To get Martinez, one of Bourn or Swisher would have to go
The Cleveland Indians should make a bold move this offseason to help them win the American League Central Division. That bold move would be Victor Martinez.
Martinez is an MVP candidate for the Detroit Tigers and is set to hit the free agent market at the age of 36. He is coming off a career season where he hit .335 (2nd in MLB), 32 home runs (9th), and 103 RBI (10th). Among players with 300 or more at bats he was 3rd in OBP behind only Troy Tulowitski and Andrew McCutchen, and in 561 at bats he struck out just a staggering 42 times!
Indians fans know Martinez very well from his seven plus years in Cleveland. He played for Indians manager Terry Francona for his two seasons in Boston so there is already a connection there. Can you imagine Martinez hitting behind Michael Brantley? With their disciplined, professional approaches at the plate, it would be a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Martinez has openly stated a desire to return to the Indians but the only way to afford it would be to move the massive contracts of either Nick Swisher or Michael Bourn. Moving Swisher is nearly impossible with the $15 million he is owed the next two seasons and concerns about his health and that his career is in rapid decline. Swisher had successful surgery on both of his knees but he has yet to prove he can play and how effective he will be.
Bourn, despite his injuries, has been somewhat productive but overall has been a major disappointment; however, might be movable in a trade. In 2014 he batted .257, with 3 homers and 28 RBI, and his .314 on base percentage and .674 OPS are subpar numbers for a player hitting atop a contending lineup. One of my major knocks on Bourn is that he strikes out at an alarming rate (114 K in 444 at bats).
The Indians unquestionably signed Bourn because of the impact he can make with his speed and defense, but his 10 stolen bases this past season were his lowest total since 2006 when he played in only 17 games for the Philadelphia Phillies. Due to his cranky hamstrings, Bourn’s defense was nothing to write home about either. Fangraphs graded his UZR/150 at -15.9 which is by far the lowest of his career (it was 23.4 in 2012 going into free agency). His 0.4 WAR ranked as one of the worst on the team as well (he had a 6.1 WAR in 2012).
Bourn may not be the player he used to be, but I am of the belief the Indians could dump his high salary on another team if they absorbed some of his cost and maybe attached one of their higher level prospects in a deal. If Bourn were to depart the Tribe then Michael Brantley could easily slide into his natural position of center field.
I believe Jason Kipnis could take over the leadoff spot and do a fine job and would do no worse. Kipnis has a career .338 OBP and a .736 OPS which can fit atop a lineup. Kipnis has also stolen 22 or more bases in each of the past three seasons. A lingering oblique injury really diminished his power this season but I believe he will bounce back with a strong 2015 season, and besides, power is not as important at the top of a lineup when your sole job is to put up quality at bats and get on base.
A Bourn trade would be a risky endeavor considering Martinez could sign elsewhere if another team is willing to throw ungodly money in his direction. Martinez is almost strictly a designated hitter at this point in his career so another big key to this puzzle would be Nick Swisher’s ability to play right field on a consistent basis. But with Martinez entrenched in the number four hole it would give the Indians great depth and balance throughout the lineup.
Long have the Indians lacked a legitimate cleanup hitter with the ability to drive in 100 runs. Ironically, the Indians haven’t had anyone drive in 100 since Martinez drove in 114 for the Tribe in 2007 (Travis Hafner also had 100 RBI the same year). Most importantly the Indians would be taking a key piece from the division winning Detroit Tigers.
Martinez will almost certainly receive a $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Tigers but after a career season would they be willing to commit to him long term? The Tigers recently handed out humongous contracts to Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander which some are already starting to question. Another big issue on their plate is thatMax Scherzer is a free agent and probably of more importance to sign, plus the newly acquired David Price will need to be signed to a long term deal as he hits free agency next offseason.
The Tigers may not have the means to keep Martinez. If that is the case, I would gamble on Martinez because he is a proven commodity who has consistently produced his entire career. How the Indians afford to sign him and how they plug him into the lineup will require a lot of creativity, but it’s time for Indians general manager Chris Antonetti to make a bold move to take over the AL Central. Martinez could be that move.
Let's trade for Scott van Slyke .... he is a 12 to 20 HR per year upgrade over Murphy in RF if he plays every day. .That's 1/2 to 2/3 of Victor's HR production for 1/30 the price. After that, we're stuck with praying that Swisher will return to his norms, and Kipnis too.....as both will be here.