Like some sort of weird hawk that isn’t very good at baseball, the Cleveland Indians have darted from behind a suspiciously-shaped cloud with blinding speed to snatch up baseball’s best remaining free agent, center fielder Michael Bourn. Bourn had not been linked to many teams throughout the off-season, but last week saw an uptick in the Mets’ chances at employing the fast and defensively capable outfielder. Instead, Bourn will seat himself atop the Indians lineup thanks to a four-year, $48 million deal that also includes a possible fifth year for another $12 million.
Bourn doesn’t possess the skills that normally garner big, fat contracts, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been one of baseball’s better players over the past four seasons. Having recently celebrated his 30th birthday, Bourn also has just cause to celebrate his 2012 season, the best of his career. Bourn hit .274/.348/.391 with nine homers, 42 steals, and positively glowing reviews from FanGraphs regarding his fielding and base running. The end result was a 6.4 WAR season and a nice payday, albeit one smaller than would be given to just about any other player coming off a 6.4 WAR season.
Bourn is a pretty solid lock to do better than earn the money Cleveland is paying him over the next four seasons, but he’s also a strange choice for a team that has so little in the way of Major League talent. Having already dealt Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds and signed underrated outfielder Nick Swisher to a four-year pact, the Indians are kind of sending mixed signals about what direction they’re headed in. I completely understand adding veterans that may cost a bit to supplement young talent, but when you’re the Indians the Major League roster doesn’t really justify such a move. Other than the fact that Bourn’s a good baseball player, one understandable reason for both this contract and Swisher’s is that the AL Central probably seems more winnable than a lot of other divisions. Beyond the very good Tigers, there aren’t many possible contenders residing in the division, but I think the Indians are clearly underestimating the true talent level Detroit has to offer over the next few seasons if this is part of the team’s rationale.
It’s also worth worrying about that Bourn’s value is so directly tied to his speed. His defensive and base-nabbin’ abilities could go by the wayside in a hurry if injury, old age, or any conditioning problems begin to sneak up on him. I highly doubt Bourn incurs any of these issues over the relatively short life of the deal, but these are potential problems worth thinking about for a team that probably can’t finish up at .500 with him.
So, now that this matter is settled, is Kyle Lohse going to actually, um, be on a team ever?