I have absolutely nothing to back this up, but I’d like to humbly say that I am very intelligent and can predict a lot of things better than most people. With that being said, after the 2014 season, the Cleveland Indians will be trading Michael Bourn.
Sure, it makes very little sense right now, but hear me out.
After Brett Gardner signed a four-year, $52 million extension with the New York Yankees, the center field market became quite barren for next winter. Seriously, this is the current list of 2015 free agent center fielders (from MLBTradeRumors):
That isn’t very pretty. Given the market, Span will likely have his option picked up by the Washington Nationals and Colby Rasmus will likely become the highest paid offensive talent in the upcoming free agent market this side of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, both of whom have discussed extensions with their current teams, as well. Rasmus posted a 4.8 WAR and a 130 wRC+ while striking out in 29.5 percent of his at-bats in 2013. You could argue that it is quite unlikely that he can maintain that type of value if he continues to swing and miss at that rate, as only Mike Napoli and Chris Davis posted higher WARs while striking out more frequently than Rasmus.
Regardless, at just 28 next winter, Rasmus, even if he doesn’t quite repeat his 2013 production, will receive a long-term contract worth around $15 million or more per season, because the potential is there for him to still be productive in an up-the-middle position.
With that being said, Michael Bourn should be dealt next winter. Bourn is guaranteed $27.5 million combined in 2015 and 2016, and with Tyler Naquin capable of manning center and producing similar numbers to what Bourn did in a down 2013, why wouldn’t the Indians cash in on a below-market contract?
Sure, Bourn, when healthy, could produce a 4-5 WAR season, given his defensive chops and his running skills, but what if the Indians were able to sign Pablo Sandoval to play third base instead? What if the Indians were able to compete in the open market for Max Scherzer or James Shields by freeing up some payroll? With Michael Brantley locked up and Ryan Raburn and David Murphy under contract, the team would only need Naquin to provide a league average wRC+, which he could likely do while hitting 8-10 home runs and stealing close to 20 bases while playing solid defense with his laser arm in center.
The Indians won 92 games with a down season from Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and Asdrubal Cabrera in 2013. Given the on-hand talent in the organization, the club could deal Bourn for solid prospects and payroll relief, while gaining the ability to upgrade their rotation further for the 2015 season.
Bourn’s below-market value contract isn’t really a burden on the franchise, but if the club is able to lockup Justin Masterson and have the finances available to sign another top of the rotation arm, why wouldn’t they trade from an area of organizational depth by moving Bourn for further young, controllable talent, while opening up a spot for another of their top prospects.
We’ll begin the movement here: Naquin and Lindor in ’15!