Breaking down the Bourn signing and more
The Indians agreed to terms with free agent outfielder Michael Bourn on a four year $48 million contract on Monday night. Here are some random thoughts on the deal…
- Bourn's contract includes a vesting option for a fifth year in 2017 for $12 million if he has 550 plate appearances in 2016, so the total value of the deal could end up at five years $60 million. The deal is also structured as follows: $7 million in 2013, $13.5 million in 2014, $13.5 million in 2015, and $14 million in 2016. For a full listing of the contract details and a look at the updated Indians payroll and player control outlook over the next seven years, be sure to check out the payroll page.
- I’m just stunned at the offseason the Indians have had. I understand that they have yet to play any real games and often times what looks good on paper doesn’t always work out as hoped. An injury here and there and a poor performance here and there, and suddenly these moves will look a lot less appealing in a few years. Time will tell on all of that, but right now what is impressive is the sheer volume of moves the Indians have made this offseason. They made two significant free agent signings and one blockbuster trade, and oh yeah, they also mixed in a marque manager hiring, two other complimentary free agent deals, another smaller trade, and lots of interesting non-roster invite signings. This has easily been the best offseason in the history of the organization simply by the amount of moves they have made and the significance of those moves. Looking back on this offseason in five to ten years it may prove to be historic or a colossal failure, but for now, it has been a heck of an offseason. If you are an Indians fan and are not pumped up by what the team has done to rebuild the team this offseason, then you don’t have a heartbeat.
- As for my thoughts on Bourn, I believe he impacts a team with his defense, speed, and bat, and in that order. He is an impact defender and will really help the Indians in the area of run prevention and he should get to a lot more balls in the gaps that the outfield last season was unable to get to. He also can make things happen on the bases with his legs as he has the speed to steal 45-60 bases this season for the Indians, something not seen since the likes of Kenny Lofton in the mid-90s. I’m not big on the bat as he has little power, strikes out a lot, and is only average at getting on-base, but I think he will hold his own there and be a league average hitter. He will not wow you with the bat, and he may even disappoint some people who may be expecting more than he is offensively, but where he is going to delight a lot of people is with his speed and defense.
- The addition of Bourn means the Indians will shift around their defense to fit him into the lineup. The primary lineup will have Michael Brantley in left field, Bourn in center field, and Drew Stubbs in right field. Nick Swisher will now primarily play first base and Mark Reynolds will primarily be the designated hitter, but Swisher will also get some time in right field to limit Stubbs’ exposure to right-handed pitching and Reynolds will get some time at first base and third base. Also, all of the regulars in the field will rotate at designated hitter, so there are many different ways the players can fill the positions.
- One thing is certain, and that is the Indians outfield defense has been upgraded significantly this offseason. The outfield of Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo and the mess that was left field with Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan and Aaron Cunningham was one of the worst in the game last season, but now they have one of the best in the game this season. It is hard to judge a player based on defensive statistics, but the one that MLB teams like the most is UZR, and last season Bourn had a 22.4 UZR which was tops among all outfielders in baseball, and was almost three times better than the next best center fielder (Denard Span, 8.5 UZR). Amazingly, Drew Stubbs was third among center fielders with a 6.5 UZR, so the Indians are getting the first and third best defensive center fielders in all of baseball last season, at least according to UZR. There is no doubt this is going to be a very fun outfield to watch this season.
- Now, one thing to note with the Indians having three average to well above average center fielders on the team, is it gives the Indians some flexibility not only in how they use them, but also could make Brantley and Stubbs attractive to a team in a trade later this season or next offseason. Including this season the Indians control Brantley for four more seasons and Stubbs for three more seasons, so there is some value there, probably more so with Brantley right now considering Stubbs is coming off a tough 2012 campaign and will need to reestablish his value this season with a good bounce back campaign. There was some speculation after the Bourn signing that the Indians may try to flip one of Stubbs or Brantley for a pitcher, but that was because there were unknowns as to how the Indians would fit everyone into the lineup. Right now it appears the Indians are set to go forward with the Brantley-Bourn-Stubbs alignment in the outfield, but one of Brantley-Stubbs could surely be an asset the team considers moving in June or July to get the right pitcher.
- For once the market favored the Indians. Every year the big market teams are able to outspend the smaller market teams like the Indians, but this was a unique offseason because the Yankees were not big spenders and it was the first offseason with the new CBA rules with regard to how clubs are charged compensation for signing another team’s free agent. Teams simply do not want to lose their first round pick not so much for the pick itself, but because of the huge hit a team takes to their draft pool. The Indians’ could not lose their first round pick because of the rule where the top ten picks are protected, and they used that to their advantage to sign not just Bourn, but Swisher as well. Under the old system where teams could pay whatever they wanted in the draft, teams would have been fine with giving up their first round pick as they could just overspend on signability guys in the second and later rounds, and thus the Indians probably would have been unable to sign either Swisher or Bourn. For once, things worked out well for them, so let’s just hope the players now live up to what they can be.
- Right now the Indians have depth everywhere, which is important as injuries are bound to crop up. They have four legitimate starting quality outfielders on the roster in Brantley, Bourn, Stubbs and Swisher. They have three options at first base with Swisher, Reynolds and Santana. They have three catching options in Santana, Marson and Gomes. They have a solid trio of Chisenhall, Cabrera, and Kipnis at third base, shortstop, and second base, but also have Aviles ready to step in and play all three positions on a short or long term basis if needed without much drop off. They are bursting at the seams with bullpen depth, and the starting staff is a solid seven pitchers deep, maybe eight if Daisuke Matsuzaka impresses this spring. And this does not include a solid group of non-roster invites which several of them like Matt Capps, Scott Kazmir, Rich Hill, and so on provide good depth alternatives. It is amazing when you think about it how well the front office has reshaped and restocked the roster this offseason and the level of depth they were able to acquire in every facet of the team.
- A lot of people are now asking, what’s next? The Indians surprised everyone with the Bourn deal that came completely out of nowhere, that some wonder if the Indians will go for broke and try to sign free agent right-handed pitcher Kyle Lohse to a multi-year deal. While he might be worth pursuing, he would not have the same kind of impact on the roster as Bourn should have. Lohse is a league average starting pitcher, and will likely see a dip in his performance coming over to the American League. His stuff is average and he does not throw hard, and in a lot of ways is a more experienced and proven version of Josh Tomlin. It is probably a very big long shot at this point to get Lohse, and I have to think the Indians are just not that interested in him because he may not offer much of an upgrade over what they already have when you consider they would probably have to pay him at least $10 million a year for three to four years.
- It is important to note that while Lohse had an impressive season last year with the Cardinals, it was also a career year and much better than his career numbers in the American League. Check out his career line in 172 games in his American League career: 51-57, 4.88 ERA, 10.2 H/9, 1.3 HR/9, 2.9 BB/9, 5.6 K/9, 93 ERA+. Is that worth $10 million or more for three or four seasons? Is that going to make you rest easier about the starting pitching problems? He may help a little, but not enough to validate what they would be paying him. Also, keep in mind that a healthy Carlos Carrasco could probably be as good or better than Lohse this season. Carrasco has more upside and his career is much shorter, but check out how similar his career pitching line is in 33 career games to Lohse’s career in the American League: 10-15, 4.93 ERA, 10.2 H/9, 1.3 HR/9, 3.1 BB/9, 6.3 K/9, 81 ERA+.
- The structure of the Bourn deal is interesting as the Indians back loaded it to save on payroll for this season and have more of the contract kick in starting next season, which coincidentally is also the first season the Indians and other MLB clubs will begin to receive an annual windfall of over $25 million from the league for the new national TV deal. Nick Swisher’s deal is also back loaded in a similar way. The Indians already have a lot of money committed to 2014, so it will be interesting to see how things shake out with the likes of Chris Perez, Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera over the next year as the Indians may not be able to keep all three and improve the team next offseason, though, again, the new TV money may make anything possible.
- The Indians will have a payroll a little north of $80 million this season, which is up about $17 million from what it was last offseason. That is a sizable commitment in payroll not just this offseason, but in upcoming season’s as well even though they don’t have the attendance to support such a payroll increase. Ultimately the Indians need to win and win consistently to get fans to come to the ballpark in good numbers, but hopefully the fans respond to what the Indians have done this offseason and show a marked improvement in the way the team is supported at home games.
- The Indians had strong interest in trading for Bourn back in July of 2011, but the Astros ultimately dealt him to the Braves. Prior to the deal the Indians were considered by many as a favorite to acquire him, so the seeds of interest were definitely there this offseason.
- The focus is now squarely on the starting rotation as for the Indians to have success they need health and a good, consistent showing from their starters this season. No one expects them to have career years, but if they can just get league average starting pitching they are going to be significantly improved and in the thick of things for a long time this season.
- Without a doubt, the hiring of Terry Francona as the new manager is the biggest and most important move the Indians have made this offseason. His acquisition has provided leadership, credibility and most importantly they have given him the freedom to have a voice in what they are doing and they have listened.
- Going into the offseason the Indians 2013 Draft bonus pool was projected to be about $7.7 million, but with the loss of the two picks for signing Swisher and Bourn the Indians will lose about $2 million in bonus pool money. The 2013 Draft is considered a weak draft, so it is going to hurt the Indians with some of their flexibility in getting high upside signings after the first round.
- It is also important to note that the Indians did not send either of their two picks to the Yankees and Braves as compensation for signing Swisher and Bourn. Signing teams simply forfeit the picks (they are essentially just deleted), and the Yankees and Braves will be awarded first round supplemental picks from Major League Baseball.
- Bottom line, no matter what happens this season or how these moves shake out in the long run, the Indians “offseason of dreams” has been a huge shot in the arm to the morale of the fan base. Remember, just five months ago this organization hit rock bottom with their fans and a lot of people had given up on them. The turnaround with the perception of this team in just five months is mindboggling.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2013 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
I am not that worried about spending so much cash to win now. Why? Although its true we used up all if not more of the cash that come off the books it was used in smart and productive ways. In fact I would say we got the better of the deals at least in the case of Bourn.
The real reason I am not worried though is because we have filled up the team for the next 3-4 years at least. Take a look.
The Outfield: It was a mess coming into this offseason. We had no true center fielder and Choo was as good as gone next year. Now we have a gold glove center fielder, gold glove right field and our fromer center fielder all here for the next 3 years. We also have Nick Swisher to step in if a need comes up. With Levon Washington and Tyler Naquin in the pipeline. I would love to see Naquin make it up here by 2015 or sooner and have him platoon with Stubbs.
The Infield: Was pretty good going into the offseason but is now even better. Trading for Aviles was huge. He provides great defense, speed and an average bat at 3 positions. This allows us to rest Asdrubal and Kipnis and protect Chisenhall. We also have Chord Phelps and nice depth in the minors with Paulino, Ronnie, Wolters and of course Lindor. Then you add in Nick Swisher at first and its a pretty great infield. I mean the potential is there if Kipnis and Chiz step up and Asdrubal rebounds to have a great year. All the guys except Asdrubal are here for at least the next 3 years. Asdrubal is not that big of a deal due to having Aviles and Linor, Wolters, and Ronnie waiting to take over. So, the infield is again set for the next 3 years at least.
DH: We went from no DH to a crowded position. We could always sign someone next season to come in for a nice cheap contract or even sign Reynolds again. We also picked up McGuiness and Yan this offseason and I could see them filling the spot for the next 3 years along with the rest of the bunch. We also have Mcdade, Aguilera and even Matt Laporta as options down the road. I know Laporta is never going to be the clean up hitter we imagined but he could be a late bloomer. As far fetched as it sounds it would be great if Laporta can find himself this season and perhaps work his way into a platoon with McGuiness or a FA next year. Is .265 with 18-20 homers too much to ask? Probably but you never know. I wouldn't say the position is "set" but we have options going forward.
Catcher: Obviously Carlos Santana is going to be here for the next 3 years and hopefully leading the charge in the middle of the lineup. Although thin in the minors we still have two good back up catchers in Lou Marson and Yan Gomes. Both guys who I could see being solid or even elite back up catchers.
Bullpen: We have tons of options so I don't see us needing to spend much money here.
So, there you have it. We are basically set everywhere except the rotation for the next 3 years. It should also be noted that Asdrubal, Perez, Ubaldo, Reynolds, Smith and maybe Masterson and Meyers could all be gone by next year so that will give us more money to play around with.
Since I expect us to at least trade Asdrubal and Perez it should allow us to save money and at the same time add 1 or 2 young starting pitchers to the rotation.
Although the rotation is not exactly "set" if we can make a couple smart trades we should be fine going into the future. I believe we have a nice young core in Masterson, Carrasco and Bauer. If you add in another pitcher from the Perez and Asdrubal trade as well as other internal options such as McCalister, Salazar, House, and Kluber we should be able to run a healthy stating rotation out there for the next 3 years. It should also be noted that Meyers also has an option for next year. So, the rotation next year could be Masterson-Carrasco-Bauer-McCalister-(Perez, Ascab trade) or Salazar or Meyers.
So, as you see we basically have the foundation for a strong team for at least the next 3 years if we can just get a little luck in the rotation. One spot that does worry me is Closer since I feel having good bullpen arms does not always mean you have a good closer. I think it makes sense to groom Trey Haley for this role or Hector Rondon if we get him back.
So, as you can see if you look with a glass half full approach we have set up a solid and talented team for the next 3 years so with the money coming off the books next year we should be fine. In fact the only things I could see us needing next year is another starter, DH and bullpen arm and since we already have options we might not really need anything.
I'd like to see them trade Stubbs of a solid defensive catcher that can handle a pitching staff and call a game - move Swisher to RF, Reynolds to 1B and make Santana a DH. Santana has been catching since 2008 and he still stabs for balls and loses concentration. Catching is the most important defensive position on the field. It screams cerebral. Santana has the lowest baseball IQ I've seen in an Indian player since Sizemore. Let Santana DH full-time. It's the best way for him to help the team. heck, Bud Show had stats last year that showed the Indians one of the worst baserunning teams in MLB, and Santana was ranked the worst basrunner in all of MLB. All he can do is hit. Let him hit.
"Doesn't eliminate Carrera from the roster".
Stupid, smart gadgets correct the right thing...
My guess is EZ Carrera makes the club as a 4th OF / pinch runner. I think this does eliminate a spot on the roster for him, but it certainly means they could move on. Carrera has value for his flexibility in the OF and speed on the base paths. He could be a guy that gets flipped for a PTBNL / cash at doe point if he doesn't have a good camp.
The Indians have assembled an interesting team. The flexibility with the OF/IF could really work to maximize the individuals' talents. People knock the pitching staff, but their stockpiling of bullpen arms is another aspect. The starting pitching has upside but is all question marks, but the bullpen that's deep with good arms could be an equalizer on the pitching side. I'm very curious to see how it plays out.
This provides me with an opportunity to say my piece on Perez and Asdrubal.
Perez, if he remains with the Indians, will save another 35-40 games, and qualify for a bump to probably $9-10M in his final arbitration season. If the Tribe moves him, Pestano will do the job next season for anything between $1.5M-$4M, depending on whether he saves games this season.
Unlike most fans, it seems, I'm not nearly as excited about the prospect of Pestano closing games. Don't get me wrong, Pestano is a fantastic reliever, saved 70 games in the minors, and misses a ton of bats. He would *probably* be a good closer. However, take a look at his career platoon splits. LH batters have a career .780 OPS against Pestano, while RH batters have a .446 OPS. Perez, on the other hand, has absolutely no platoon weakness (.652 vs. RHB, .656 vs. LHB). That platoon stat is important, as you want your closer to be able to face whoever comes to bat in the 9th, and not be vulnerable to pinch hitters. All in all, I would absolutely prefer that we NOT have to pay $7-10M for a closer, but Pestano is not the *sure thing* a lot of fans seem to think he is as a closer.
Asdrubal, on the other hand, is slightly over-valued, I think. According to UZR (by no means a perfect stat, but helpful), we could save as many as 16 runs by playing Aviles instead of Cabrera at SS this season in the field. Offensively, Cabrera is obviously the much better player. However, moving Cabrera to free up $ and extract maximum trade value could still be a great move, since Aviles is a pretty decent stopgap solution, given his defensive value.
I love the moves the FO has made this offseason, but we're not quite where we need to be to contend. They have wisely improved the team while keeping alive our window of contention of 2014-2017. However, one Trevor Bauer won't do it. We need a couple more FOR-capable prospects within 1-2 years of the majors, and in an ideal world I would expect the FO to look to move Cabrera and/or Perez at the trade deadline.
Regardless of what happens, Indians baseball is a hell of a lot more exciting than it was 6 months ago.
I've been a Bourn fan for a number of yrs, he just didn't seem himself. I think we could expect something like...
155 games .275 BA 30 dbls, 8 triples 5 hrs 50 SB and a AS appearance.
Albers, Smith, and probably Marson will get replaced with minimum salary players in 2013. That's a savings of $10.5MM or so including the Pestano for CP swap. Arbitration increases should be less than $10MM in 2014.
While it's true that the Jimenez, Myers, Reynolds, and Hafner/Choo money will likely all be coming off the books, it is almost entirely matched by the increases guaranteed to ACab ($3.5M increase), Santana ($3M increase), Bourn ($6.5M increase), and Swisher ($4M increase). Not to mention Brantley, Carrasco, and Pestano all hitting arbitration, which will cause a significant increase.
Unless Significant salaries (Cabrera, Perez) are moved in a trade, there will be very little money available for any further FA money going forward.
Also, as for trading Cabrera right now for pitching, it is not going to happen right now. No team is going to part with much of value as far as starting pitching goes right now. Going to have to see how things shake out with the current staff, and reassess in June/July when everyone has more established needs and are willing to part with arms.
This years draft will also be interesting to watch. With the bonus pool being reduced due to free agent signings, Grant and his group will really have to do their homework and minimize the misses.
I think Royals and Indians will overtake White Sox and challenge Tigers, but ultimately battle it out over second place.
Indians will also have money to spend next off-season as contract of Jiminez, Myers and Reynolds will come off books and they are paying $6.25 million to Hafner and Choo this year.
Definitely an exciting time for Tribe fans!!!!