Busy Indians bring in Bourn with four-year deal
Speedy outfielder gets $48 million contract to join Swisher, several other newcomers
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians stunned the baseball world on Monday night, reeling in free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn. Then again, Cleveland has been swinging surprising moves since this critical offseason for the club started.
If Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has anything else up his sleeve, it might not seem so shocking.
Following the hiring of high-profile manager Terry Francona, a complicated three-team trade and the blockbuster signing of free-agent Nick Swisher, Cleveland continued its aggressive offseason by reaching an agreement with Bourn. According to multiple sources, the sides agreed on a four-year contract worth $48 million, pending the completion of a physical.
The deal includes a vesting option worth $12 million for the 2017 season.
Bourn is scheduled to undergo a medical exam later this week at the club's Spring Training site, where position players are not required to report until Wednesday. Cleveland's Spring Training physicals for its position players are slated for Thursday, and the first full-squad workout is planned for Friday morning.
The Indians are still working through the details of the timing of Bourn's physical.
When Bourn officially joins the Tribe, the Indians will be required to forfeit their third pick in the First-Year Player Draft in June, per Major League Baseball's latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. Bourn declined a one-year qualifying offer of $13.3 million from the Braves in order to test free agency, costing the signing club a first-round pick. Cleveland's first-round selection (fifth overall), however, is protected, and the club already lost its second-round pick by signing Swisher in January. As a result, the Indians lose the 69th pick in a sandwich round between the second and third rounds. The Tribe was awarded that selection as part of baseball's new Competitive Balance Lottery.
Those unique circumstances gave Cleveland an advantage that other clubs could not match in their pursuit of the Scott Boras client. The Mets were among Bourn's suitors, and reportedly offered a four-year deal worth $48 million as well, but New York was hesitant to forfeit its first-round pick as part of the signing process.
Coming off a 68-94 showing in 2012 that sent the Tribe to a fourth-place finish in the American League Central, Antonetti set out to drastically reshape the team's roster and to alter the clubhouse culture. The team's second-half slide cost former manager Manny Acta his job, paving the way for Francona to take on the challenge in Cleveland.
Bourn follows a long list of transactions that have completely reorganized the roster.
The traditionally cash-strapped Tribe doled out a four-year, $56 million contract to lure Swisher to Cleveland, and also used one-year pacts to reel in first baseman Mark Reynolds and pitcher Brett Myers. Cleveland also acquired outfielder Drew Stubbs, pitching prospect Trevor Bauer and relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw in a three-team, nine-player trade with the Reds and D-backs.
This past weekend, the Indians also signed veteran Jason Giambi to a Minor League contract -- an avenue also used to net players such as Scott Kazmir and Matt Capps. The Tribe also has an agreement in place on a Minor League deal for pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Another rebuild in Cleveland was clearly not in Antonetti's plans.
As news spread on Monday night that the Indians had landed Bourn, a handful of Cleveland's players expressed their excitement over Twitter.
Tribe closer Chris Perez wrote, "Who would win: The Bourn Supremacy or the Bullpen Mafia? Answer: Tribe fans," on his @ChrisPerez54 profile.
Setup man Vinnie Pestano chimed in by posting, "Bourn? Watch out for the dark horse in the AL Central #tribevstheworld2013," under his handle of @VinnieP52.
Offensively, the 30-year-old Bourn brings speed and versatility to the table. He will assume the reins as Cleveland's leadoff man after hitting .274 with a .348 on-base percentage and a .391 slugging percentage in 155 games last year with the Braves. He mixed in nine home runs (a career best), 26 doubles, 10 triples, 42 stolen bases, 57 RBIs, 70 walks and 96 runs for Atlanta.
Between Bourn, Stubbs and second baseman Jason Kipnis, the Indians now boast three players capable of stealing more than 30 bases.
Over the past five seasons -- split between the Astros and Braves -- Bourn has averaged 150 games per year, hitting .272 with a .338 OBP and a .365 SLG in that span. He has topped 600 plate appearances in each of the past four years, making his vesting option for 2017 (550 plate appearances, plus a physical) seem like a realistic goal.
Bourn was a fourth-round selection by the Phillies in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, but he was dealt to the Astros as part of the five-player deal that sent Brad Lidge to Philadelphia in '07. At the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2011, Houston shipped Bourn to Atlanta in exchange for four players.
Much of Bourn's value is also linked to his stellar defense. Last season, Bourn's UZR/150 of 22.5 -- a defensive metric on fangraphs.com -- was the best mark among center fielders. His 3.0 defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) also ranked first, according to baseball-reference.com.
Cleveland has no plans of moving Bourn out of center field, but the team's defensive alignment will need to be sorted out before Opening Day. In Michael Brantley, Bourn and Stubbs -- three defensively sound center fielders by trade -- the Indians' outfield will be a place where baseballs go to die. That said, Swisher is solid in right field, adding another element to the situation. If Swisher remains in right, Stubbs would likely be the odd-man out to slide to a reserve outfield role.
Without a full-time designated hitter on the roster, the Indians also have the flexibility to ask Swisher to slide to first base -- a position he has played in 307 games throughout his career. Reynolds could then assume the DH duties on a full- or part-time basis.
Antonetti declined comment on the situation, but there is plenty of time for the Indians to discuss the plethora of options for Francona's Opening Day lineup.
After everything Antonetti and Francona have done this winter, nothing they devise will stun anyone.