Life is truly boring here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario. With the Super Bowl over and draft rumblings beginning in Berea for the Browns; and with the season essentially over at Quicken Arena with a Cavaliers team that plays as though basketball is a secondary calling, I’m ecstatic that this will be my final Corner column written without actual Cleveland Indians’ players officially reporting to camp. A week from now, the Hot Stove season will officially come to a close, and while there will still be players to sign and remnants of offseason maneuvering, we should have actual player reports to discuss.
In the meantime, the Indians appear to be heading to Goodyear with a team that looks much like the team that headed to Goodyear last season. Of course, it was in this column last year at this time that I reported with certainty that “Bourn wasn’t coming to Cleveland unless there was some sort of insane collusion amongst teams to ensure the Indians get him. In the end, there’s no real need, and likely, no real money.”
Five days later, Bourn was sitting at a podium at Progressive Field announcing his signing. While there wasn’t any Major League collusion, the structure of baseball’s Qualifying Offers and the refusal of teams to give up their slotted first round money in the draft allowed the Indians to sign Bourn to what amounted to a massive bargain in comparison to market value. This was re-asserted in December in a Trend Spotting here at IBI that supported that his contract remains a bargain in comparison to today’s market, even though the Indians could have likely allotted the money to different areas of the team.
The move cemented the Indians as a team that was using all of its resources to improve, and really supported the hiring of Terry Francona as the team’s centerpiece moving forward.
While we can argue the validity of the Indians’ signings last season using our rearviewmirror, it’s hard to argue the net results. To coin a couple of songs from Pearl Jam, the team went from a 68-win ‘Nothing Man’ to a 92-win “Better Man.” While the numbers of the signings that came after January may have not been as stellar as fans and Tribe brass predicted, the sudden drive to improve in the offseason, combined with a monumental effort from collective offense and the starting rotation drove the team through a final month that will be hard to match by any team, let alone this Indians team.
…but I keep coming back to that Bourn move.
There had been public speculation all offseason long that the Indians could be players for Bourn, and in the end, that turned out to be true. Not only was he willing to come to Cleveland, but the Indians were willing to give him a substantial amount of money. Yes, it was under market value (still is, relative to other centerfielders in the league considered “elite”), but for the Indians it was far beyond what many thought they would pay for any free agent, let alone a second major free agent signing.
Which brings me to my question of the day: Could Michael Bourn the Indians major signing for the 2014 season?
There are a lot of semantics when it comes to the Indians and their financial situation, and it winds its way through a poor fanbase, around their sad-sack TV deal (in comparison to other markets) and gets lodged in their recent history of failing to lure in prominent free agents without having to overspend to the point of financial ruin.
Some will sell that they did overspend on Bourn but in the grand scheme of Major League Baseball, that’s simply not the case. It can be argued, but not fully backed until Bourn quantifies his 2013 struggles with another season of regression. If he rebuilds his on-the-field performance, the Indians immediately gain immense value.
Oh sure, some will never, ever get past the amount of times Michael Bourn strikes out, and while it’s true it’s a detriment if he’s not getting on base at a high clip, there’s a possibility that he turns things around. Of course, most projections have Bourn continuing his downward trend. Of course, there are other factors involved, as it appears as though Bourn may have been playing through injury after a fast start.
It’s still interesting looking at how the Indians acquired Bourn, and even Swisher, to some extent.
The Indians were playing a bit of a buffer with regards to both players. Both free agents were finding their way through the first year minefield of Qualifying Offers, and found the market to be far slimmer than initially thought. As I mentioned before, many teams didn’t want to lose the slot-money associated with losing their first-round pick, so they just didn’t make offers. The teams that didn’t have to worry about losing that money because of their poor records often didn’t have the money to spend, or weren’t in the market for a thirty-ish centerfielder, or a tweener power-hitter who is closing in on his post-prime years.
It left the free agents in an interesting position. Could they find a team that would offer them substantial years, if not the total value that they wanted, or would they have to take a smaller one-year contract that would allow them to play for big dough.
With Swisher, the Indians likely paid a little more than they should have, but it was a landmark signing. In bringing in the Rah-Rah-Brohio Boy, the Indians made a splash, showed free agents they would spend money if they had it, and brought in an in-your-face-clubhouse presence that often rubbed veteran teammates the wrong way, but would fit perfectly with the Tribe.
With Bourn, it was a perfect storm of a signing, and one that I find far more interesting today, as we close in on the end of the offseason. Bourn wanted multiple years, didn’t want to miss spring training, and likely didn’t want to have to go through this again this offseason. Atlanta was already off the table because they had already brought in B.J. Upton with a five-year, $75.25 million dollar deal.
Think about that for a minute. They are paying B.J. Upton, on average, $15 million a year.
Now Upton certain provides a different skillset than Bourn, but I just wanted to remind you all that Upton hit .184 last season, with a .557 OPS. They likely could have waited and signed Bourn for much less. You can shred Bourn all you want, but he was definitively an above-replacement level player last year in a down season. Upton was not.
I wonder what the projections looked like going into 2013 for both?
Enter the Indians, who had to find that friction point that would convince the centerfielder to come to Cleveland, while not making him look towards a one-year “balloon” contract somewhere else. They clearly had to make concessions, but in the end, Bourn, whose career WAR was near identical to Upton’s in nearly the same amount of time up to that point, and the Indians were able to find a match.
It was a big deal, even though you have many that didn’t like the deal. Yes, it was an overabundance of similar resources after the Indians acquired Drew Stubbs, but coming off of a year in which Aaron “Freakin'” Cunningham became a regular visitor in left, along with a potpourri of other garbage can fodder, it was a good problem to have.
Of course, a four-year contract has more life than one season.
That’s really the question for the Indians’ centerfielder as we close in on the 2014 season. While many are pounding the pulpit for a Bourn trade, he could prove to be the Indians’ biggest “signing” in 2014 if he rebounds. Sure, Bourn will be pulling in $13.5 million this season, and he’s coming off his worst season to date, but it is possible it’s not a trend.
At least that’s what the Indians are counting on.
Can Bourn become the run-producing lead-off hitter that he’s been in the past? Chances are pretty good that age will prevent that from happeneing. Can Bourn find some sort of middle ground though if he remains healthy for the entire season?
I think so. It may not be in the lead-off role, but will see where the road takes him. What’s clear is that if he rebounds in 2014, the Indians will be far better for it.
While Bourn’s play is certainly key to any improvement that the Indians could make in 2014, what’s more curious to me is if the Indians could pull off another late move in 2014.
Much of this centers around Ubaldo Jimenez, who wouldn’t cost the Indians first round compensation, because he played for the Indians last season. I’m not here to debate the yes’s or the no’s, just to present that he’s a legit option.
He’s not the only one though, but he is close.
I’m intrigued with A.J. Burnett, only because he’s a certain one or two-year deal, and while he could come in at more than $10-12 million, although I’m not sure exactly where his deal will land. I do think Burnett is the latest cog in the starting pitching machine, but the Indians haven’t been linked to him at all.
I’m also interested in Paul Maholm and Bronson Arroyo to some extent, but do worry about a transition to the American League. There’s been some discussion about Arroyo and Josh Tomlin being equivalent. Now, I’m not big Arroyo fan, but I just can’t touch that. I just can’t. I will say that I would only sign either starter if the price tag was right, and was a bargain.
Are the Indians likely to make a move in the next week? Of course not, but I did say the same thing last year.
What’s more likely for the Indians is that they hold whatever money they have left over for the time being and take a ‘wait-and-see’ policy with their current roster. Will their starting rotation hold up enough to make signing or trading for a starter long-term unnecessary? Will Bourn rebound offensively to give the Indians the spark at the top of the order (or somewhere else). Can the offense build a steady stream off offense instead of quick and massive bursts?
Can the Indians improve in 2014?
It’s distinctly possible that the Indians do improve. If the Tribe can manage to stay in the hunt through July, this could be the year that the Tribe makes a move at the trade deadline. They do have commodities, both at the upper levels of the minors, and perhaps at the major league level.
While the Indians have been hesitant in the past to make moves, they should have some ready-to-play major league candidates that could dislodge some big league collateral. Might Jose Ramirez and/or Francisco Lindor make Asdrubal Cabrera expendable, even in a stretch run? Might a resurgent Asdrubal Cabrera make Ramirez and/or Joe Wendle expendable as a part of a bigger trade? You could even make a case that Michael Bourn could become expendable if the right mix of players continue to excel, or rebound to past numbers.
I guess my point here is that the Indians have many questions to answer in 2014, but if they manage to put things together as they did last year through the first three months of the season, the Indians still have the ability to improve their team going forward.
And yeah, there’s always that slim chance that they have one last offseason or spring training surprise.