Winners and Losers of Michael Bourn Signing with Cleveland Indians

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 11, 2013

Winners and Losers of Michael Bourn Signing with Cleveland Indians

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    Teams with a need for a speedy center fielder can back off now. Michael Bourn is spoken for.

    As Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com first reported, Bourn has agreed to join the Cleveland Indians on a four-year, $48 million deal. His contract also includes a vesting option for a fifth year that could bring its total worth to $60 million. Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com says it will vest if he reaches 550 plate appearances in the final guaranteed season.

    So just like that, the top free-agent position player left on the market has found a home, and not a moment too soon to boot. The Indians are holding their first official workout on Tuesday, and they're scheduled to play their first exhibition game next week. 

    As with any big move, there are winners and losers to discuss. Let's get down to it.

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Winner: Cleveland Indians

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    Relative to the deals that were handed out to other center fielders this winter, Bourn's contract is a steal for the Indians.

    Angel Pagan comes to mind. The San Francisco Giants agreed to give him four years and $40 million, and Bourn's contract only calls for him to make $8 million more. For that extra $8 million, the Indians are getting a superior player.

    Bourn is coming off a season in which he posted a 6.4 fWAR to Pagan's 4.8 fWAR (see FanGraphs). He had a better OBP than Pagan in 2012, and he also has a better OBP than him over the last four seasons. Pagan has yet to steal over 40 bases in a season while Bourn has done so five years in a row.

    Bourn is also a significantly better fielder than Pagan, as he led all major league center fielders in both UZR and DRS in 2012 (see FanGraphs). His defense will deteriorate once his speed deteriorates, but Pagan may lose speed before Bourn does. He's accumulated more time in the majors than Pagan has, but he's also a year younger.

    When Pagan signed his four-year deal in early December, it looked like a precursor to a huge deal for Bourn. Instead, his market quickly dried up and stayed dry, allowing Tribe GM Chris Antonetti to swoop in and grab him at a discount.

    The Indians won't even lose a high draft pick as a result. Jim Callis of Baseball America says the pick lost due to Bourn having rejected the Atlanta Braves' qualifying offer will be their No. 69 pick.

    A discounted rate and a minor draft penalty for a premium center fielder? Somewhere out there, Antonetti must still be fist-pumping.

Loser: Michael Bourn (and Scott Boras)

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    The 2012 season was the finest of Bourn's career, as he added some pop to his speed while generally hitting well and playing terrific defense in the outfield.

    When Bourn became a free agent and subsequently rejected Atlanta's $13.3 million qualifying offer, he must have allowed himself to dream of a monster new deal. After all, his agent is Scott Boras.

    Early estimates put Bourn's eventual deal at five years and $80 million. A report from CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury (via CBSSports.com) said Bourn was actually looking for a deal worth as much as $100 million.

    Next to numbers like these, four years and $48 million with a vesting option for a fifth year just doesn't look so shiny.

    Bourn has the qualifying offer to thank for the fact that his free-agent adventure didn't pan out as originally envisioned, but he also has the Minnesota Twins to thank for making life tougher than it had to be. He had it hard enough competing with other free-agent center fielders, and then the Twins traded two center fielders to needy teams in the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies that may have otherwise taken a shot at Bourn.

    Bourn may have eventually been forced to settle for a one-year deal, so things could definitely be worse. They could also, however, be much, much better.

Winner: Indians Pitchers

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    The Tribe's lineup should benefit from having Bourn at the top in 2013, but there's probably nobody happier to see him coming to Cleveland than Tribe pitchers.

    Pitching was an issue for the Indians in 2012, as the club's 4.79 ERA ranked ahead of only the dismal Colorado Rockies in the majors. Antonetti proceeded to give the team's pitching depth chart a face lift by bringing in Brett Myers, Trevor Bauer and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

    Both the new additions and the incumbents will be very glad to have Bourn patrolling the outfield, as there's no center fielder (note: Mike Trout is a left fielder now) in baseball who can go get it quite like he can. He'll help keep potential extra-base hits from touching down and runs off the scoreboard.

    Ubaldo Jimenez may benefit the most from Bourn's arrival. He was a very good ground-ball pitcher once, but his fly-ball percentage rose to career-high 38.2 percent in 2012 (see FanGraphs). If Jimenez follows the same pattern in 2013, his overall numbers may not be as much of a disaster if Bourn's defense remains elite.

    Granted, not everyone in Cleveland has to be happy about the Bourn signing...

Loser: Drew Stubbs

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    Head to the Tribe's official website, and you'll see Drew Stubbs listed as the team's starting center fielder.

    Not anymore. Stubbs' status in Cleveland is now up in the air.

    The Indians could use Stubbs as a platoon partner for the left-handed-hitting Michael Brantley in left field, but the Indians may not want to rob Brantley of any playing time seeing as how he's still only 25 years old and he showed some promise as an everyday player last season. Besides, Stubbs didn't exactly crush lefties last year (.788 OPS).

    Another option for the Indians would be to use Stubbs as a fourth outfielder, but he's only played center in the majors and he barely played left or right when he was in the minors. Given his high strikeout tendencies, Stubbs also wouldn't be much of a pinch-hitter.

    So the best option for the Indians may be to just trade Stubbs during spring training, and they may need a projected starter out there to get hurt before they can do that.

    The situation will be resolved somehow, but I'm guessing Stubbs liked things better before.

Winner: 2014 Free-Agent Center Fielders

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    As the offseason went along and Bourn's market only seemed to be getting quieter and quieter, one had to start wondering: Would Bourn and Boras give up and seek out a one-year deal with the idea of trying their luck next year? 

    If Bourn had accepted a one-year deal somewhere, he would have made next year's market for center fielders a bit too crowded. His presence may have negatively impacted the markets for Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Carlos Gomez.

    The three of them don't have to worry now.

    Now all they have to do is hope they don't hit the market after having rejected qualifying offers. Bourn will vouch that testing the market while tied to draft-pick compensation makes for awfully tricky business.

Loser: New York Mets

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    The New York Mets really, really, really wanted to sign Bourn.

    So much so, in fact, that the Mets were seeking a ruling that would allow them to keep the No. 11 overall pick in the 2013 draft if they were to sign Bourn. They felt they were entitled to it after finishing 2012 with one of the league's 10 worst records.

    Ken Rosenthal reported on Monday that the Mets actually had a "decent" chance of getting the ruling, in which case they would have been staring a much-needed and very attainable outfield upgrade directly in the face.

    But nope—no ruling came. And now Bourn is an Indian. 

    Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Mets actually made Bourn a four-year, $48 million offer of their own, and Mike Puma of the Post says that the Mets were "definitely" Bourn's first choice.

    The catch was the draft pick conundrum. Puma says Bourn wasn't about to wait the two to three weeks it would have taken to resolve the situation. And who can blame him, seeing as how spring training has arrived and he had a competitive offer on the table?

    The story of the Mets' pursuit of Michael Bourn is one of bad luck and bad timing. How very Mets.

Winner: Indians Fans

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    I only have one question for you Tribe fans out there:

    Happy now? 

    The Indians had one of the lower payrolls in baseball last year, and Tribe fans let team owner Larry Dolan know what they thought of his efforts by leaving seats at Progressive Field empty throughout the season. The Indians finished 29th in attendance, according to ESPN.com.

    It wasn't entirely a silent protest, though. I recall most, if not all, of the Indians articles I wrote over the past months being flooded with comments about how the club needed to spend more money in order to compete. From what I could gather, Tribe fans were ticked.

    It wasn't just the fans, either, as Tribe closer Chris Perez openly ripped the club's ownership to Fox Sports' Jon Morosi.

    "You get what you pay for in baseball. Sometimes you don’t. But most of the time you do," said Perez.

    Well, the Indians have spent over $100 million on Bourn and Nick Swisher alone in the last couple weeks, and they've also spent to bring in players like Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds. What they've gotten for their efforts is a club that could rattle some cages in 2013 and the years to come.

    Somebody up high in the Indians organization clearly got the message.

Loser: AL Central

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    When the 2012 season ended, the Indians didn't look like a threat to contend in 2013. In fact, they looked to me like a team that needed to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up.

    Things are looking a little different now. 

    The Indians aren't going to be an offensive juggernaut, but having Bourn at the top of their lineup and Swisher in the middle should allow their offense to be more consistent. And Bourn, of course, will help the defense, which will help the pitching. 

    The Indians could also have a markedly different clubhouse culture in 2013. Bourn, Swisher, Reynolds and Myers were all last seen playing on winning ballclubs, and the club also has a new manager in Terry Francona, who won two World Series titles in Boston.

    Based on what they have on paper and what their team chemistry could be like, the Indians should be at least the third-best team in the AL Central. If the Chicago White Sox regress from their surprise season, the Indians will challenge the Detroit Tigers for the division title in 2013.

    That's not music to Detroit's ears. The Tigers lost 10 of 18 against the Tribe last year, in part because staff ace Justin Verlander could only beat them once in three tries.

    The Tigers are still the obvious favorites to win the AL Central, but they better not sleep on the Tribe. The Indians were a pain in the neck before when their roster was lacking. They could be much worse than a pain in the neck now that their roster is solid.

     

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