According to a series of recent reports, the Cubs may not have the wherewithal (for whatever reason) to add a marquee name like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. With those restrictions in place, Chicago might be seeking a lower-cost free-agent option to boost their flagging offense.
The player who seems to have gotten the most attention to this point is Andrew McCutchen, who has been linked to the Cubs by MLB Trade Rumors and others. But there’s another available hitter who might present an even more attractive option: Michael Brantley.
Brantley has played his whole career with the Indians and has now hit the open market at age 31. An examination of the sweet-swinging outfielder’s career stats show he might be exactly the kind of bat the Cubs need.
The lefty batter’s best asset is his hit tool, marked by a .295 career batting average. He is also a very good contact hitter (10.7% career K rate) whose highest season strikeout total was a mere 76 in 2011, a season in which he only played 114 games. His walk totals (7.8%) are not as good as Ben Zobrist’s, but otherwise he profiles a very similar batter.
Power hasn’t been a hallmark for Brantley, although he has slugged over .450 three of his last five seasons. He is more of a gap hitter than a home run threat, including back-to-back 45-double seasons in 2014 and ’15. Last season was one of his most productive from a power perspective with 36 doubles and 17 homers.
The obvious issue with the corner outfielder is health. A surgery on his right shoulder at the end of the 2015 season delayed the start of his following campaign. His 2016 comeback lasted only 11 games before he needed a second surgery on the shoulder that cost him the rest of the season. Brantley returned to the lineup in May of 2017, playing in only 90 games before an ankle injury ended his year early.
The shoulder and ankle appeared healthy in 2018 and Brantley’s numbers returned to their pre-injury levels as he logged 631 plate appearances over 143 games. The Braves are said to have money to spend this offseason and MLBTR predicted Brantley to Atlanta on the same three-year, $45 million deal McCutchen was expected to get, so it’s not as though we’re talking bargain-bin shopping here.
But for a Cubs lineup that lacked consistency and fell into a roster-wide slump in September and October, Brantley would provide a stable bat. He has flourished as a two-hole hitter for the Tribe, a spot Chicago has had a tough time getting production from. A contact hitter in a lineup still prone to the strikeout would certainly help smooth out any offensive rough patches.
If the Cubs are looking a good hitter at a lower price, they could do a lot worse than Michael Brantley.