By now we all know that the Indians finished fourth in the American League in run scored. With nobody on the roster surpassing 85 runs batted in, it is difficult to wrap my head around that and make the math work. It is almost as difficult to figure out how the Indians scored that many runs with a leadoff hitter whose on base percentage barely surpassed .300. It is not a stretch to say that the easiest way for the Indians to improve their offense in 2014 is to move Michael Bourn out of the leadoff spot.
Think about this. Carlos Santana posted an OBP sixty points higher than Bourn. For most of the season Santana batted in the sixth spot. Switching him and Bourn in the batting order would take approximately ninety plate appearances away from Bourn and give them to Santana. That one move would be enough to increase the team OBP a full point. Getting a do-over on the times Asdrubal Cabrera hit second or third would raise it another point. Now I’m not far enough outside the box to propose Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot. But you would get almost the same boost from putting Jason Kipnis or Michael Brantley there. In my happy dream place I see Brantley and Kipnis at the top of the order, with Santana third, a run producing free agent hitting cleanup, Swisher fifth, then some combination of Gomes, Raburn, Aviles, and Chisenhall. Which leaves Bourn hitting…eighth? Or ninth?
Can you pay somebody fifteen million a year and hit him ninth? In Cleveland? If you base your batting order solely on 2013 stats, you would have no alternative. While Bourn has a track record that suggests he can do better, he will be 31 next year and is almost totally reliant on his legs to provide value. Even if he fixes whatever issues caused him to perform poorly this year, the reality is that he has never been a patient hitter and will never draw enough walks to fit the mold of a prototypical leadoff hitter. He has posted an on base percentage above .350 one time in his career.
Even if you expect Bourn to rebound and make a positive contribution in 2014, you would be hard pressed to be optimistic that he will be worth fifteen million in the last year or two of his contract. Instead, it is much more likely that by then his salary will be a major stumbling block to improving the team. History has shown that waiting until a contract becomes a major drain limits the options for disposing of that contract and receiving anything of value in return.
Given that, it would make some sense for the Indians to investigate the possibility of trading Bourn this offseason. Not only would it maximize the potential return the Indians would receive, you have to wonder what else could be done if that fifteen million was available to spend elsewhere. Or if you combine it with the seven million they would get from releasing Chris Perez and the six million they would get from trading Asdrubal Cabrera. At that point you would be looking at adding a front-line starting pitcher and a middle of the order bat, and still have a few million left over to plug whatever holes pop up.
I’m not second-guessing the original decision to sign Michael Bourn. At the time he was sign it was a below-market deal and it represented a symbol of hope for Cleveland fans that the front office was serious about fielding a competitive team. Given the lack of outfield depth on the roster, Bourn was probably indispensable to the Indians earning a playoff berth in 2013. Now they have an entire offseason to come up with an alternative. Since Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs can also play center field adequately, any outfielder who is acquired can effectively be seen as a replacement for Bourn. They also have a roster with fewer holes and more depth than anyone could have imagined a year ago, giving them the opportunity to focus their resources on the few holes that still exist. Trading Bourn would free up valuable resources to not just plug holes but to turn those holes into strengths.