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Indians Extra

Michael Brantley, a player to be named later that was more than worth the wait

Had Brantley not become what he has become the Indians would have had a gaping hole where a huge trade chip (Sabathia) had been, plus some explaining to do. You can't trade a Cy Young Award winner and get nothing in return.

  • Indians-Tigers-Baseball-34

    The Indians' Michael Brantley watches his solo home run clear the right field wall during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, May 16, in Detroit.

    CARLOS OSORIO / AP FILE

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When it comes to baseball trades, many players to be named later aren't worth naming now or later.

They are players to be forgotten later. Players hard to remember later. Players who are better never than later.

On Dec. 14, 1948, the Indians traded for a player to be named Early. Pitcher Early Wynn, whom the Indians acquired in a trade with Washington. There was no player to be named later in the trade for a player named Early.

The same cannot be said of the trade between Cleveland and Milwaukee on July 7, 2008. The Indians traded reigning Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia to the Brewers for a package of prospects: first baseman Matt LaPorta, pitchers Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson, and a player to be named later.

Much later.

He wasn't named until Oct. 3, 2008.

The player to be named later was Michael Brantley. But it came this close to being an anonymity named later.

"Our choice on the player to be named later came down to Michael and third baseman Taylor Green," said Indians president Chris Antonetti, who at that time was the club's vice president of baseball operations. "By the end of the season, it was clear we preferred Michael."

Green goes down in history as the player named now who wasn't named later.

The way these things work is when a trade includes a player to be named later, the two clubs agree on a short list of players from which the PTBNL will come. The receiving team uses the remainder of the season to scout those players. At the end of the season, the team selects one.

On Oct. 3, 2008, the Indians selected Brantley.

Not Green.

"At the time of the trade, Michael was a very young player in Double-A," Antonetti said. "He controlled the strike zone exceedingly well, with elite contact rates. Our scouts really liked his swing and believed he would develop into a very productive offensive player.

"He suffered an ankle injury early in 2008 that took quite a bit of time to heal. To limit his running volume, Michael played a lot of first base that summer. Nonetheless, we had enough information and scouting assessment to project Michael to be a good major league outfielder, with really good baseball instincts."

Indians scouts' instincts about Brantley's instincts prevented the trade from being a disaster.

Green's major league career consisted of 78 games with the Brewers in 2011 and 2012. His major league career was over at age 25. In his 10-year career, the 31-year-old Brantley has played 990 games with the Indians.

Career at bats: Green 140, Brantley 3,819. Hits: Green 29, Brantley 1,122. Batting average: Green .207, Brantley .294. Home runs: Green 3, Brantley 81. RBIs: Green 15, Brantley 506. On-base percentage: Green .266, Brantley .350. OPS: Green .609, Brantley .778.

Brantley saved that trade for the Indians. At the time of the trade, LaPorta was the consensus phenom in the shopping cart of prospects the Indians got from Milwaukee. Any other team making that trade would have demanded LaPorta as part of the package.

He went from blue chip to spare part to bust. His professional career ended in 2014, in the obscurity of the Mexican League, playing 32 games for the Campeche Pirates. For the Indians, it was simply bad luck. Not every phenom phenoms.

Had Brantley not become what he has become the Indians would have had a gaping hole where a huge trade chip (Sabathia) had been, plus some explaining to do. You can't trade a Cy Young Award winner and get nothing in return.

But thanks to the player to be named later, the Indians got plenty. The player to be named later became a three-time All-Star to be named later.

He's also one of the most inconspicuous stars in the game, and probably not fully appreciated in Cleveland.

In the last 60 years, only five Indians players have finished third in the MVP voting: Albert Belle (1994, 1996), Roberto Alomar and Manny Ramirez (tied for 3rd in 1999), Jose Ramirez (2017) - and Brantley, in 2014, when he became the first player in Indians history to have 200 hits, 45 doubles, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season.

In the last 60 years, only three left-handed hitters have more hits for the Indians than Brantley: Kenny Lofton (1,512), Jim Thome (1,353) and Larry Doby (1,229).

In 2015, Brantley almost had more doubles (45) than strikeouts (51). Batting averages since 2014: Michael Brantley .312, Joey Votto .309, Buster Posey .305, Miguel Cabrera .304, Mike Trout .303, Mookie Betts .298, Manny Machado .284.

In the Indians' lineup, Brantley hits in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the majors. He hits behind Francisco Lindor and in front of Jose Ramirez.

Is it any wonder that old what's his name gets overlooked?

Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter. 


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