Run Like Lightning: Right Out of Town

Are you staring out the windows thinking about Spring Training yet? If you realize how much talent the Indians could be bringing back in 2014 you probably are.

With all of the fairy tale stories behind us and the October rolling along without the Indians it’s going to be a very, very intriguing offseason to see what the “in the spotlight” Indians front office does to rebuild the squad following the abrupt postseason exit. October Bourn

The Indians made many minor moves, which have become well known by now, last winter to build arguably the most surprisingly good team in baseball in 2013 and many are pegging them to possibly battle it out with Detroit for the 2014 AL Central crown.

To those with that kind of expectations, you’ll need to step back for a moment. Yes, the Indians did end up finishing just a game behind Detroit in 2013 in the closest division “race” in the sport but the Indians face many more questions than the Tigers as this Lazy Sunday leaves us.

In the meantime, I’ll be previewing a few moves the Indians can make as they continually seek a model in which they can leverage their roster to come up with as many surprises as possible. They do not have the means to make the big moves of the Tigers and from the mood of the few Tribe fans I spoke to, it’s all about at least bursting through and taking that AL Central title to go through immediately into the “real October.”

Anyways, the first proposal I’ll toss out there is one which many have yet to discuss:

It’s time to get very serious about trading Michael Bourn.

Bourn signed with the Indians under unique circumstances at the birth of Spring Training last March. I won’t go through the details of how he came to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, but what’s clear is that he’s not going to be cost effective to the Tribe in 2014 and beyond.

This isn’t to say that the Indians made a glaring mistake in bringing Bourn into the fold. In fact, since he did play a decent part in pushing the Indians to their 92 win total it will be harsh of me to ever say that his deal was ever a complete mistake.

The Cleveland Indians must dominate the fine line of competing now and positioning themselves for a sustained period of success but also maintaining strong roster flexibility – as in not giving out those Travis Hafner type deals anymore.

Michael Bourn’s got some major negatives playing in his favor with regards to future value. There’s no need to squint folks, most of these you’re possibly very aware of.

1. His contract is back loaded and while far from truly disgusting, it’s not really making me drool.

2014: $13.5 million

2015: $13.5 million

2016: $14 million

2017: $12 million vesting option (guaranteed with 550 plate appearances in 2016)

The future jump in salary awarded to Bourn hurts during years the Indians will need to give extension to other core pieces of our Favorite 25 which are already arguably better than him in Justin Masterson, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. (No, it’s not time to extend Danny Salazar yet in case you were wondering.)

2. He is basically the guaranteed lead off hitter through at least 2016 and his OBP in 2013 was a paltry .316. 

Look, at the salary Bourn’s making he’s not going to be dropped into the 8 or 9 hole like he should be. He’ll hit lead off based on prestige rather than merit and you’ll live with it as will I. Baseball is an odd game infested by creatures of habit and it’s a rare circumstance to see an established quasi-star such as Bourn dropped to the bottom of the lineup. Do you really want to see our $48 million+ man relegated to the bottom of the lineup anyways?

Wait, don’t the Indians have a manager known for making bold and difficult decisions? He demoted Lonnie. He took Rage’s job away. He sent Cabby down to the six spot. He sent Vinnie to Columbus!

Won’t he eventually send Bourn down to where he belongs? I’m skeptical because the principle of sending your big name player down to the bottom of the lineup is a rare one.

Bourn regressed (or just had a bad year) in numerous statistical categories or important metrics during the past season.

His walk rate plummeted, his strikeout rate jumped, his defensive numbers were not rated even close to as highly as in previous seasons and his line drive percentage took a tumble. For the guts, see it all for yourself here. 

Probably most importantly, his wRC+ – which I consider the most all-encompassing offensive metric in baseball – was just 91 which means he created 9% fewer runs than a league average player would and his formerly electric skills may be on the way out the door.

Have I mentioned that he wasn’t much of a factor on the bases in 2013 either? Well, that’s a tale for another day.

3. Drew Stubbs can do a job for the Indians.

Stubbs is an inherently flawed player who is never going to play every day and that’s completely fine with me. The Indians – and other low market savvy teams like the always mentioned Rays and A’s – should realize that they aren’t really looking for nine every day players but a collection of misfits who can combine together to bring out the best of the roster as a whole.

Drew was not a major disappointment with the Indians but wasn’t really someone anyone had loads of faith in either. He’s about as fast as anyone in baseball, can play an above average center field and sometimes mashes lefties. If you don’t play him more than 60% of the time against right handed pitchers and you can extract a bit of value from him.

Put the man in positions where he can succeed. Wait, didn’t he play right field in 2013? Yep, and he did not do a great job at it either.

Many have pegged Stubbs as netting a salary of roughly $3.5 million in 2013. He isn’t yet quite on Bourn’s level overall but he’s much closer than people realize yet the gap between their salaries will be $10 million next term.

Bourn’s loss would mean the outfield defense wouldn’t be quite as good with Stubbs shifting back to his natural position most days but it’s imperative for the Indians to find every little cost advantage they can and by possibly taking a minimal decline on the field next year for a $10 million immediate savings (not to mention future years) they can do some damage in other departments (aka: one of those extensions or a Scott Kazmir deal).

Will Bourn be back in 2014?

Yes. I’d peg his return around 99%. There are a multitude of reasons why the team won’t deal Bourn this winter, but I’m going to banter quite a bit around these parts this winter about the advantages such a deal could provide for the Indians as they seek fiscal flexibility.

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