For the second consecutive offseason, a Scott Boras client waited until the last moments of the winter to land with an AL Central team.
Last year, Prince Fielder headed to the Tigers as January came to a close. Today, it's Michael Bourn, who agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Cleveland Indians, thus continuing the Tribe's offseason theme of acquiring position players.
The Indians previously added Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds via free-agent signings, as well as Drew Stubbs in the Shin-Soo Choo trade. It's now unclear where Stubbs will play, although Terry Francona could make him an active fourth outfielder by rotating him in and out of the third outfield spot based on who's DHing or playing first.
Adding a player of Bourn's caliber will make the Indians a tougher team on a game-to-game basis, but it's difficult to assess the effectiveness of their offseason on the whole.
I thought Chris Antonetti came out ahead in the Choo trade, but their subsequent acquisitions are extremely blunt solutions by comparison. Swisher is a known entity and should replace Choo with minimal mess, but even in his good (read: non-Sox) seasons, he's been known to disappear for long stretches. Reynolds is a poor man's Adam Dunn in some respects (though Dunn would kill for a .221 average).
Bourn brings a far more exciting set of skills to the table. FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com each called him a six-win player; that assessment of stardom is built on his defense, which the metrics consider elite (three wins by itself). However, he's a National League lifer and a speed player who just turned 30, and his offense isn't that special. He hit .274/.348/.391 with 42 steals in 55 attempts -- a notch below Alejandro De Aza with the bat alone, and a clear cut above in speed contributions.
Cleveland will get some hype for their offeason, and it's deserved at a basic level, because it's a surprising splurge for a team that's been irrelevant the last few years. Bourn and Swisher are above-average players, and Reynolds is an upgrade to the mess they had at first last year. It might take Francona a little time to figure out how to use them all, but their lineup will have more major-league hitters than it did last year. It's not going to be as easy for somebody like Hector Santiago to carve them up.
But the Indians also needed to add MLB-quality pitchers. Cleveland starters posted a 5.25 ERA last season (only Minnesota was worse), and the potential solutions aren't great bets to help. Bauer might not be ready, Brett Myers' strikeout rate dipped as a reliever, and Daisuke Matsuzaka has had all sorts of injury problems.
Zach McAllister had a nice season. In fact, he was their only regular starter with an ERA under 4.90 (4.24). Now the Indians need him to do it again, and they need Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson to stop whatever they're doing. Unless they can channel all batted balls to Bourn, that seems like a lot to ask in order to complement an offense that might not qualify as a "force."
I dunno, I guess I'm picking up a "2012 Marlins" feeling about it all, as they're trying to give an instant jolt to a dormant franchise by throwing a lot of money at the better players in an underwhelming free-agent class. The Indians won't bail at the first sign of failure like the Marlins did, but will Bourn and Swisher have enough left if the pitching staff takes years to sort itself out?