At the time, Cleveland could not have known it was landing a key piece to its future core. On Thursday, the Indians made it clear that Brantley is viewed in that light by officially announcing a four-year contract extension with the outfielder that includes a club option for 2018.
"When you make a trade," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "you have some sense, from your scouting reports, of what a player's on-field abilities might be. And you try to do the best you can to get an understanding of their makeup and what makes them tick. In bringing Michael over, we had some sense of those things.
"But I'm not sure we could fully appreciate just how great of a worker he is, how great of a teammate he is and how driven he is to be successful."
Brantley entered this offseason eligible for arbitration for the first time, but he decided to skip the entire three-year arbitration process entirely. His new contract includes $25 million in guaranteed salary and the fifth-year option is worth $11 million (or a $1 million buyout). The deal also includes a $3.5 million signing bonus that will be spread throughout the life of the contract.
Over the next four years, Brantley's base salaries will be $1.5 million in 2014, $5 million in '15, $6.5 million in '16 and $7.5 million in '17.
"This is a great day," Brantley said. "It's a blessing and I'm very happy to be a part of the Cleveland organization."
Signing Brantley to a multi-year contract falls in line with Cleveland's trend of trying to lock up young core players. The Indians inked catcher Carlos Santana to a pre-arbitration five-year, $21 million deal (with a sixth-year option) in April 2012. Cleveland also signed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to a two-year extension early in the 2012 season.
Among the team's other current players, extension candidates include starter Justin Masterson and second baseman Jason Kipnis. Cleveland has halted long-term talks with Masterson -- eligible for free agency next offseason -- for now in order to focus on a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. The team explored a multi-year deal with Kipnis last offseason and might revisit the talks again this spring.
"Continuity is important," Antonetti said. "We feel really good about the core group of guys that we have and we want to try to keep them together for as long as we can."
There are a variety of reasons behind Cleveland's belief that the 26-year-old Brantley was worth the investment. There is, of course, his steady play on the field, but Antonetti was quick to point to Brantley's selflessness. Without complaint, Brantley shifted out of center field and into left after the Tribe signed Michael Bourn last winter. Last season, Brantley also started games in eight of nine lineup spots.
Rather than ask to have a home in one part of the batting order, Brantley accepted his role and performed as one of the Indians' top hitters in clutch situations. He hit .305 (.783 OPS) with two outs, .375 (.870 OPS) with runners in scoring position and .364 (.932 OPS) with two outs and RISP. Those numbers were only a touch above Brantley's career showing in each category.
"Whether he loves it or hates it, he handles it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Wherever you put him, he can hit good pitching. You saw his numbers with runners in scoring position and all those types of things. It makes him a guy that, wherever you put him ... it makes the guy in front of him or behind him better."
Antonetti added that not every player completely adopts that team-first mentality.
"A lot of guys talk about that," Antonetti said, "and will give the surface, 'Hey, I'm a team player, I'm a team player.' Michael lives that every day."
Brantley credits his dad, former big leaguer and former Major League hitting coach Mickey Brantley, for his development not only as a hitter, but as a professional behind the scenes. Brantley said his father also stressed the importance of having a plan before stepping into the batter's box.
From Little League to the big leagues, Brantley has strived to take that approach.
"That started when I was really young," Brantley said. "I've kind of made sure I've kept that same mindset and that same focus each and every at-bat. I never try to give an at-bat away."
Brantley has one of the highest contact rates in the Majors and posted a .284/.332/.396 slash line last season, along with 10 homers, 26 doubles, three triples, 73 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and 66 runs in 151 games. Defensively, he contributed 11 outfield assists and made no errors, extending his franchise-record outfield errorless streak to 245 games.
In parts of five Major League seasons with the Indians, Brantley has hit .277 with 26 home runs, 140 extra-base hits, 212 RBIs and 240 runs scored in 514 games. Over the past two seasons as a regular in the outfield, he has turned in a .286/.340/.399 slash line across 300 games.
Roughly 11 months after being traded to the Indians in 2008, Brantley made his Major League debut. Last season, Brantley was an integral part of the Tribe's first trip to the playoffs since '07.
Brantley had both moments in mind when deciding to sign his extension.
"Cleveland gave me the first opportunity to play at the Major League level," Brantey said. "That doesn't go unnoticed and I appreciate it. We took some great strides last year and I feel like we can play better as a team, as a group. We have such a great group of guys in the locker room and I'm excited to be a part of it for years to come."