Cleveland Indians: Michael Bourn's Presence Turns Team into Contender
At the beginning of the offseason, not many would have predicted that one of the top free agents available would wait until the day pitchers and catchers reported to sign.
Cleveland, already having signed another top outfielder in Nick Swisher, now possesses an above-average offense for new manager Terry Francona to toy with.
With Bourn in the leadoff spot, the Indians finally have a legitimate table-setter on offense. Even if he continues to strike out at last season's pace (155 in 624 at-bats), his speed and ability to steal bases will be a vast improvement over any other options they would have had to explore.
Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds are all capable of providing upwards of 20 home runs in the middle of the order.
Drew Stubbs, who would have been the center fielder had the team not signed Bourn, is even capable of putting up decent power numbers when hitting consistently.
Michael Brantley is an under-the-radar type of player that could hit near .300 and get on base at a very respectable clip. In the No. 2 hole, he could be just the guy Francona and his big bats need to get on base.
A projected lineup for 2013 could look something like this:
1. Michael Bourn, CF
2. Michael Brantley, LF
3. NIck Swisher, RF
4. Carlos Santana, C
5. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
6. Mark Reynolds, 1B
7. Jason Kipnis, 2B
8. Lonnie Chisenhall/Mike Aviles, 3B
9. Drew Stubbs, DH
The beauty of the players that Francona has is that his lineup can be very versatile. The middle of the order easily has several different combinations, while the bottom third can also vary depending on who's hot and who's struggling.
The only problems I foresee (ones that I think can be overcome this season) are with the team's starting pitching.
Justin Masterson needs to prove to be more consistent. He's the ace at this point, and any ace with a 4.93 ERA (his 2012 mark) needs to improve to keep that title.
Ubaldo Jimenez, who led the American League with 17 losses last season, needs to start pitching at least a little bit like his breakout 2010 season, when he won 19 games.
One of the two need to step up and take control of the No. 1 spot in the rotation.
Brett Myers should be a lock for a 4.00 ERA at worst and 180 or so innings, but the back end of the rotation has some question marks.
Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber will all fight for the last two spots. I think McAllister and Bauer get the nod, but whoever finishes the season in those two spots will be the guys that perform best.
I fully expect to see the No. 4 and No. 5 slots change from time to time in 2013.
The bullpen is strong enough to get by. Chris Perez, Matt Albers and Vinnie Pestano are a consistent trio to have in the later innings. The only issue will be how many times they get to hold leads.
With even decent starting pitching, the Indians have a shot at attaining one of the two American League wild-card spots.
The Bourn signing represents the likely end to a very good offseason for Francona's Indians. With spring training officially underway, it's only a matter of time before we see what this team is truly capable of.
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