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How much better are the Indians after Bourn deal?

How much better are the Indians after Bourn deal?
February 12, 2013
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So, are there still any lingering doubts about this new Cleveland Indians team and the front office’s approach? Those doubts had to be put to rest Monday evening.

At just a little past the 8’o’clock evening hour, it was announced that the Indians had come to terms with free agent outfielder Michael Bourn on a four-year, $48 million deal with a $12 million vesting option for a fifth year. There is no Indians fan on the planet that can honestly say they saw this coming.

To be clear, every Indians move this offseason was solid and every move served a purpose. But no move was more electrifying than Monday’s signing of Bourn.

The effectiveness of shock value is debatable, but don’t tell that to an Indians fan today. While the team’s fan base was already in high spirits because of an uncharacteristically busy offseason, the signing of Bourn was like a pure shot of adrenaline.

The acquisition of Bourn helps to fill some of the last persisting questions surrounding the Tribe’s offense. In fact, it can be argued that the Indians have their first true leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton.

Just think of how Bourn immediately improves this team. Leadoff hitter? Check. Speed on the base paths? Check. Gap power? Check. Plus-plus defense? Yep, he’s got that too.

For his career, Bourn has been the prototypical leadoff hitter. Since the 2008 season, he’s stolen at least 41 bases per season, and he has a career line of .272/.339/.365 in 871 career Major League games.

Beyond his offensive prowess, Bourn is an exceptional defender in centerfield — arguably the best at his position. For evidence, consider his UZR of 22.4 with the Atlanta Braves in 2012. The next closest player was the Minnesota Twins Denard Span, who had a UZR of 8.5. Maybe it’s time to abridge that earlier statement: Bourn is the best defender at his position.

While any offseason move can look great on paper, the ultimate goal is that that move bears fruit for the Major League club. The Bourn signing is the latest in a series of offseason maneuvers that the Indians have performed in an effort to improve on the team’s abysmal 68-94 record.

The Indians’ flaws following last season have been well-documented: a lack of pitching, right-handed hitters, power, a leadoff hitter and production from the outfield.

Every move this offseason seemed to address at least one of those needs. Mark Reynolds brings right-handed power. Nick Swisher helps shore up the outfield and is a switch-hitter. The signing of Brett Myers combined with the trade for Trevor Bauer alleviates some of the pitching woes. And finally, Bourn provides speed, exceptional defense and gives the team a true leadoff hitter.

So, with all these moves now complete, just how much better are the Indians heading into the 2013 season? As stated earlier, the goal is to improve and these moves become irrelevant if the Tribe fails to do that.

Offensively, there is no doubt that this team has significantly improved. Just take a look at this mock lineup:

  1. Michael Bourn
  2. Jason Kipnis
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera
  4. Nick Swisher
  5. Mark Reynolds
  6. Carlos Santana
  7. Michael Brantley
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall
  9. Drew Stubbs

Salivating yet?

But for all the offensive improvements, the pitching staff still is filled with major question marks. If the Indians did make a mistake this season, perhaps it was the signing of Myers.

At the time, the move seemed like an appropriate one, but is it possible that the Indians would rethink the move had they known Kyle Lohse would still be a free agent as of February 12?

The problem with the Tribe’s rotation is that a positive 2013 forecast is largely based on rebound performances from Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. When you consider the seasons that the two players had in 2012, that’s just not a good thing.

Most agree that both players have the stuff to be more than capable Major League starters. Yet, while they have the stuff, neither player seemed to be able to command it in 2013.

Jimenez walked a career-high 4.8 batters per nine innings while Masterson walked 3.8 batters per nine innings (more than a whole batter more than his walk rate in 2011). Unfortunately, these are just not the type of numbers you want to see from your supposed top two starting pitchers.

Outside of Jimenez and Masterson, Myers is also a question mark because he has not pitched as a starter since the 2011 season. It could be that he makes a flawless transition back into the rotation, but there could also be some lumps and bruises along the way.

Perhaps even more troubling is all the questions surrounding the slew of fifth starter candidates. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Carlos Carrasco is somewhat of a wild card, and it appears as if Bauer could use more seasoning at the Triple-A level. Minor league signings like Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka are nice, but remember, they are minor league signings for a reason.

It may be hard to believe, but it appears as if Zach McAllister may head into the season as the starting pitcher with the fewest concerns. Sadly, it just cannot be a good thing when you have the most faith in a starting pitcher who has only had 26 career Major League starts.

So, this brings us back to the question of just how much better is this year’s edition of the Indians compared to last year’s? Certainly, this team is definitely better, but fans may want to hold off on making their deposits for postseason tickets.

Considering the uncertainty of the pitching staff, it’s hard to say for sure that this team will even finish above .500. Sure, if Masterson and Jimenez rebound and if the young pitchers progress, this staff could look quite nice. But remember, those are two big ifs.

At this point, it seems as if the Indians may be the third best team in the American League Central. The signing of Bourn almost certainly pushes them ahead of the Kansas City Royals, but it’s hard to put them above the Chicago White Sox, and they’re certainly still behind the Detroit Tigers.

So, the signing of Bourn is great, and it definitely makes this team much better. Unfortunately, it’s just not the postseason guarantee that many Tribe fans seem eager to make it out to be.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Jwahoo
February 14, 2013 - 11:55 PM EST
Were going to be so much better off then people think. As long as we don't trade Stubbs.... his value is too low I would assume right now. Hes going to be a big part of the team this year. I just have a gut feeling he will provide power 15-20 homers, awesome defense, and around 35 stolen bases.

The piching staff is iffy but we have improved it very much going into the new season. Having Bourn and Stubbs added to the outfield should save alot of runs as should adding Mike Aviles to protect the infield. Moving Swisher to first also improves the defense allowing Reynolds to DH.

The bullpen also looks very deep and like it could save the starting rotation. I mean a great closer like Perez, two strong set up men in Smith and Pestano, we added depth in the middle with Wood, Capps, Albers, and especially Shaw. We have Huff, Hagadone, Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir and Barnes to make sure we have two strong lefties. Then we also have depth in the minors with Allen, Armstrong, Haley, Bryson, Langwell and Chen. This will really help.

The offense is also much improved with Swisher subbing for Choo, Stubbs for the void in left, Bourn for Kotchman, and Reynolds for Hafner plus we signed depth with Aviles, McGuiness, Scoring more runs WILL help.

Then on top of all that I expect Masterson and Ubaldo to be better pitchers this year. We added a nice vet inning eater in Brett Meyers kinda like a Jake Westbrook. We are getting Carrasco back and he has front of the rotation stuff. We also traded for a top pitching prospect in Trevor Bauer. Zach McCalister and Cory Kluber provide two interesting young back of the rotation starters. Scott Kazmir and Dice K seem to be healthy and motivated to turn their carrers around. We also have David Huff and Josh Tomlin coming back from injury.

So, I could see us finding 5 steady, solid starting pitchers coming out of that mix when you add in the improved defense, offense, manager and bullpen.
Joe Werner
February 13, 2013 - 11:17 AM EST
He’s certainly not as bad as he was at third base, but in more than 1500 career innings at first, he’s cost his nearly 15 runs more than the average.

He’s passable, I suppose. But, I think, if the Indians are pinning their immediate success on the rotation, which they clearly are now, they need to put the best defense out there -- bar none. They’ve done a good job creating tremendous depth in the bullpen, which helps to shorten the game. It just makes sense to do the same on the defensive side of the ball.

Plus, Masterson, Myers, and Jimenez (historically speaking), have all generated a lot of groundballs. As I mentioned on my site, Progressive Field also has a tendency to inflate GB totals as well (for unbeknownst reasons). It just makes sense to push Reynolds to DH and Swisher to first now.
nick
February 13, 2013 - 10:56 AM EST
Joe, you think Reynolds is that bad defensively at 1B? At 3B I certainly agree with you but to be honest I don't think he's that bad at first.
Joe Werner (ProspectDigest.com)
February 13, 2013 - 9:45 AM EST
I just don’t understand the infatuation with Kyle Lohse, not only now, but many pundits – Buster Olney, in particular – were claiming the right-hander was headed towards a huge payday.

There’s reasons why he hasn’t gotten it yet -- and never will either.

Lohse, while he’s coming off of back to back solid seasons, were just that, solid not spectacular. Both of his past two ERAs (2.86 in 2012, and 3.39 in 2011) were large misnomers for his actual production. His Skill Independent ERAs, or SIERAs, were actually below-average, at 4.06 and 4.26.

There’s other evidence -- like his strand rate or HR/FB -- that cement this as well.

The truth is, simply, he’s a nice pitcher, one that’s far better suited in NL, who will be 34 with a bit of spotty track record concerning injuries.

With the Bourn move, in my opinion, the Indians did upgrade the pitching staff, creating three above-average or better defenders in center, pushing Reynolds with his Swiss cheese glove to DH, and moving Swisher and his solid-average mitt to first.

Pelican Man 69
February 12, 2013 - 10:52 PM EST
I don't think anyone is counting on a rebound performance from Ubaldo at this point. Carrasco, Myers and Bauer are going to definitely bolster the SR as a whole it looks better to start the year than our starting 5 did in 2012. Besides, consideingr all the deals they have made so far, it wouldn't surprise me to see the tribe add another good ML SP some how.. Hmm wonder what Lindor might get or even Chisenhall possibly...
Lenny
February 12, 2013 - 8:18 PM EST
Though the nice thing with many of these moves is they set us up for the next few years. Bauer and Carrasco at the top of the rotation in 2014 sounds nice.
Rob
February 12, 2013 - 8:08 PM EST
Totally agree Matt, Eric Wedge made baseball painful to watch. With the blood testing that will be incorporated this year, we may be going back to 80's era baseball. Speed and defense will be at a much higher premium. The days of beefed up middle infielders hitting 40 bombs are over. Only concern I have is the high K rate of several guys. Love to see 200 steals and just constant aggression on the basepaths. May not be a playoff team with this starting pitching, but I want it to be a team that other teams despise playing.
Roger
February 12, 2013 - 8:07 PM EST
to disagree with steve i think that the white sox are far inferior to the tribe. Konerko is a year older, Dunn is also a year older and normally he has a good year followed by bad year, No AJ hurts the pitching staff there is no substitute for experience behind the dish. I am not convinced their bullpen compares with ours and outside of the skinny left hander and the former cy young award winner there staff is no better than ours we are deeper and over 162 games depth is very important. As for the motor city pussy cats i concur on paper they are better but they are below avg defensively and after Vmart their lineup isnt that feared love their rotation however pitching can go south look at ubaldo and masterson ubaldo from 2010 to 2011 and masty from 2011 to 2012. Verlander is the second best pitcher in the game best in the american league but injuries take their toll and no one in immune from injury. The tigers have had 120 starts from their 1 thru 4 starters for several years so they arent the perfect club and i bet leyland isnt nearly as confident as he was last week.
matt underwood
February 12, 2013 - 7:45 PM EST
I just like this b/c the tribe finally realizes what an asset speed can bring. all those wedge era teams were so slow and w/o a true leadoff hitter. god i hate eric wedge so very much.
Jack
February 12, 2013 - 7:05 PM EST
I love the acquisition but I have a problem when anybody describes Bourn as a "prototypical" leadoff hitter. His career OBP being slightly under .340 isn't exactly stellar for a leadoff hitter.
Jwahoo
February 12, 2013 - 6:39 PM EST
No, its not...... but it could be.

Considering the way last year ended....

A couple days away from Spring Training and thats good enough for me.

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