In case there was any question, the Cleveland Indians demonstrated their commitment to fielding a winning product by agreeing to a four-year, $48 million contract with free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn. Whether the Tribe has accomplished that goal is debatable, but they've injected their club into a conversation about contenders.
Too many flies in the ointment
They've also injected a little life into Bourn's fantasy baseball value. As reporting dates approached, mock drafters were increasingly hesitant to select the speedy outfielder who last year was a regular in the top 50 mixed choices. Perhaps a slightly disappointing .274 average and 42 stolen bases contributed to that "slip," but there's something about the uncertainty of a free agent's destination that lends to greater perceived than actual risk. My goodness, what if he'd signed with the New York Mets? Ewww.
It's easy (and fun) to bash the Muts, but not Bourn, who's not reliably an asset in batting average but definitely one in OBP (which bodes well for his opportunities to run and score) and, of course, stolen bases. At any rate, his ADP will probably rise a bit now that he'll settle into the leadoff spot for the Indians. He'll almost assuredly have an always-on green light from his new manager.
Speculation has run rampant about the ripple effect of this signing on the rest of Terry Francona's lineup. There have been suggestions that the organization is already quite willing to part with Drew Stubbs. That may be true, but even if so, as the team's official site clarified, Tito's plans include a lineup that incorporates the former Cincinnati Red as a regular.
The Indians have the freedom to do so because they had no regular DH on the roster. That spot was the best place for Chris McGuiness, a Rule 5 pick this past winter, to make his mark. (Jason Giambi is also in camp on a minor league deal.) McGuiness has lost any sleeper appeal he had, which wasn't much.
Bourn will man his customary center field while Michael Brantley slides to left and Stubbs moves to right. Nick Swisher, previously slated to handle right field, will don a first baseman's mitt most of the time. It's a smart move, because he's probably a better defender than Mark Reynolds, who was going to play at first most of the time but now will likely log most of his plate appearances as the designated hitter.
Who does this hurt, then? No one, really, unless someone doesn't do his job. Assuming that Ryan Raburn, a right-handed hitter who can play in the outfield, is available from the pine, Brantley will probably see few at-bats against southpaws. The 25-year-old hit them respectably last year and was a solid fifth outfielder in mixed leagues, but his projection has now run into a reduced cap. Stubbs may not play every day, either, just because of his propensity to slump for long periods. The Indians have given themselves flexibility.
And, as a small bonus, they've provided their pitching staff with an outstanding outfield defense. That won't matter much to Justin Masterson and Brett Myers (who gives up long balls at an impressive rate despite the low percentage of flies he allows), but Ubaldo Jimenez has gotten away from the ground-ball ways that made him a success with the Colorado Rockies. Perhaps they'll even help fly-ball-battered Daisuke Matsuzaka stay in ballgames - assuming that he makes the club. (OK, that's pushing it.) This new alignment probably won't make a huge difference in the outcomes for Cleveland's pitchers, but it'll definitely benefit them, perhaps enough to jump them up your cheat sheets by a couple of spots. For Jimenez, that might mean consideration for a roster spot in mixed leagues.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.
Don't miss these great reports....