With the AL Central still looking very much up-for-grabs, the Indians made another strong offseason move to improve both their offense and defense when they signed speedster Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48M deal with a $12M vesting option in 2017 should he reach 550 plate appearances in 2016. While Scott Boras may not have received his original asking price, the move is still a win-win-win as he collects his fat commission check, the Tribe get themselves a great leadoff hitter and defensive center-fielder, and fantasy owners can now look to the Indians as a fantastic source of speed. Adding Bourn to a lineup that already had decent wheels in players like Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs is only going to keep that base-running green light on and shining bright.
First off, let’s allow all of the Bourn owners, both in keeper leagues and in leagues that have drafted ridiculously early, a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. It’s not like he wasn’t going to sign somewhere, but better now and have a good situation than have to settle somewhere else and have question marks. The man who has led the National League in stolen bases for three of the last four years has a good home and is playing for a manager who is not afraid to let his players run free on the bases. He may be on the wrong side of his prime years, but there is still plenty left in the tank and he has shown little sign of slowing down. Sure, last year’s 42 stolen bases were the lowest he’s seen in the last four years, but that was of no fault to him. Fredi Gonzalez was the culprit as the Braves ranked just 22nd in stolen base attempts (133) last year and dead last amongst teams that had a player on their roster who swiped 30 or more. It’s pretty tough to lead the league when your manager won’t let you.
Based on some of the comments my previous Bourn column saw, there’s still an open debate as to the fantasy value of a player like Bourn. Many believe, as I do as well, that you can easily build up your stolen bases through the middle to late part of your draft and/or from the waiver wire. But for me, there’s still nothing better in a roto league than having a 50-steal guy on your roster to anchor your speed and keep you ahead of your competition. You might be able to attain that in a less-expensive commodity, but Bourn also gives you a solid average and could very well top 100 runs scored with this revamped offense. Of the 22 other players to steal 30 or more bases last year only Mike Trout, Ryan Braun and Jimmy Rollins had more runs scored and best of the rest still fell 10 short behind Bourn. His place within the stolen base community is, without question, among the elite.
But here’s some food for thought: As Dave Cameron discussed, there are a whole lot of things the Tribe could do with their lineup and defense based on possible platoons splits. Do they keep an outfield of Bourn, Brantley and Stubbs with Nick Swisher at first base and Mark Reynolds at DH or do they go with Reynolds at first, Swish in the outfield and Stubbs in the DH slot? For fantasy purposes, it’s somewhat of a moot point until you factor in the possibility of Jason Giambi taking DH at-bats. And what about days when Carlos Santana needs a rest from behind the plate? Suddenly it gets a little complicated.
If the Indians go with, to paraphrase one of the commentator’s on Cameron’s article, a sort of Beane-esque, Oakland-lite type platoon method, fantasy owners may have to take a step back or two if they’re looking to maximize plate appearances. It would seem that Bourn and Swisher are the least likely candidates to lose playing time, but suddenly Stubbs, Brantley and Reynolds go from full-time to possible platoons while Santana just might lose his at-bats edge, something that has added to his overall value in previous seasons. This should be something to watch closely this spring and during the start of the season, but for now, if you’re still waiting to draft, keep it all in mind and maybe allow these platoon possibilities to factor in on some of your choices.