The Bourn Identity - Going the extra mile
Getting off work and stepping out into the night only to be greeted by a harsh and chilling gust of wind, I was tired and ready to go home after another busy shift last night. After a bone-chilling trek across the parking lot, I finally found myself in my car and sheltered from the gale. All seemed like a typical February night in Northeast Ohio. Just as the gearshift is put into drive, the sudden vibrations of my phone temporarily delay departure alerting me of breaking baseball news via Twitter that would ultimately take several minutes for me to fully comprehend.
The breaking news was that outfielder Michael Bourn and the Indians had come to terms on a four year $48 million deal with a vesting option for a fifth season. Talk about a shocker. The Indians have already surpassed all expectations with the moves they’ve made this offseason, but this acquisition takes it to a whole new level and I’d like to take some time and expound on the true significance of the deal.
With spring training now upon us and the Tribe seemingly cooling off on the major free agent/trade market, many fans (myself included) anticipated nothing more than a handful of additional minor league deals similar to the ones they inked with Jason Giambi and Daisuke Matsuzaka over the past few days. Well, apparently general manager Chris Antonetti and skipper Terry Francona had other plans in mind.
Only a matter of several days ago, rumors began surfacing linking the Indians to Bourn who was still unsigned. Considering the factors in place such as the supposed limits of the Indians’ 2013 payroll and their relative inactivity on the major free agent market following the Brett Myers signing, I chose to dismiss the reports as nothing more than late-offseason gossip. My reasoning being that the New York Mets were already in discussions with Bourn on a multi-year deal, something I didn’t think the Tribe would be offering again this offseason, as well as the fact that Bourn was a client of the renowned Scott Boras. However, baseball has once again proven that it cannot be tamed by any form of logic or calculations. Bourn is now a member of the Cleveland Indians for at least the next four seasons.
Bourn now becomes the first pure leadoff hitter since the days of legendary center fielder Kenny Lofton. He offers the Tribe an offensive boost as well as the ability to zip around the base paths. In the 2012 season with the Braves, Bourn hit .274 with a career-high nine home runs and 57 RBI. Additionally, Bourn swiped a total of 42 bases last season and has been able to steal as many as 61 in a single season. The Indians’ leader in stolen bases last season was second baseman Jason Kipnis with 31. Bourn also offers superb defense in the outfield as a two-time Gold Glove winner. With outfielders Michael Brantley, Drew Stubbs, and Nick Swisher already established with the Tribe, many baseballs are going to be left with only memories of the dirt and grass of the outfield at Progressive Field.
This signing has not only made me all the more excited for the upcoming season, it has also raised a bunch of questions as to why the Indians have gone from a fourth place cellar dweller to major shoppers in one offseason. By all accounts, many had the Indians selling rather than buying at the end of last season. Could it be the influx of cash generated by the Dolans’ sale of SportsTime Ohio to Fox Sports? What about the commanding influence and credibility of Terry Francona? Could Chris Perez’s comments really have had more of an impact than we thought? My best explanation is all of the above and then some. In addition to the scenarios listed above, things just simply seem to be falling into place for the Tribe.
Even though the accomplishments of this offseason were a product of many contributing factors, I believe it’s safe to say that none of them would have been remotely possible without the presence of Terry Francona. Despite leaving the Red Sox on a low note and spending a year as an ESPN analyst, it’s perfectly clear that the two-time World Series champion still commands an immense amount of respect throughout the baseball community.
From day one, Francona has done everything in his power to reach out to players both on the Indians’ roster and otherwise. Just about every free agent who has signed with Cleveland this offseason from Nick Swisher to Scott Kazmir has been impressed with and drawn to Francona. In fact, many of the Tribe’s acquisitions this offseason have had previous connections with the manager in some shape or form. Utility infielder Mike Aviles, starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, and relief pitchers Matt Albers and Rich Hill have all played under Francona in Boston. Take a look at the Indians roster and try to find players without a Francona connection. Kevin Bacon doesn’t have anything on Tito.
The Indians have also benefited from Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, which protects a team with a top ten draft pick allowing them to keep their first round pick when they sign a player such as Bourn who has been given a qualifying offer by their previous team. The Indians have the fifth pick in the upcoming draft and obviously are protected from losing it under the new CBA. Since the Tribe lost their second round pick to the Yankees when they signed Swisher, they only have to forfeit the competitive balance draft pick they picked up late last summer between the second and third rounds. Using the benefits of the CBA to their advantage has been something the Indians have done well this offseason.
Heck, even the minor league signings this offseason have vastly improved over recent seasons. The cream of last year’s crop of non-roster invitees included the likes of Fred Lewis, Jose Lopez, and Robinson Tejada. Their 2013 counterparts, however, include Ben Francisco, Ryan Raburn, and Matt Capps among several other solid minor league deals. Last season, the cash-strapped Indians brought in numerous players on minor league contracts with hopes that a handful of them would make the starting roster. Going into spring training this year, however, the Indians will be evaluating their non-roster invitees based on who CAN make the team rather than who HAS to make the team. The newfound flexibility with the roster will be a huge benefit to the team.
With this roster flexibility, one has to wonder if a trade could be in the works. After all, despite all the improvements made this offseason, the starting rotation still contains some question marks and I wouldn’t be opposed to additional reinforcements. Some national baseball pundits have already speculated center fielder Drew Stubbs will now go on the trade block with Bourn in the fold.
The New York Mets could be interested in a deal since they, too, were in on Bourn; however, keeping Stubbs could also be in the Tribe’s best interest given his three years of team control and invaluable defense in the outfield. He could serve as an everyday player or a strong utility outfielder depending on which direction the team goes with the roster. That's not bad considering he might be poised for a rebound season after getting away from the pressures in Cincinnati where expectations for him were much higher as a high profile prospect. With the surplus of relief pitchers and other now-available assets following the Bourn signing, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see a trade for starting pitching.
What the Bourn signing and all the other deals made this offseason say to me is that the Indians want to win and want to win now. And they’ve shown it in one of the most shrewd and productive ways possible. Unlike the 2012 Miami Marlins, who basically sold their soul for a diamond-studded roster, the Indians have been very careful to protect their most valuable assets both present and future while still filling the various holes and needs on the team.
They are built for now and for the future. As far as I can see, we won’t have to endure the extensive rebuilding period we all anticipated at the end of 2012. Tribe fans can replace those paper bags they had put over their heads at the tail end of last season and throw their Chief Wahoo ball caps back on and wear them with pride.
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.
Then there are the runs he and the OF will save this year. The pitching staff is going to get a lot more help from the defense.
Been a while since I have been this excited in February.
The only quibble I'd have with this latest move, is, I feel like it's the wrong guy to get. While Bourn should be a large upgrade over Stubbs this year, long-term, having Bourn and Brantley doesn't make a lot of sense. I'd have rather seen them pick use that $ to pick up Lohse, leave the outfield as is and then sign someone like Kubel as a free agent next year. If Bourn was available right now for this price and Lohse was not, better to get him then get neither though. They can always trade Brantley, or Bourn, as long as he doesn't go all Chone Figgins on them.
Some folks said they don't have the financial resources for free agents, obviously they do if they take a different view of what our team can be.
Personally, Id love to see the Tribe hold on to Stubbs, he ands versatility and depth to the OF.
What an offseason. Good job by the FO getting this done and Dolan paying the man to get him here.