By: T.J. Zuppe
An off-season that has changed many opinions about the front office and management of the Cleveland Indians continued to shock those around Major League Baseball when the Tribe landed one of the best free-agents on the market, outfielder Michael Bourn.
The deal - first reported by Jon Heyman of CBS - is reportedly worth $48-million over four years with a vesting option for a fifth year.
The 30-year center-fielder hit .274 with the Atlanta Braves last season. He hit nine home runs, drove in 57 and stole 42 bases. He boasted a wins above replacement of 6.0 in 2012, one of the best in the majors.
The seven-year veteran holds a career batting average of .272. Bourn has spent time with the Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros.
Bourn brings the Tribe a bona fide lead-off hitter and pure center-fielder. He joins Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs as outfielders that Terry Francona could use in center. That could also make general manager Chris Antonetti's phone number popular amonsts teams looking to trade for a center-fielder this spring.
Bourn should be the final piece of an off-season that has seen the Tribe land free-agents Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and trade for pitcher Trevor Bauer and Stubbs.
He also presents the Indians skipper with some options in his daily lineup. Bourn's ability to play center could push Stubbs into a fourth-outfielder role. It could also mean Francona could use Swisher more at first-base, while Reynolds slides to DH.
Here is an early look at how the Tribe's lineup might look:
1. Michael Bourn - CF
2. Jason Kipnis - 2B
3. Asdrubal Cabrera - SS
4. Nick Swisher - RF/1B
5. Carlos Santana - C
6. Mark Reynolds - 1B/DH
7. Michael Brantley - LF
8. Drew Stubbs / Mike Aviles / Other - DH/OF
9. Lonnie Chisenhall - 3B
Despite being one of the best players available this off-season, Bourn found himself without a home, largely because of first-round draft pick any team that signed him would be forced to surrender. Any team, except the Indians, of course.
Just like in the Swisher signing, the Tribe's first round draft pick was top ten protected. Thus, the Indians hold on to a selection that any other club would have been forced to give up to the Braves for signing Bourn.
This presented a perfect storm.
The Indians just had to find the finances to make it all work. That is where credit is due to team ownership - being able to dip a little deeper into their pockets to get it done. That thought process seems a bit foreign to Tribe fans - and certainly is a welcomed change.
The Tribe will lose a draft pick, however it will be between the second and third round (competitive balance selection). Cleveland retains their first-rounder despite signing Swisher and Bourn, thus capitalizing on a rare opportunity.
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