Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in MLB. Tuesday is dedicated to veteran outfielder Michael Brantley.
Bryce Harper aside, the Phillies don't have a glaring outfield need. If they miss out on Harper, they could still enter 2019 with a group of Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Aaron Altherr and Rhys Hoskins vying for time in the outfield.
But if the Phillies do pursue an outfielder not named Harper, it should be Brantley.
Brantley will be 32 on May 15. (A birthday he shares with Emmitt Smith, Ray Lewis and me.)
In 10 years in Cleveland, he's hit .295/.351/.430 with an average of 38 doubles, 13 homers and 81 RBI per 162 games.
The biggest issue with Brantley is health. He had three surgeries between the end of the 2015 and 2017 seasons: shoulder, biceps, ankle. Those injuries caused him to miss 242 of 486 games the last three years — a game away from being exactly 50 percent.
The other notable issue is the discrepancy in his production against left-handed and right-handed pitchers. A lefty himself, Brantley last season hit .321 with an .889 OPS against righties — elite production. He hit just .277 with a .684 OPS against lefties — below league-average production. His career splits paint a similar picture.
If you're going to have splits like that, it's always better to be the guy who hits right-handers because righties make up about 70 percent of all major-league arms. Last season, Brantley faced a righty 73 percent of the time.
When healthy, though, Brantley is one of the most effective top-of-the-order hitters in the game. The two-hole these days is typically inhabited by a team's best hitter. It used to be the place you put a guy like Brantley, who is always between .285 and .300 and never strikes out.
He'd fit in well to this Phillies lineup because, as with fellow free agent Nick Markakis, Brantley provides skills the Phils' offense didn't have in 2018. The 2018 Phils did not have a consistent singles and doubles hitter. Brantley would have led them in batting average and on-base percentage with eight more doubles than anyone aside from Rhys Hoskins.
If the Phillies don't land Harper and Brantley is still out there, the Phillies should strongly consider a three-year deal in the $45 million range. That is a fair price for Brantley. Don't be surprised if the Braves also pursue him if Markakis leaves via free agency.
A key distinction between Brantley and A.J. Pollock, another talented but injury-prone outfielder: Pollock was extended a qualifying offer by his former team, the D-backs. Brantley was not. Therefore, in signing Pollock, the Phillies would forfeit a high draft pick — between Rounds 1 and 2 — whereas they'd give up no pick to sign Brantley.
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