Dollars and Common Sense Lead Michael Bourn to Cleveland and not Tampa Bay


Michael Bourn cashed in on a lucrative deal with the Cleveland Indians earlier this week. Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians signed center fielder Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal earlier this week, adding to their long list of offseason acquisitions. The deal also has a vesting option for a fifth year worth $12 million if Bourn has 550 plate appearances, Jon Heyman of reports.

The Indians were not the only team with offers on the table, as the New York Mets also presented Bourn with a four-year, $48 million deal without a vesting option. But the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, and Seattle Mariners had their eye on Bourn before Cleveland snatched him from free agency. Bourn was originally looking for a six or seven-year deal, but that never materialized. Things got to a point where it looked like Bourn would sign for far less than originally anticipated at the onset of his free agency. The question became how low Bourn would go for. And if the price got low enough, a surprise team, a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, might have a real chance at signing him. But that never came close to happening, and it’s pretty clear why.

With the end of the offseason looming, it made sense for Bourn to take a four-year deal that was still quite lucrative. A team like the Rays would not have been able to offer him nearly that much money, and Bourn would have basically been signing a one-year pillow contract to try to get back on the market next year and hope he had better luck finding suitors. The Rays are quite fond of signing one-year deals, even ones with risk involved like say Carlos Pena’s contract for last season, and while Bourn’s deal certainly would have been worth more than that it would have made sense. But why would Bourn sign for less money and elect to receive significantly less financial security when he had substantial offers on the table?

Bourn previously played for the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros before the Astros traded him mid-season in 2011 to the Atlanta Braves, where he spent the 2012 season. It is projected that Bourn will be joined in the outfield for the Indians by Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs. Right fielder Nick Swisher, who also signed with Cleveland this offseason, will most likely be moved to first base. Bourn hit .274 with 9 homeruns and 57 RBIs in 155 games in 2012. He has played in two All-Star games and won two Gold Gloves during his career. The Indians didn’t necessarily have a glaring need for Bourn, but as a team struggling to establish itself in the AL Central, they certainly improved themselves and now they only hope it will be enough.

The Rays spent the offseason looking for a center fielder as B.J. Upton signed with the Atlanta Braves. But, the Rays have discussed the option of moving left fielder Desmond Jennings to center field and filling the hole in left field with Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer, Matt Joyce, or even Kelly Johnson, who has played second base the last six years but had played left field before that. Ben Zobrist is expected to spend most of 2013 at second base but can also fill a gap in the outfield. The Rays have plenty of options for deciding who will man the outfield, and we all know manager Joe Maddon will make some creative decisions while penciling in the Opening Day lineup.

Michael Bourn was a fit for the Rays and they certainly would have put him to good use had they signed him. But the money didn’t match up- and the Rays were not going to give up a first round draft pick to sign him- and nothing else mattered in the end. The Rays were always an interesting wild card in the pursuit of Bourn. But the speculation that a deal would happen between them was based more on how unlikely it would be that the Rays would sign him than on common sense, and looking back, it’s no surprise at all that Bourn ended up with a team like the Indians and not with the Rays.