Grantland’s Jonah Keri: Gomes, Brantley, Kluber three of most valuable players in baseball

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Jonah Keri, a long-time national baseball writer who now writes for Grantland — and previously looked inside the Tampa Bay Rays’ approach in book form — recently published his MLB Trade Value column, and writes favorably about three of the Tribe’s best players: Yan Gomes, Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber.

Important note: Keri is not writing that these three players will be traded; they’ll be in Tribe uniforms for many years to come. As we’ve written here, each player is under club control through at least 2017. Keri simply writes that each player is among the most valuable in the game, thanks in large part to the contract extensions we signed Gomes and Brantley to before this season.

Details on each:

No. 25 most valuable contract in baseball: Yan Gomes (NR), C, Cleveland Indians

Aside from the minor leaguers, Gomes is probably the player on this list who has the least name-recognition among casual fans. That won’t be the case for long. Toronto drafted Gomes in the 10th round in 2009 and dealt him in 2012 for Esmil Rogers, a trade the Jays surely regret, and one that contributed to their decision to spend $82 million on Russell Martin this offseason. Gomes has quietly grown into one of the AL’s best all-around players, bashing 21 homers and posting a .278/.313/.472 line in 2014 while displaying strong pitch-framing skills and playing generally excellent defense. He’s 27 years old, he’s owed a paltry $20.95 million over the next five years, and the Tribe would need to spend only another $20 million to lock him up through 2021.

If the Indians were as good at signing free agents as they are trading for unheralded prospects, they’d be a damn dynasty by now.

16. Michael Brantley (NR), OF, Cleveland Indians
15. Corey Kluber (NR), SP, Cleveland Indians

I mentioned the Indians’ impressive prospect-thievery skills earlier, and here’s further proof: They got Brantley as a throw-in for CC Sabathia and got Kluber as an afterthought in a random Jake Westbrook–Ryan Ludwick three-way exchange. Not too shabby!

In 2014, Brantley blossomed from a decent all-around player to a .327/.385/.506 one-man wrecking crew who might be even better than his 7.0 WAR indicated. Brantley’s batting average on balls in play spiked to a career-high .333 in 2014, but there’s reason to believe that might not be a fluke: According to ESPN Stats & Info, he ranked eighth in the majors in hard-hit average, trailing only David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Andrew McCutchen, Adrian Beltre, Edwin Encarnacion, and Lucas Duda. At $19 million over the next three years (with an $11 million club option for 2018),1 the 27-year-old has emerged as a cornerstone.

As impressive as Brantley was, though, he took second billing to fellow breakout sensation Kluber, who tossed 235.2 innings, punched out 269 batters, posted a 2.44 ERA, and won the damn Cy Young. Kluber is 28, Indians property for four more seasons, and isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet. Brantley and Kluber earned two of the top four spots on my fake AL MVP ballot for 2014, and should continue earning that kind of recognition for years to come.

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