GOODYEAR, Ariz.: In a perfect world, Indians left fielder Michael Brantley would play center field and hit leadoff.
But those are just Brantley’s personal preferences, which means little to him when it comes to baseball.
Growing up immersed in the game as the son of former major-league player Mickey Brantley, Michael Brantley was raised by the golden rule: Team needs always come before any individual desires.
It’s that kind of professional attitude that makes Brantley special in the eyes of the Indians, who kept him away from his first year of arbitration eligibility by announcing they had signed him to a four-year, $25 million contract extension. The deal includes an $11 million club option for a fifth year.
“Beyond what he does on the field, Michael earned this extension for the way he approaches the game,” Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti said. “He is a tireless worker, a great teammate, a complete professional in every sense of the word. When you’re making investments of this magnitude, those are the things you look for.”
And Brantley appreciates what the Indians have done for his career.
“Cleveland gave me my first opportunity to play at the major-league level, that doesn’t go unnoticed,” Brantley said. “I appreciate it. We took some great strides last year and I feel we can play better as a team, as a group. We have a great group of guys in the locker room and I’m excited to be a part of it for years to come.”
The contract is quite a pay upgrade for Brantley, who made $526,900 last season. In five seasons (the last three full time) in the major leagues, Brantley has a career batting average of .277 with 26 home runs and 212 RBI.
Brantley’s contributions to the organization go beyond his baseball skills.
“It’s genuine,” Antonetti said. “For those who spend any time around the team, you know it’s not just what Michael says. It’s what he lives every day. His approach defines team first; he’ll do anything to help the team win.”
That was obvious last season. First, Brantley willingly moved to left field to make room late for veteran free-agent center fielder Michael Bourn. And Brantley never complained when manager Terry Francona bounced him around the batting order.
He appeared in every spot in the lineup except ninth, and hit .284 with 10 homers and 73 RBI and had a career-high 17 stolen bases.
“I didn’t intend to do it,” Francona said. “Out of necessity last year, it seemed to really help our lineup. I don’t know where he’s going to hit. But [moving around again] it’s a possibility because he can handle it. It’s not the goal, and wasn’t really the goal last year.
“Whether he hates it or loves it, he handles it. Wherever you put him, he can hit good pitching … wherever you put him, he makes the guy in front of him and the guy behind him better.”
Brantley is no defensive slouch, either. Some thought he should have won a Gold Glove last year after compiling 11 outfield assists and not making an error to extend his franchise-record outfield errorless streak to 245 games.
Brantley shrugged off the suggestion by putting his team-first motto on display once again, but Antonetti wasn’t shy in adding his thoughts on the subject.
“Michael should have won a Gold Glove,” Antonetti said emphatically.
Brantley’s contract extension erases all three years of Brantley’s arbitration eligibility as well as what would have been his first year of free agency.
“Michael exemplifies the qualities we look for when bringing people, not just athletes, into our organization,” Antonetti said. “In a relatively short period of time, Michael has grown into a selfless leader who sets an example for our younger players.”
Brantley came to the Indians in 2008 as the player to be named later in the multi-player, blockbuster deal that sent star pitcher CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers at the trade deadline.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.