One major difference between Brantley's situation and the injuries that Gomes and Kipnis encountered is the fact that Brantley has had the benefit of an offseason to recover. Last year, Gomes sustained a knee injury in April and the catcher then dealt with offensive issues after his return. Similarly, Kipnis tweaked an oblique in April 2014 and wasn't the same after his return.
Brantley underwent surgery on his right (non-throwing) shoulder in November and has been able to use this winter to get a jump on his rehab and comeback, without facing the pressure of the team playing games at the same time. With in-season injuries such as the ones faced by Gomes and Kipnis, a team runs the risk that a player might try to return before being completely recovered.
Now, Brantley's injury is expected to linger into April and possibly May, so the left fielder will run into that in-season pressure eventually. At least, though, he will have been able to go through an offseason and Spring Training ahead of time. The hope would be that the progress made in that time period can help Brantley return sooner rather than later.
That said, Cleveland will play this conservatively. Gomes hit .278 (.785 OPS) in '14 and won an American League Silver Slugger Award, only to hit .231 (.659 OPS) while coming back from the knee issue in '15. Kipnis was an All-Star again last year, but he hit .240 (.640 OPS) in '14 mainly due to the health woes. Brantley is the Tribe's best all-around offensive weapon, and the team needs to make sure he is at full strength when he is activated.
How long do you think Brantley will be out?
-- Haylee S., Akron, Ohio
The Indians said from the start that Brantley might be able to return some time in April or May, and the team has not changed its stance. It will be easier to gauge his progress come Spring Training. One thing is certain: If Brantley needs until June to feel like he's back to 100 percent, the Indians will give him that much time. They aren't going to rush him back and risk setbacks.
I'd say that not trading one of its top starters was Cleveland's best decision this winter. With a league-average offense (and that's with Brantley in the heart of the order), the Indians will need to get everything it can out of its pitching staff. That starts with the rotation, which is led by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. Keeping that foursome intact gives the Indians their best shot at contending, given the makeup of the rest of the roster.
Who do you think will hit in the cleanup spot in the order this year? Do you think Carlos Santana will be moved down in the lineup?
-- Tommy, Akron, Ohio
It's hard to say right now, as a handful of lineup slots are up for debate. For instance, Kipnis thrived as the leadoff hitter last year, but I could see him being bumped to the No. 3 hole with Brantley out. Francisco Lindor was strong as the No. 2 hitter, but might he move to the top spot? Rajai Davis could hit first, too. In the middle, newly acquired Mike Napoli might see time as the cleanup man to take some pressure off Santana, who could easily slide to the fifth spot. Manager Terry Francona will have all spring to toy around with these scenarios.
Do you see the Tribe adding another right-handed bat to maybe play right field? Do we trust Lonnie Chisenhall playing right every day?
-- Mike Y., Youngstown, Ohio
Chisenhall projects to get the bulk of the at-bats in right, considering he hits right-handed pitching best. Francona has also done well in picking spots for Chisenhall to get limited at-bats against lefties. The Indians acquired Collin Cowgill to potentially partner with Chisenhall in right, though Cowgill can also play center and left. Cowgill is best when limited to facing mostly left-handed pitching. Davis had relatively even splits last year, but has also handled lefties better than right-handers over his career.
Will the Indians pursue another outfield option like Dexter Fowler? Or will payroll not allow it?
-- Dave L., Cleveland
With the addition of Davis, and Brantley due to come back, I'd be surprised if the Indians added another starting outfielder. Fowler is interesting, but he also would cost Cleveland its top pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Besides the asking price, which is likely too steep for the Tribe's situation, the Indians do not have a protected first-round pick. If Brantley were going to miss the whole season, maybe Cleveland would be more willing to take that kind of gamble.
@MLBastian why haven't the Indians going after Austin Jackson? He's 28 and doesn't have a pick attached. Mike, cle #indiansinbox
This looks like an either/or situation with Davis. Both hit right-handed, perform better against lefty pitching and can handle center field. Davis, however, has been above league average for the past two years (101 weighted Runs Created plus in '15, and 103 wRC+ in '14), while Jackson has been below league average (94 in '15 and 86 in '14). Cleveland also needed a player willing to possibly lose some at-bats upon Brantley's return. For a one-year solution, Davis might've just been a better fit in the Tribe's eyes.
You're obviously referencing Cody Anderson, who was the AL's Pitcher of the Month in September. As of right now, it's not a lock that Anderson is ticketed for Triple-A Columbus. He and Josh Tomlin will head into Spring Training as the top candidates for the fifth rotation spot. If Cleveland feels at the end that Anderson is its best option, he'll get the job. I could see a scenario where Tomlin heads to the bullpen. Of course, if Anderson does head to Triple-A, well, that just speaks to Cleveland's rotation depth, doesn't it?