The three-way trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds and brought Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer to Cleveland last week caused quite a stir around baseball—besides the fact that a high-profile soon-to-be-free agent and one of the best-regarded prospects in baseball changed teams, the deal seemed to come completely out of nowhere. But outside Northeast Ohio, the Choo trade was eclipsed both in scale and shock factor by the Los Angeles’ Angels surprising signing of Josh Hamilton on Thursday.
The Hamilton deal doesn’t have any direct implications for the Indians—he was clearly out of their price range—but it will have some relevant ripple effects. Most notably, that Hamilton managed to get $125 million presumably means that Nick Swisher can up his asking price, and now that the Rangers are in need of an outfielder the bidding could escalate quickly. (I wasn’t convinced that the market for Swisher was as strong as it was cracked up to be before Hamilton signed so I think the Tribe still has a chance, but obviously things will be more difficult if Texas is involved.)
But there’s another side to the story that should grab Cleveland fans’ attention: the Angels’ new glut of outfielders. CBS Sports’ Danny Knobbler reports that the Halos are “very likely” to trade either Mark Trumbo or Peter Bourjos now that Hamilton is in the fold, though according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan it’s likely to be the latter:
Angels are telling people they’re not trading Mark Trumbo. Obviously, that changes with right offer but more inclined to deal Peter Bourjos.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 15, 2012
Would Bourjos be a fit for the Indians? I say yes. (In fact I have been saying so for quite some time.)
Bourjos, 25, is coming off a down year in which he hit .220/.291/.315 (72 wRC+) with 3 home runs and 3 steals. No, those numbers aren’t very good, but there is an explanation: playing time. Overcrowdedness is nothing new for the Angels’ outfield, and as a result Bourjos got only 195 plate appearances in 2012—of the 101 games he appeared in, he started only 48. Give him more consistent playing time and he’ll more than hold his own at the plate, as he demonstrated in his first full season by hitting .271/.327/.438 (113 wRC+) with 12 home runs and 22 steals in 2011. Even after his poor showing last year his career batting line is roughly on par with Michael Brantley‘s.
But his bat isn’t what makes him an appealing target. Bourjos is by all accounts one of the best defensive players in the game, at any position. As an illustration of just how great his glove is, UZR pegged him at 15.9 runs above average in 2012. Sabermetric defensive stats can be fickle in small sample sizes, but surely it says something that UZR saw Bourjos as the sixth-most valuable fielder in all of baseball last year despite his failing to reach even 200 at-bats. Projecting that pace over a full season (39.1 UZR/150), his glove would have been enough to swing the Angels’ final record by four full wins.
Bourjos might not sound like the kind of addition Tribe fans are hoping for—he, Brantley, and Stubbs would make for a fairly light-hitting outfield trio. But on the other hand that defense would be insane. Brantley is well above-average in left field, Stubbs would be a huge improvement over Shin-Soo Choo in right, and arguably the best outfielder in the game would be manning center field. Not many balls would meet the outfield grass at Progressive Field, and that kind of defensive setup would be a huge boost to a Cleveland pitching staff that finished with the second-worst strikeout rate in baseball last year.
Using Bill James’ projections and our new and improved Simple WAR Calculator v. 2.1, Bourjos projects to be worth 4.6 wins above replacement in 2013. For some comparison, that’s about where FanGraphs pegged Prince Fielder and R.A. Dickey, and no Indians player topped 3.4. Even under the assumption that Bourjos’ bat wouldn’t improve next year (and given the combination of his maturing, regression to the mean, and regular playing time that seems highly unlikely) he still projects as an above-average player once you account for his defense and speed.
Best of all, Bourjos is going to be around for a while. He’ll make the league minimum in 2013, defense-first players are generally cheap in arbitration, and he isn’t scheduled to hit the free agent market until 2017. So he wouldn’t just a rent-a-player like Choo is for the Reds—he’d be in Northeast Ohio for the long haul.
Could Cleveland and Los Angeles line up in a trade? I think so. According to Knobbler the Halos are looking for a pitcher, but we don’t know exactly what that means in terms of personnel. Contrary to popular belief Cleveland actually has quite a bit of pitching depth, both in the rotation and the bullpen. The Angels clearly don’t think too highly of Bourjos since they benched him last year and are paying Josh Hamilton $125 million to replace him now. Perhaps someone like Corey Kluber could interest Los Angeles. Or maybe the Indians could trade Chris Perez for Bourjos—as I suggested they do months ago.
We don’t know who the Angels would want in return for Bourjos, and without that knowledge it’s impossible to say whether it would be worth the Tribe’s while to go for it. But Bourjos would be a fantastic fit in Cleveland, and assuming the price is reasonable the Indians should do their darndest to go get him.
Would Peter Bourjos be a fit for the Indians?
- Yes (81%, 50 Votes)
- No (19%, 12 Votes)
Total Voters: 62