Bourn introduced as Indians' latest acquisition
Signing of speedy center fielder caps busy offseason in Cleveland
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Michael Bourn did his research. When he learned that the Indians had serious interest in bringing him into the fold, the center fielder went to work on studying the team's roster and the potential for playing into October.
Bourn saw the flurry of moves being made and the money being spent by the Indians this winter. He also was impressed with the core of young players already in place. Bourn picked up the phone and called his agent, Scott Boras.
"He goes, 'You know what? This team has a lot of young talent,'" Boras said. "'They're very good.'"
It was at that moment that the Indians became a true contender for Bourn.
Now, Cleveland looks like a contender in the American League Central.
On Friday, the Indians officially announced their four-year, $48 million contract with Bourn, who will assume the everyday duties in center field and at the top of the lineup. During an afternoon press conference, Bourn had his 3-year-old son, Bryson, already wearing an oversized Indians cap and a Tribe shirt, seated on his lap.
With Boras and general manager Chris Antonetti on either side, and his parents and girlfriend among his audience, Bourn spoke of his excitement over being part of a drastic transformation taking place in Cleveland. His signing caps off an aggressive winter that has seemingly put the Indians in position to swiftly turn things around following a 94-loss season.
"You notice the things that are happening with teams," Bourn said. "And I think in baseball you're either trying to win or you're trying to rebuild. It's one or the other. And I know what they're trying to do. They're trying to win. Of course I'm going to try to be a part of that."
Bourn's deal -- finalized following Thursday's physical -- includes a fifth-year option worth $12 million.
Cleveland spent a combined $117 million on Major League free agents over the offseason between contracts for Nick Swisher (four years, $56 million), Brett Myers (one year, $7 million), Mark Reynolds (one year, $6 million) and Bourn. That figure could spike to $157 million if options for Swisher, Myers and Bourn kick in.
In the previous two winters, Cleveland spent a combined $8.3 million on Major League free agents.
"Signings of this magnitude typically don't happen at this time of the year," Antonetti said. "I think we were able to sign Michael because of a significant investment from our ownership. They recognized that this was a unique opportunity."
Boras said the changing dynamics of revenue sharing and television rights have played a role in helping a smaller-market team such as Cleveland spend like it did this winter.
Beginning in 2014, teams will start receiving funds from Major League Baseball's eight-year television contract with FOX and TBS. The Indians also recently sold their TV network, SportsTime Ohio, to FOX Sports Ohio, creating another stream of revenue through broadcasting rights fees from FSO over at least the next 10 years.
"The success of the game now allows middle-market teams to sign the players they select," Boras said. "It may be fewer in number, but 10 years ago there were a group of teams that just didn't have the financial well-being to sign superstar players."
After the winter the Indians experienced, closer Chris Perez said it feels like Cleveland is a big-market team.
Many of Perez's teammates agree.
"It feels great," second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "Not just to spend money, but they've changed the atmosphere in this locker room."
And when Cleveland reeled in Bourn?
"It went from optimism to excitement this year," Kipnis said.
The Indians will lose their third pick (69th overall) -- the fifth pick in a sandwich round between the second and third rounds -- in the First-Year Player Draft for signing Bourn. The Indians lost their second-round selection for signing Swisher. The Tribe's first pick (fifth overall), however, is protected under the guideless within the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Other suitors were hesitant to sign Bourn because of the Draft pick situation.
"It was a long offseason for me, but it was fun," Bourn said. "It taught me patience."
He kept in frequent contact with Boras, who assured Bourn that he would be in camp with a team at the onset of Spring Training.
Boras lived up to his word. Friday marked the first full-squad workout for the Indians, and Bourn was in uniform -- wearing No. 24 -- and on the field.
"I told Mike, I said, 'Don't worry.'" Boras said. "I said to him, 'When you're the steak, don't worry about what time dinner is.'"
Bourn's fifth-year option vests if he achieves 550 plate appearances in the 2016 season and passes a physical at the end of that campaign. That is a realistic target for the center fielder, considering he has averaged 677 plate appearances over the past four seasons between stints with the Astros and Braves.
Over that four-year span, Bourn has hit .280 with a .348 on-base percentage and a .378 slugging percentage. He has averaged four homers, 28 doubles, 10 triples, 45 RBIs, 61 walks, 93 runs and 153 games in that time period.
Last season with Atlanta, Bourn set career bests in home runs (nine), RBIs (57) and walks (70). He hit .274 with a .348 OBP and a .391 SLG in 155 games, mixing in 26 doubles, 10 triples, 42 stolen bases and 96 runs scored for the Braves.
"We feel we've added one of the best center fielders in baseball," Antonetti said. "He's a dynamic player, an exceptional defender in center field and can really impact the game on the bases. His accomplishments speak for themselves."
The two-time All-Star and two-time National League Gold Glove Award winner has topped 50 stolen bases or 90 runs scored in a season three times each over his career.
Much of Bourn's value is also linked to his defense, which rates as the best in the game among center fielders, according to a variety of specialized statistics.
With Bourn now in the fold, Michael Brantley (Cleveland's center fielder a year ago) will shift to left field and Drew Stubbs (a center fielder by trade) will move to right. Swisher, who was initially in the plans as the Tribe's right fielder, will now play first base. Reynolds -- signed as a first baseman -- will assume the bulk of the designated-hitter duties.
The trio of Brantley, Bourn and Stubbs is arguably the fastest outfield in baseball.
"We're just going to move all the fences back," Antonetti joked. "We're going to make it 450 [feet] in left and 550 in center and 450 in right, so they can just go run and catch every ball."
Bourn was looking forward to getting started.
"I'm ready to rock and roll," he said.