Brantley's return schedule affects offseason planning

Club's expectation remains for left fielder to be out into April, possibly May

Brantley's return schedule affects offseason planning

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Indians know they will be without left fielder Michael Brantley at least part of the first month of the season. Brantley's comeback from right shoulder surgery could even linger into May, making acquiring outfield help a priority right now.

That is the timetable and situation expected immediately following Brantley's November operation and it remains the same through the first day of the Winter Meetings on Monday at the Opryland Hotel. Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti was quick to quash rumblings that Brantley's comeback could drag deep into the summer.

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"There's been a lot of information that's been misreported over the last couple of days," Antonetti said in a sit-down with local reporters. "Michael is on track for his recovery. He's actually set for a recheck [on Tuesday]. There's been nothing out of the ordinary with his rehab so far. The timelines, everything we talked about with you, still remains the same."

Uncertainty over Brantley's timetable surfaced on Sunday night.

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During an appearance on MLB Network on the eve of the Meetings, reporter Peter Gammons said he heard that Brantley could be out until August after undergoing surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com cited a source saying the outfielder could be out until June. The Indians, however, have indicated that nothing has changed.

According to multiple sources within the front office and medical staff, the expectation remains that Brantley will be sidelined into April and possibly May. Antonetti made a point to reiterate that information on Monday, when he addressed the issue before fielding any questions and said he was caught off guard by the swirling reports.

"That did catch us by surprise," Antonetti said.

Brantley's arthroscopic surgery repaired a small labral tear, which was sustained on a diving attempt by the left fielder in a game on Sept. 22 against the Twins. On Tuesday, Brantley has a scheduled routine follow-up exam in Wilmington, Del., by Dr. Craig Morgan, who performed the operation. To date, the Indians have indicated that Brantley has made positives strides in his rehab program.

Cleveland has also taken steps to ensure Brantley does not push himself too hard, too soon.

"We were really upfront with Michael," Antonetti said. "We know his personality is going to be trying to do more, but he understands the importance of letting the rehab process play out and not trying to expedite it. We'll go as quickly as it makes sense, but not any faster. Michael is on board with that."

In 137 games, which marked Brantley's fewest in a season since 2011, the left-handed hitter batted .310 with 15 homers, 84 RBIs and a Major League-leading 45 doubles. He added 15 steals and 68 runs and finished with more walks (60) than strikeouts (51), while battling issues with his back and both shoulders at various points throughout the season.

Brantley's setback has impacted the Indians' offseason.

As things stand, Abraham Almonte is in center field and Lonnie Chisenhall in right field, plus the recently acquired Collin Cowgill (via the Angels) and Joey Butler (via the Rays) to provide depth.

Prospects Tyler Naquin and James Ramsey are also on the 40-man roster, along with utility man Jerry Sands. The Indians also have Shane Robinson and Michael Choice in the fold as non-roster invitees.

It goes without saying that Cleveland is in the market for more help in the outfield.

"Going into [the offseason], that was an area of focus," Antonetti said. "It was an area where we were trying to improve our alternatives. This added to that need. That's one of the reasons why you've seen us make some of these moves, too. We're not going to solve it with any one or two players. We wanted to try to get as many alternatives as we could to help."

Asked if second baseman Jason Kipnis -- an outfielder during his college days and early on in his Minor League career -- could be a temporary solution for the outfield, Antonetti said the club is not considering that scenario.

"Not at this point. It's not something we're considering," Antonetti said. "That transition from being in the infield and the outfield, and bouncing back and forth, is a lot easier said than done."

What the Indians are planning on doing is getting Brantley back as soon as reasonably possible.

"Michael missing a month or more is something we had to factor in," Antonetti said, "because we know he's not going to be available Opening Day. We're trying to put the best team on the field that we can on Opening Day and then when Michael comes back, we'll be able to easily find a spot for him."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.