How much better are the Indians after Bourn deal?

So, are there still any lingering doubts about this new Cleveland Indians team and the front office’s approach? Those doubts had to be put to rest Monday evening.

At just a little past the 8’o’clock evening hour, it was announced that the Indians had come to terms with free agent outfielder Michael Bourn on a four-year, $48 million deal with a $12 million vesting option for a fifth year. There is no Indians fan on the planet that can honestly say they saw this coming.

To be clear, every Indians move this offseason was solid and every move served a purpose. But no move was more electrifying than Monday’s signing of Bourn.

The effectiveness of shock value is debatable, but don’t tell that to an Indians fan today. While the team’s fan base was already in high spirits because of an uncharacteristically busy offseason, the signing of Bourn was like a pure shot of adrenaline.

The acquisition of Bourn helps to fill some of the last persisting questions surrounding the Tribe’s offense. In fact, it can be argued that the Indians have their first true leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton.

Just think of how Bourn immediately improves this team. Leadoff hitter? Check. Speed on the base paths? Check. Gap power? Check. Plus-plus defense? Yep, he’s got that too.

For his career, Bourn has been the prototypical leadoff hitter. Since the 2008 season, he’s stolen at least 41 bases per season, and he has a career line of .272/.339/.365 in 871 career Major League games.

Beyond his offensive prowess, Bourn is an exceptional defender in centerfield — arguably the best at his position. For evidence, consider his UZR of 22.4 with the Atlanta Braves in 2012. The next closest player was the Minnesota TwinsDenard Span, who had a UZR of 8.5. Maybe it’s time to abridge that earlier statement: Bourn is the best defender at his position.

While any offseason move can look great on paper, the ultimate goal is that that move bears fruit for the Major League club. The Bourn signing is the latest in a series of offseason maneuvers that the Indians have performed in an effort to improve on the team’s abysmal 68-94 record.

The Indians’ flaws following last season have been well-documented: a lack of pitching, right-handed hitters, power, a leadoff hitter and production from the outfield.

Every move this offseason seemed to address at least one of those needs. Mark Reynolds brings right-handed power. Nick Swisher helps shore up the outfield and is a switch-hitter. The signing of Brett Myers combined with the trade for Trevor Bauer alleviates some of the pitching woes. And finally, Bourn provides speed, exceptional defense and gives the team a true leadoff hitter.

So, with all these moves now complete, just how much better are the Indians heading into the 2013 season? As stated earlier, the goal is to improve and these moves become irrelevant if the Tribe fails to do that.

Offensively, there is no doubt that this team has significantly improved. Just take a look at this mock lineup:

  1. Michael Bourn
  2. Jason Kipnis
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera
  4. Nick Swisher
  5. Mark Reynolds
  6. Carlos Santana
  7. Michael Brantley
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall
  9. Drew Stubbs

Salivating yet?

But for all the offensive improvements, the pitching staff still is filled with major question marks. If the Indians did make a mistake this season, perhaps it was the signing of Myers.

At the time, the move seemed like an appropriate one, but is it possible that the Indians would rethink the move had they known Kyle Lohse would still be a free agent as of February 12?

The problem with the Tribe’s rotation is that a positive 2013 forecast is largely based on rebound performances fromJustin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. When you consider the seasons that the two players had in 2012, that’s just not a good thing.

Most agree that both players have the stuff to be more than capable Major League starters. Yet, while they have the stuff, neither player seemed to be able to command it in 2013.

Jimenez walked a career-high 4.8 batters per nine innings while Masterson walked 3.8 batters per nine innings (more than a whole batter more than his walk rate in 2011). Unfortunately, these are just not the type of numbers you want to see from your supposed top two starting pitchers.

Outside of Jimenez and Masterson, Myers is also a question mark because he has not pitched as a starter since the 2011 season. It could be that he makes a flawless transition back into the rotation, but there could also be some lumps and bruises along the way.

Perhaps even more troubling is all the questions surrounding the slew of fifth starter candidates. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Carlos Carrasco is somewhat of a wild card, and it appears as if Bauer could use more seasoning at the Triple-A level. Minor league signings like Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka are nice, but remember, they are minor league signings for a reason.

It may be hard to believe, but it appears as if Zach McAllister may head into the season as the starting pitcher with the fewest concerns. Sadly, it just cannot be a good thing when you have the most faith in a starting pitcher who has only had 26 career Major League starts.

So, this brings us back to the question of just how much better is this year’s edition of the Indians compared to last year’s? Certainly, this team is definitely better, but fans may want to hold off on making their deposits for postseason tickets.

Considering the uncertainty of the pitching staff, it’s hard to say for sure that this team will even finish above .500. Sure, if Masterson and Jimenez rebound and if the young pitchers progress, this staff could look quite nice. But remember, those are two big ifs.

At this point, it seems as if the Indians may be the third best team in the American League Central. The signing of Bourn almost certainly pushes them ahead of the Kansas City Royals, but it’s hard to put them above the Chicago White Sox, and they’re certainly still behind the Detroit Tigers.

So, the signing of Bourn is great, and it definitely makes this team much better. Unfortunately, it’s just not the postseason guarantee that many Tribe fans seem eager to make it out to be.

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