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Tribe Happenings: Bourn's chronic hamstring issues a concern

Tribe Happenings: Bourn's chronic hamstring issues a concern
Michael Bourn (Photo: AP)
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Bourn injured…again

The Indians have lost outfielder Michael Bourn to another hamstring injury. He and the Indians say it is not serious and is just sore, but the Indians still placed him on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday to let him rest it and also had an MRI on the hamstring. The results of the MRI are not known at this time, but the Indians are expected to provide an injury update on Bourn and other players today (Monday).

Bourn, 31, is having another subpar season for the Indians, at least by the standards set by the big four year $48 million contract he signed with the club in February of last year. Brought in to be a lightning rod at the top of the lineup, a firestarter on the basepaths and an all-world defender in center field, he has been anything but that in all phases of the game.

This season Bourn is hitting .267 with 3 HR, 21 RBI and .695 OPS in 66 games after hitting .263 with 6 HR, 50 RBI and .676 OPS in 130 games last season. But the glaring numbers are the 30 total stolen bases in 196 games with the Indians and poor .316 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot over that time. Also, while the defense has been solid, it has hardly been up to the level that had him rated as the game’s best defensive center fielder (by far) after the 2012 season.

Not only do the Indians have a player performing poorly in the areas of the game he is supposed to excel at and was paid to do so, but Bourn now has a chronic hamstring issue with no end to it in sight. For a player that relies so much on his legs this surely has affected his game and will continue to do so as it lingers in the back of his mind that the hamstring can once again go at any moment. So even if Bourn is cleared to play in two weeks and is fine physically, the mental part of the injury is something that could linger for the rest of the season and really limit his impact to the lineup.

This is something that is obviously not good for Bourn and the Indians, and is why an extended trip to the disabled list might be beneficial for both sides. Sure, the Indians are a better team with Bourn in the lineup, but it has to be the Bourn they thought they were getting when they signed him, not the Bourn they have had since they signed him. That Bourn has been a rather ordinary player who is one of the main reasons they lack consistency offensively considering his inability to set the tone at the top of the lineup.

With Bourn on the disabled list the Indians purchased the contract of outfielder Tyler Holt from Triple-A Columbus and added him to the active roster on Sunday. He is having a good year hitting .300 with 2 HR, 26 RBI and .805 OPS in 76 combined games between Double-A Akron and Columbus, and most importantly has 21 stolen bases and an exceptional .425 on-base percentage.

That ability to put up good at bats, get on base, bring some speed, and play all three outfield positions and play them well is what inspired the Indians to add Holt to the roster. No one expects him to come anywhere close to replacing the player that Bourn is as an established Major Leaguer, but considering what Bourn has provided the Indians so far it won’t be hard to approach a .316 on-base percentage, one stolen base every six-seven games and average to above average defense in the outfield.

For now the Indians will replace Bourn on the field by inserting Michael Brantley as the primary center fielder and second baseman Jason Kipnis into the leadoff role. With Brantley moving from left to center, the Indians are expected to play Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn move in left field.  First baseman Nick Swisher has also been taking some fly balls in the outfield in pre-game activities so could eventually see a little time in the outfield at some point.

As a fan of Kipnis hitting leadoff, perhaps the latest injury to Bourn may be a blessing in disguise. Even though Kipnis has struggled with the bat this season and his power has diminished, he still puts up a solid at bat, walks a good amount and is a solid on-base guy who can run a little when he gets on. It will be interesting to see if his play picks up in the leadoff spot and not in the miscast cleanup spot that manager Terry Francona poorly decided to insert him in since his return from the disabled list. He is much more of a leadoff firestarter type than a run producing tank in the middle of a lineup.

As for the future of Bourn, it does raise the question once again whether the Indians should trade him or not. For me, that’s not a question at all as I have been on the trade Bourn wagon since the end of last season. Now it may be too late as his value has plummeted considerably and his high price tag almost makes him untradeable at this point. The Indians may be stuck with him for the next two-plus seasons and just have to hope he can gain his confidence back in his legs and stay healthy so that he can give them some kind of return on their investment.

Michael Brantley, All-Star

The All-Star rosters were unveiled Sunday evening and Michael Brantley was selected as a reserve and their lone representative in the mid-summer classic.

Brantley, 27, earned his first selection to the All-Star team and is hitting .321 with 58 runs scored, 20 doubles, 13 home runs, 57 RBI and .896 OPS in 83 games this season.  He leads the Indians in batting average, runs, home runs (tied), RBI, hits and total bases. He currently ranks 4th in the American League in hitting, 3rd in runs scored,  7th in hits, 9th in RBI, 5th in on-base percentage (.385), 10th in slugging percentage (.511), 9th in OPS and 6th in WAR (3.5). He also owns a 78-game errorless streak defensively and is tied for the Major League lead in outfield assists (10).

This is more than a breakout season for Brantley, it is an MVP-caliber season. If he continues this throughout the second half of the season and the Indians find a way into the playoffs, there could be a late season push for him as a top contender for MVP considering how much of an impact he has made on both sides of the field and how important he has been to the Indians. The other MVP candidates have others in the lineup to help them or are limited to impacting their team with their bat only.

Moving aside from the MVP talk, it is about time the Indians caught a break with a player signed to a long term contract. Of late the Indians have been snake-bitten in that department, be it free agency with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn or long term extensions to avoid arbitration with the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana. Brantley signed a four-year $25 million deal in February that includes an $11 million option in 2018, so the Indians have him signed and under team control for $35 million over the next five seasons. If he avoids injury and continues to play like this, that is a steal.

The consistency of Brantley is remarkable. He plays the game with an unwavering confidence and is a player that just finds a way to avoid the extended highs and lows of the game and just takes everything one at a time – be it a game or at bat. It is that approach to the game which impressed the Indians from day one when they acquired him in the C.C. Sabathia deal in July 2008, and was why scouts always loved him in the minors and early in his Major League career. He always had the right approach mentally, the ability and had the physical tools; he just needed to put it all together and he has done that and then some this season.

If Jason Kipnis can get his bat going, Yan Gomes continues to evolve, and Lonnie Chisenhall proves to be the real deal, that is three players in addition to Brantley for the Indians to build their lineup around the next several seasons. When you consider the other pieces potentially falling into place down the road with Francisco Lindorand some others, the future of the lineup is promising, especially if Brantley has established himself as a star.

Kluber should be an All Star

Indians right-hander Corey Kluber was not elected to the All-Star team on Sunday, but he is one of five candidates up for the “Final Vote” in the American League. Fans can vote for the “Final Vote” candidates on through Thursday.

Kluber, 28, has made 19 starts this season and is 8-6 with a 2.86 ERA and has 137 strikeouts against just 30 walks in 125.2 innings.  Statistically, he has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season - arguably the best – as he is tied for 1st in starts (19), 8th in ERA (2.86), 3rd in innings pitched, 4th in strikeouts, tied for 11th in wins, 11th in WHIP (1.18), 4th in xFIP (2.80) and 3rd in WAR (3.4).

The evolution of Kluber from an older, fringy prospect into a front of the rotation ace of a staff in a year’s time has been staggering. Last season he was barely on the Major League radar entering the season but got a chance to come up and start because of injury and he just took off from there going 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 26 appearances (24 starts) and has since become a mainstay in the rotation and the ace of the Indians staff. Always tabbed by Indians minor league coaches as a pitcher with “the best stuff in the entire organization” he is more than living up to that billing.

Kluber is a pretty low key guy who does not make headlines except for the excellent outings he has put together to date and he is still relatively an unknown to many people outside of Cleveland, so he is going to be hard pressed to be voted to the All Star team. But even if he is not voted in this week there is always a chance he gets added to the team as other players usually back out because of injury or for other reasons. If he is still not added to the team then it may be for the better so that he can get some much needed rest over the four day break because the Indians are surely going to need to lean on him a lot in the second half.

Amazingly, Kluber will still only be a minimum salary player next season before he is eligible for arbitration after the 2015 season. He is under club control for at least four seasons beyond this one and is a building block to their rotation; however, I would not expect the Indians to approach him with a long term contract extension anytime soon. Considering the Indians discomfort with long term deals for pitchers any longer than three years, it still makes sense to go year to year with Kluber in the short term and see how things stand going into his first arbitration year after next season.

Not so nasty Masty

The strange season for right-hander Justin Masterson continues to roll on. In his last outing on Tuesday he went just 3.0 innings and allowed three runs on seven hits, three walks and had seven strikeouts on 85 pitches. Overall this season he is 4-5 with a 5.16 ERA in 18 starts.

Masterson, 29, is having another one of his patented inconsistent seasons following a good season. In the past that inconsistency may have been more mechanical than physical, whereas this season it has been more physical than mechanical – or a combination of both. The Indians continue to maintain that he is healthy and that his issues are purely a command problem, which is true since his walk rate has jumped from a 3.5 BB/9 last year to a 5.0 BB/9 this year.

However, that is only half true as there is certainly something wrong with Masterson physically that is affecting the way he is pitching. He is still getting a lot of strikeouts (8.6 K/9), which is a testament to his nasty slider and good stuff overall, but he is getting hit a lot harder and is allowing too many baserunners. The biggest issue may be the significant drop in his fastball velocity as it is only averaging 90.6 MPH this season compared to the 93.1 MPH it averaged last season, 92.8 MPH it averaged in 2012 and 93.1 it averaged in 2011. He is down 2.5 MPH with his average fastball velocity, which is a huge drop from one year to the next and something which brings concern of a potential injury.

A few days ago the Indians said Masterson is battling a minor knee problem, but it obviously was not that bad as they only gave him an extra two days rest before his last start. If it was more serious or something they truly believe was affecting his performance, the consistency of his command and the strength in his delivery then he would have been shelved for a good amount of time.

My feeling is they really don’t know what is up with Masterson. If he was hurt and they did know it, they would have put him on the disabled list already. But his impending free agency and contract extension talks have no doubt muddied up the water a bit and maybe has prevented them from doing the right thing which is have an MRI on his arm and ensure he is fine physically.

It is just a very strange situation and one that won’t get any better until Masterson starts pitching better and finds his lost velocity, or some tests are done and the true status of his health is revealed. He has two more starts before the All Star break, so if the struggles continue then perhaps he and the Indians need to take a long, hard look at things over the break and decide what is best not only for him but the team as well.

Parting shots

Triple-A Columbus right-handed pitcher Travis Banwart has left the Indians to sign with the SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization. The Indians allowed him out of his contract and to pursue another option since he was not going to get a shot in Cleveland this year and they have some pitchers they need to move up in the system. While I am speculating here, this move should allow Gabriel Arias to move up to Columbus and for one (or both) of Shawn Morimando or Ryan Merritt to move up to Double-A Akron. … A lot of people have harped on Carlos Santana’s play this season, but it should be noted that his on-base percentage is actually higher than Jason Kipnis (.354 to .330), his isolated power is higher (.183 to .108) and his OPS+ is higher (113 to 97).

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

July 8, 2014 - 3:16 PM EDT
I agree with Hiram, and that's why I say that trading Bourne is not going to solve anything for the Tribe. And Tony, yes I think you're definitely missing something. Filling in for Bourne is the question, not replacing him. There is a very significant difference between a c-level minor leaguer who has never played in the majors (the Tyler Holts of the world) and Bourne. So sure, Holt had a couple of good months in the minors, he has proven nothing at the major league level and no way is Tito going to give centerfield and the lead off position to some guy like that. That's to a great degree why they acquired Dickerson, he's actually played in the majors and knows what it's like. I know you love our minor leaguers (and a good story) but there's a huge difference there that you're not taking into account.
July 8, 2014 - 8:29 AM EDT
I regards to Bourn I think we should put our energy into finding solutions if he goes down instead of worrying about the contract, injury or if we should've signed him or not. The thing is that he's here a won't be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. If he goes down then make sure the next man up is good and then play ball. This isn't to short change anyone or the article but in the middle of the battle we have to move forward
July 8, 2014 - 4:08 AM EDT
Hey Tony, you can be a fan of Kipnes batting leadoff but that doesn't make him a better option than Bourn. As a matter of fact, he is probably worse both offensively and defensively than Bourn even with Bourn's injury. Kipnes has no excuses for a very disappointing performance this year. Although he did not cost the Indians the game today, his defense contributed. Personally, I think our leadoff problems would best be solved by bringing up Ramirez and letting him have a shot. If Kipnes could be traded for a FOR pitcher or a RH power bat then our offense and defense might both improve.

What you have posted makes some sense but this does not look like a productive year for Bourn, Masterson or Kipnes.
July 8, 2014 - 12:15 AM EDT
Tony, how can people defend bourn? Dump him at all cost. Surely to god we can get .265 with a ton of Ks and few walks from one of our minor leaguers for a fraction of the cost! Just hasn't worked out.
July 7, 2014 - 11:34 PM EDT
Yep, I plan to update the releases soon. Capps and Marcum last I heard were still not pitching and likely won't pitch for an affiliate this season. But that was a few weeks ago.

By the way, what value is Bourn providing that we can't replace? I'm missing something there. His lack of on-base ability can be replaced, his lack of being a stolen base threat can be replaced and his average to above average defense can be replaced. He's a rather ordinary center fielder right now, and at this point someone like Tyler Holt is no worse (and maybe better).
July 7, 2014 - 10:56 PM EDT
Walter, I agree. Just is not coming together this year. Just clear as much salary for '15 and beyond. Our best prospects are a year or two away.
July 7, 2014 - 10:27 PM EDT
Masterson needs to be taken out of the rotation. If he is really hurt put him on DL. If not, he should be put in the bullpen. Bullpen saved this game from being a blow out. Time to call up McAllister. Still think they will not make the playoffs. Too many players having bad years. Raburn, Swisher, Kipnis, Masterson, Santana, Salazar and Axford,
July 7, 2014 - 8:49 PM EDT
Masterson has an option, but I believe he would need to clear revocable waivers due to his service time, which I can't imagine he would clear.
July 7, 2014 - 8:28 PM EDT
Have to bring up Zach. Salazar is not close to being ready. Needs another pitch besides a flat fastball.

Masty cabby and ax off the books next year clears out about 25mil!!

Then dump bourn and eat some of his salary if needed. Stuck with swish.
July 7, 2014 - 8:18 PM EDT
Well Masterson won't be getting another start before the All Star Break. He either goes on the DL or they send him to Columbus. He's killing the Indians, worst front-line starter in the MLB. Cant' throw hard, can't throw strikes, when he does they get hit pounded. His WHIP after blowing another game in a sub 3 inning start, has got to be in the neighborhood of 1.70. He should have been sent down last month, the Indians might have had a better record, but Francona is stubborn hopefully just stubborn and not having eye problems. Question is who they gonna bring up. McCallister did not look good last night. Leaving the ball up again. He started throwing that split last year and had guys missing and hitting grounders, now he's pretty much abandoned the pitch and guys are getting the balls up and out. Salazar, I think he needs to rinse a repeat a few more times. But whatever, Masterson is done in Cleveland for now.
July 7, 2014 - 8:12 PM EDT
Or if he has options send him down. He has the deer in headlights look.
July 7, 2014 - 7:41 PM EDT
Throwing meatballs again. He's done.

Please put him on DL and bring up McAllister. Now
July 7, 2014 - 5:37 PM EDT
Fun fact:

V-Mart age 24-28 seasons: 16.4 bWAR
Santana age 24-28 seasons: 15.5 bWAR (plus whatever he compiles the rest of this season)
July 7, 2014 - 5:17 PM EDT
No one ever called Kipnis the next Robbie Alomar, but some folks were calling Santana the next Victor Martinez and as I have said before Santana has been way overrated.
July 7, 2014 - 5:08 PM EDT
While I agree that Bourn and Swisher have made those contracts look pretty ugly, and Cabrera didn't exactly make his a great bargain for the team (although not that bad, either), lumping Santana in with them is totally unfair.

I know Santana's (almost entirely babip-induced) batting average was terrible to start the season, but there are exactly 29 other teams in baseball who would gladly take the rest of his contract. He still gets on base at a near-elite level, still hits for power, and while he doesn't add any positive value defensively, you can stick him in 4 different spots in the lineup.

Bottom line, he's already been worth about 8 wins for the first $1M of his contract and projects to be worth about another 10 wins over the final $24M.
July 7, 2014 - 5:06 PM EDT
The Tribe has reportedly acq. Chris Dickerson, 32, OF from the Pirates for cash / PTBNL. They also designated Kottaras for assignment. I'm not sure if they will give him a shot on the big club or if this is a depth move, but it seems like it's basically, a non-move. I mean they have Fedroff, Moncrief and Matt Carson at AAA, with Jose Ramirez getting a little time in CF too, so what's the point?
July 7, 2014 - 4:37 PM EDT
ooops, typo, should be: "...saving the $'s from his contract..."
July 7, 2014 - 4:36 PM EDT
I don't agree about trading Bourn. It seems he would have little value right now, and given his recent injury history, very few teams are going to want to invest that much money with that kind of risk. Also, and maybe more important, we don't have an obvious replacement. If we did, though, I think I would feel differently.

Yes, Bourn's under performing relative to hopes and expectations and his big contract, but compared to Mr. Swisher, he's doing just fine. And this is not a case where it would be addition by subtraction, as he is still offering value that we can't replace, unless we go out and find a better centerfielder. I'm not watching the Tribe's bottom line, so I'm not interested in them saving the 4's from his contract, unless of course they're able to put that into another player.

The problem with this team is not Bourn, it is the weak and inconsistent starting pitching (good points above about the mysterious Mr. Masterson). Unless the starting pitching gets better fast, this team is going nowhere.
July 7, 2014 - 2:41 PM EDT
Any news on pitchers, Capps and Marcum who were with the Tribe in Spring Training? Are they finished for this year due to injuries? Have they been released?
July 7, 2014 - 2:24 PM EDT
Tribe is paying Kipnis to be more than a singles hitter who is limited defensively. He needs to step it up. One can live with his subpar defense when he is putting up 2011/2013 numbers, not this punchless .690 OPS version.

Amazing how the two biggest signings of 2013 have serverely underperformed. A slightly below normal performance would be tolerable. It is a shame that Bourn/Swish have failed because it currently ties up money and it probably will make management more apprehensive in the future.

Call me crazy but the division is still there for the taking. No one is running away with it. Better defense (I know of a SS), the return of ZMac and Salazar, more use of Carrasco, bring up Lee to lessen the burn on Shaw/Allen....there is reason to believe Tribe has a good run left yet.
July 7, 2014 - 2:06 PM EDT
Agree on trading Bourn as I have commented lately. A .265 avg with 4x more Ks than walks is a bottom of the order hitter. Dump him and eat part of his contract if needed. Surely a young guy in our system can put up those terrible numbers for league min.

MT88 in WI
July 7, 2014 - 2:03 PM EDT
Not to be morbid but will there be an update of the various roster releases now that the draft has happened and people have been signed?? Other than Nick Hamilton & Travis Banwart I have not seen/ heard of any others and the transactions page hasn't been updated since 6/18....

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