On Wednesday, Michael Bourn signed with the Cleveland Indians. You aren’t likely to feel sorry for his lengthened unemployment, sitting on his millions even before the new contract, but Bourn really became the victim of the MLB’s new draft-pick compensation rules. Since the Braves tendered Bourn an offer, whomever signed him would surrender their 1st round pick, with a compensation “sandwich” pick awarded to the team who lost said player. That played a hand, but Bourn’s skillset is also not one which generally commands big dollars and he’s also 30 now, which is likely why you saw a bigger market (and contract) for B.J. Upton, though Bourn is debatably a better player.
At $12 mil per annum, the Indians signed what is likely to be a deal that majorly pays off, estimating a player’s worth at $5 mil per win. Bourn posted a 6.4 fWAR last season, but it’d be ridiculous to assume he’s worth a $30 mil per annum deal. Even if you dial it back to numbers closer to his career average, something like 4.5 wins, it’s a major win financially for the Indians in terms of dollars paid per production. That is, assuming Bourn doesn’t fall off a steep cliff, which many speculate is apt to happen with speedy, defense first types. If we assume Bourn is worth 13 more wins over the life of the deal, the Indians got about 17 million dollars worth of free production.. and I’d say that’s a fairly safe estimate of his actual production. For this deal to not pay off, Bourn would have to be only slightly better than league average for the next four years. That… seems unlikely.
However, I am curious what the Indians are thinking here. They dealt off Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds, in a deal most experts felt they majorly won. The prized piece coming back was Trevor Bauer. They are banking he can still meet his once lofty upside. Not a bad gamble in exchange for a 30-year-old RF who has battled injuries and, at the time, seemed to be pricing himself out of Cleveland. But then they turned around and inked Nick Swisher back at Christmas. That $56-$70 mil (depending on the 5th year vesting option) investment surprised some, from a Cleveland organization operating on a modest payroll. Swisher makes sense on some levels: Ohio guy, all the “intangibles”, fan favorite. He’ll make Cleveland baseball fun again.
But now they deal for Bourn. Bourn is clearly a natural CF and while Choo dabbled in CF in Cleveland, they never played him there regularly. Yet, that’s the gamble the Reds are taking. And based on the arbitration hearing, they are getting a better price than the Indians on Bourn.
So why not, then, keep Choo? Well, for one, they turned him into Trevor Bauer. So would you rather have four years Michael Bourn AND under team control Trevor Bauer or just one guaranteed year of Shin-Soo Choo? Choo offers more power, but it’s still unclear how he will handle CF duties regularly, and if he can maintain his health. Simply put, there’s way more question marks with Choo than Bourn, even considering Bourn’s extra cost.
If you are an Indians fan, how can you be anything but ecstatic right now? The AL Central, despite boasting this year’s AL Champion, is not exactly an unscalable peak. The Tigers didn’t run away with the division last year, and while they are certainly leading the pack, the gap may not be as big as perceived. Bourn and Swisher immediately improve the lineup, even withstanding the loss of Choo. Bauer offers the promise of a future ace. Oh yeah, you and you hired Terry Francona and all his beer and chicken. Cleveland baseball is fun again.