GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Michael Brantley was smoothly sidestepping a question about whether he should have won the Gold Glove for going an entire season in the outfield without an error. His boss interrupted him in midsentence.
“He should have won the Gold Glove,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said.
Brantley’s response matched his “Dr. Smooth” nickname. He kept right on going, talking about everyone except himself.
“It’s about winning baseball games,” Brantley said.
His devotion to that answer helped him get a $25 million, four-year contract Thursday as the Indians opened spring training. A player who was the last piece in the deal for pitcher CC Sabathia in 2008 is now recognized as one of the Indians’ core players.
Brantley batted a team-leading .284 last season, when Cleveland ended a five-year playoff drought. The Indians lost to Tampa Bay 4-0 in the wild-card game.
The challenge is to keep getting better. The Indians decided that the 26-year-old can be instrumental that way. He avoided arbitration by agreeing to the deal, which he signed after passing a physical.
Brantley gets a $3.5 million signing bonus and salaries of $1.5 million this year,
$5 million in 2015, $6.5 million in 2016 and $7.5 million in 2017. Cleveland has an $11.5 million option for 2018 with a $1 million buyout.
His 2017 salary would increase by $1 million if he’s among the top five in MVP voting in any year from 2014-16 and would go up by $500,000 if he finishes sixth to 10th. The option price would be boosted by $1 million if he’s among the top five from 2014-17 and by $500,000 if he finishes sixth to 10th.
“He is a complete player,” Antonetti said. “He is a tireless worker, a great teammate, a complete professional in every sense of the word. When you’re making investments of this magnitude, those are the things you look for. He embodies everything we look for in our players.
“His entire focus is on the team. A lot of guys talk about that and will give the surface, ‘Hey, I’m a team player.’ Michael lives that every day.”
He proved it last season. Brantley was slotted as the leadoff hitter and center fielder until the Indians signed Michael Bourn. He agreed to move to left field and floated around in the batting order, hitting everywhere from first through eighth as manager Terry Francona rested regulars.
Brantley set career highs with 26 doubles, 10 homers, 73 RBIs and 66 runs. He also stole 17 bases in 21 attempts. And he went the entire season without making an error.
“Those are the players that you value because regardless of what their personal goals are or their aspirations, they’re able to put the team goals ahead of it,” Francona said. “And that’s a good example. We all know he wanted to play center field, and he moved to left. And he probably preferred to stay in one spot in the order, but he moved around.
“And he did it willingly.”
Brantley was part of a four-player package the Indians got from Milwaukee on July 7, 2008. Originally, it was three players and one to be announced after the season. Brantley heard that he would be the final piece in the deal, which was completed Oct. 3.
Little did the Indians know he would end up being the biggest prize in the package, which included first baseman Matt LaPorta.
“In bringing Michael over, we had some sense of those things,” Antonetti said. “But I’m not sure we could fully appreciate how great of a worker he was, how great of a teammate he was, how driven he was to be successful.”
Francona isn’t sure where Brantley will bat this season, but said it’s possible he could move around in the order again.
** The Indians were prepared for an arbitration hearing today with RHP Josh Tomlin, who is asking for $975,000. The team has offered $800,000. RHP Justin Masterson also has an arbitration hearing pending. He is seeking $11.8 million, while the club offered $8.05 million.