LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Indians have told Michael Brantley to sit tight. When the team is clear on what position he will be playing next season, it will communicate that with him. In the meantime, Cleveland is searching for ways to fortify its roster and those decisions could
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Indians have told Michael Brantley to sit tight. When the team is clear on what position he will be playing next season, it will communicate that with him. In the meantime, Cleveland is searching for ways to fortify its roster and those decisions could cause a chain reaction for the defensive alignment.
"Brant's open to whatever we would like him to do," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Monday at the Winter Meetings. "He just wants to know ahead of time so he can prepare. Again, I think we have to see where we're at as a team. It's nice to know that guys are willing, but I think right now, he's an outfielder."
Brantley has been an outfielder for the past nine seasons with the Indians, but the Tribe's roster puzzle is complicated at the moment. In order to piece things together, there is a chance that Brantley may be considered for first base, especially if Cleveland strikes out on re-signing free-agent Carlos Santana or acquiring another player for that position. It might sound cliche, but there really are a lot of moving parts right now for the Indians.
For now, Cleveland is focusing on some positive news with Brantley, who underwent surgery on his right ankle on Oct. 18. James Quinlan, the team's head athletic trainer, met with the veteran outfielder a couple weeks ago and the progress was encouraging, according to Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti. He added that Brantley's timetable (four to five months from the time of the procedure) remains the same.
"He had a good report," Antonetti said. "We'll know more when he starts ground-based activities, starts running and cutting, things like that. But so far, it's gone really well."
Sitting on the opposite end of the sectional couch in the Indians' suite at the Swan and Dolphin resort, Francona quickly chimed in.
"He's itchin' to go," Francona said. "He is itchin'."
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The optimal solution to Cleveland's situation would be to re-sign Santana, and MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported Monday that the Indians offered a three-year deal worth $36 million prior to the free-agent period, which the club has not confirmed. Recent reports, however, have also linked the Red Sox, Rangers, Mariners, Rockies, Padres and Phillies to the long-time Indians first baseman, who appears positioned for a lucrative deal.
Early on this winter, the Indians also offered Santana a one-year, $17.2-million qualifying offer, which he rejected, ensuring that Cleveland will at least net some Draft pick compensation should he sign with a new team. According to a report by Cleveland.com, Santana's camp will give the Indians a chance to counter any opposing offers.
In the meantime, the Indians are exploring their alternatives. A big-ticket free-agent like Eric Hosmer does not appear to be realistic, but there is a surplus of first basemen on the open market this winter. Other available options include Mitch Moreland, Yonder Alonso, Matt Adams, Lucas Duda, Adam Lind, Mike Napoli and Mark Reynolds, among others. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported that the Indians have shown interest in Adams as a contingency plan.
"Part of our responsibility is to know what our alternatives are," Antonetti said, "and to have dialogue and plan for alternatives, not just focus on any one singular option. That allows us the flexiblity to pursue a deal when it's there, when it's right and not just wait on one particular thing."
Barring an external addition, or a trade to free up Cleveland's positional logjam, Brantley moving to first base -- a position he has not played since 2008 in Double-A -- might grow into a more serious consideration.
The Indians ended the season with Jose Ramirez at second base, forcing Jason Kipnis to center fielder down the stretch. With center fielder Bradley Zimmer healthy again, Kipnis would then become a possibility for left field if the team wants to keep Ramirez at second. That would potentially mean Brantley, who has battled injuries in each of the past three seasons, could move to first from left. Brantley and Edwin Encarnacion could divvy up the at-bats between first and designated hitter.
The alternative would be to return to having Ramirez at third base and Kipnis at second, but then that introduces questions about where third baseman Yandy Diaz would fit into the equation. Lonnie Chisenhall can also play multiple outfield spots and has experience at first and third. The Indians gave top catching prospect Francisco Mejia exposure to third base during the Arizona Fall League, as well.
All that flexibility has provided the Indians with a slew of scenarios to consider as they navigate these Meetings.
"Positional versatility is always a positive in team-building," general manager Mike Chernoff said. "When you hit the offseason, we always try to cast a wide net anyway just to see what types of value and deals are out there. But having some versatility allows us to look at some different configurations at least. And some of the internal depth that we have, too, helps that."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.