Bourn Finds a Home; What are the Implications?


The Cleveland Indians and Michael Bourn have agreed on a four-year, $48 million deal, capping of what has been a busy offseason for the Tribe and general manager Chris Antonetti.

Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has reported the details of the contract. Bourn will make $7 million in 2013, $13.5 million in 2014 and 2015, and $14 million in 2016. It is also believed that there is also a $12 million option for a fifth year that vests if Bourn reaches 550 plate appearances in the 2016 season.

That Bourn had agreed to sign with the Indians came as somewhat of a surprise, as many expected the New York Mets to be the favorite to acquire the 30-year-old centerfielder. Apparently, the deal came down to draft picks and the arbitration rules Seeds All Day wrote about last week.

The Atlanta Braves made an initial one-year, $13.3 million offer to Bourn, but he turned it down to test the free agent market. Under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, this meant that any team that signed Bourn would have to give up a compensatory draft pick. The Mets would have had to cough up a first-round compensatory pick (11th overall). However, the Indians’ first-round pick was protected, and the club had already given up its second round pick when it signed Nick Swisher. The pick the Indians would have to sacrifice to sign the speedy Bourn was a sandwich pick between the second and third rounds. The Mets were poised to offer Bourn $48 million over 4 years, but according to reports were hesitant to let go of their first round pick.

The signing adds to an already speedy Cleveland lineup, but creates a serious log jam at centerfield. Jason Kipnis, the Drew Stubbs and Bourn each stole more than 30 bases a season ago. But Bourn’s primary position is centerfield – the same that was occupied by Michael Brantley in Cleveland and Stubbs in Cincinnati a season ago.

There are two possible solutions to the log jam: (1) get creative with the lineup, or (2) trade an asset.

First-year manager Terry Francona could try and start all three centerfielders in the outfield.  This move would likely push newly acquired right fielder Nick Swisher to first base and Mark Reynolds to designated hitter. Or Francona could elect to implement a platoon in the outfield. Stubbs and Brantley would be obvious choices for split time, with Stubbs starting against right handed pitching and Brantley against left. In 2012, Stubbs batted just .186 against righties, but hit .283 against left handed pitchers. Conversely, Brantley batted .299 against right handed pitchers, but just .265 against lefties.

If a time-sharing arrangement cannot be found, the front office could try to trade Brantley or Stubbs to clear room and add depth to another position. But if I’m running the Indians, I keep my current roster intact and try to make it work.

First, the ceilings for Stubbs and Brantley are far too high to give up on. While Stubbs’ batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage have all declined in each of the past 3 seasons, his combination of power, speed and defensive prowess is unbelievably rare. If the 28-year-old can improve as a contact hitter, he has the potential to be a perennial All-Star caliber player. At 25, Brantley has already shown veteran plate discipline  and a strong feel for the strike zone. He’s reliable at the plate, and as he continues to mature his power numbers should increase.

Second, an outfield trio of Bourn, Stubbs and Brantley would rival the Atlanta Brave’s triumvirate of brothers B.J. and Justin Upton and Jayson Heyward as the best, defensively, in the big leagues.

Many Indians fans were rightfully upset at the inactivity demonstrated by the front office at last year’s trading deadline, when the team was still in contention for a playoff spot. But the Tribe has been anything but inactive during this offseason. details the moves made by the Cleveland brass thus far.



About Matthew George

Matthew George graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2008 with a bachelor of science in journalism. He spent three years writing sports for the Kentucky Kernel, the university's daily paper, and served as assistant sports editor. After undergrad, Matthew attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University where he earned his juris doctorate. He is now admitted to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.

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