the league," Indians starter Corey Kluber, an AL Cy Young Award finalist, said at the end of the season. "I don't think you can really put an amount on how much he helps us out as a staff, especially for it being his first full year back there."
Brantley and Gomes are two of Cleveland's emerging stars, and they are two reasons why the Indians are optimistic about their chances in 2015.
"We made it to the postseason once already," said Brantley, referring to 2013. "It's a great group of guys that we have in the locker room; it's special. I really think it is. It's a lot of hard work that we've got to put in, and we understand that. We've got to continue to push, push each other and work hard, and good things will happen at the end."