And Cleveland’s offseason cup runneth over.
After adding the likes of Terry Francona, Nick Swisher, Brett Myers, Mark Reynolds, and Trevor Bauer, one of the game’s top pitching prospects, the Indians capped off their successful winter — potentially the best in franchise history — by signing center fielder Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal.
Often left brokenhearted and bargain basement shopping come this time of the year, Cleveland correctly read a stagnant free agent market at the outset, knowing both Swisher and Bourn had limited landing destinations available.
Many of the typical high spenders did little but feign interest in either. The Yankees were looking to shed payroll in hopes of resigning Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. Boston, thinking that Bourn’s price tag would land in the $75 million range, quickly signed Shane Victorino away from the Indians. And the Angels set their lofty sights on Josh Hamilton.
The Indians mixed market volatility with a bit of luck in landing their new center fielder.
Blessed with dynamic speed, Bourn, 30, brings an element to the leadoff spot not seen since the days of Kenny Lofton. The former Houston and Atlanta center fielder has led the league in stolen bases three times (2009-2011) and has swiped 257 bags in 318 attempts (80.8%) since becoming a fulltime regular in 2008. And he has typically finished among the elite defenders at the position.
Since 2010, Bourn has saved 37 runs above the average center fielder according to FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating Per 150. Or the equivalent of about four wins.
The problem with Bourn, however, is that so much of his value — potentially all of it — is tied to his legs, a non-issue for mid-20-something players, not so much for a player signed well into his 30s.
Bourn offers little to no pop; his Isolated Power, or ISO, last season was the highest of his career, at .117, nearly 30 points below the league average. While he mixes in solid-average walk rates, his production will only go as far as his feet will take him. And that’s just not a good skill set to bet on during a player’s post-prime years.
According to Baseball Reference’s similarity scores, the top three players that most resemble Bourn through the age of 29 are Max Flack, Brett Butler, and Dave Collins. All three of whom remained relatively productive through the age of 33.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a sure bet. For every Flack or Butler, there’s a Chone Figgins, who cratered badly after signing with Seattle a couple years back, or Vince Coleman, who barely remained serviceable.
Keeping that in mind and using a conservative wins above replacement total (using a starting point of 4.5 wins, and a standard 0.5-win decline each year afterward), Bourn should still total about $84 million in production over the next four years, or about $36 million more than what he’ll be paid.
One of the more interesting aspects in Bourn’s acquisition is the number pitches the batters following him will see.
The ballclub has three of the top nine players who averaged the most number of pitches per plate appearance last year: Swisher, Reynolds, and Carlos Santana. The trio should average just about 45 pitches every game. All of this, of course, gives Bourn a lot more time to run, which is clearly a good thing. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see him top his career high of 61 stolen bases this season.
The Indians could surprise people this season. The newly re-tooled lineup has considerable depth, with a mix of speed, power, and on-base skills (at some cost to the added number of strikeouts, of course). The bullpen is deep and packed with power arms. And if either Ubaldo Jimenez or Justin Masterson can regain their form, this is a team that could back into a playoff spot come September.
For the long term, however, it will be interesting to see how this affects not only re-signing the team’s own core players, but also other free agents.
For now, though, Clevelanders, enjoy the feeling of having a free spending baseball team.
For Cleveland’s Top Prospects, click here.
Photo of Michael Bourn Courtesy of US Presswire via CBSSports.com