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2.14.2013

Spring Training Rundown: Spring Bourn Anew

Nino Colla | Thursday, February 14, 2013 | | | | | | | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips
Boy this feels good, it feels familiar. It feels as if things are back to normal. Almost. Not quite, but we're getting there.

And we are getting there because I don't have to talk about rumors, entertain random stories about sitting in traffic and seeing a Red Sox license plate that says A GON 28 (bad timing on that dude's part), or jump up and down about moves the Indians make.

Yeah about that last one. This is the first offseason we've ever really been able to do that and do it multiple times, and guess what? We get to do it one more time as Spring gets underway! So why should I waste time? Not only do I get to jump, I have a whole bunch of note-worthy notes for your perusal, and because you care, what I really think about them.

Now do the Harlem Shake!

[NOT ANOTHER BOURN PUN]

I'll save you the Bourn puns, because as fun as Nick Swisher signing around Christmas was, everyone is loving playing with Michael Bourn and his really cool last name. Not to mention the fact that he runs really fast.

I think Cleveland is still rocking though. The Indians signing Nick Swisher was unbelievable. The Indians signing Michael Bourn was unthinkable. Together, in one offseason, with the trade for Trevor Bauer and Drew Stubbs, the other additions of Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds, and the other many moves the club made to improve the squad, it is quite simply shocking.

With Bourn coming in on Thursday to make things official with a physical, let's shuffle through some of the important factors to the Bourn signing as well as the additional bits that might have slipped through your radar.

The first thing that I think everyone is just not really talking about is the contract. I don't think everyone has quite grasped what this actually means. The Indians have three outfielders under control for the foreseeable future. And not only that, good, major league outfielders, two of which are center fielders, and one of whom is quite the run producer and key lineup piece.

Swisher and Bourn getting these four-year deals, it is saying quite loudly that the Indians are serious about contending, but also that they are really tightening up their outfield. Michael Brantley is still years away from free agency and if you have that core together for a few years, that goes a long way in establishing some consistency.

Bourn's deal is worth $48 million, with him making $7 million this coming season. He does have a $12 million vesting option if he reaches 550 plate appearances in 2016. His salary jumps up to $13.5 million the next tow seasons until it reaches $14 million in 2016. Something, I've never thought I'd see. Two guys on the Indians making more than $14 million in 2016. Right.

The Indians did not have to give up a first rounder, because it is a protected top 10 pick, and because they gave up their second rounder for Nick Swisher, signing Bourn costs them a  pick they'll get through the competitive-balance lottery.

And that right there is a big reasons why the New York Mets, the other team that were going to make a comparable offer to Bourn, didn't actually do anything. They had the 11th overall pick, mainly because the Pirates couldn't sign their first rounder last year, giving them another top 10 pick, which they would have had to part with if they signed Bourn.

Oops.

Jon Heyman of CBS also reported that the Mets did not include a vesting option.

One thing that sparked from the signing of Bourn was what the Indians were going to do with their lineup. Of course, this is such a great problem to have, but it also presented them potentially trading Brantley or flipping Drew Stubbs. Heyman "heard" that Stubbs was trade bait, until the Indians said that Stubbs, and Brantley for that matter, was not going anywhere.

In fact, they said so by telling a lot of their players how they'd be use as they reported to camp on Monday. I speculated in the second part of the Primer that they could go down the road of having Stubbs play against all left handed pitchers, and sparingly against the right handers, but my initial thought is that you just move everyone to a different position to accommodation Bourn in center.

Looks like it will be more of the latter as Francona told players what it was looking like, and of course joked around a little bit too as the Bourn signing wasn't actually official.

"I talked to Brantley today, told him he's going to play left field," Francona said. "I talked to Stubbs today and told him he's going to play right field. I talked to Swish today and, obviously, we had talked before about him playing first. And Reynolds, about moving over to DH a lot and playing some first, too. Saying that, we still have a hole in center field."

Brantley has no issues with left, and heck until Sizemore went down last spring, that was where he was going to play anyway. Stubbs hasn't really been a right fielder, but Francona said he thinks it will take him all of 10 minutes to get used to. And just as an aside, his arm is definitely the best of the three.

It looks like Stubbs will play more often than not, which means the alignment of Stubbs in right, Swisher at first, and Reynolds at designated hitter is probably the more regular lineup compared to someone else at DH, Swisher in right and Reynolds at first.

The Indians have also defined Jason Giambi's role this spring as someone who will compete for a pinch hitting/part-time designated hitter role. If he were to make the team of course. That will be predicated on his performance, but also probably how the rest of the team shakes out in terms of positions on the bench.

Regardless of who plays where, and it is rather a "who cares at this point"...point, considering everyone will play and the team is better, the clubhouse seems to be buzzing. When you have players talking, then you know there was an impactful move made.

"It's a lot more fun than I've had in a long time here," Perez said. "It feels like we're a big-market club."

A complete 180 from something critical eh? And it didn't stop there as guys like Kipnis tweeted about the signing and others beamed with excitement and really, confidence. A move like this, in addition to Swisher, tells the players that the management has some confidence in what the club has. It is almost a way of motivating, by saying: "Hey look, we think you can win, so we're going to add this guy to help you out, and guess what, he's really good and he helps fill a need."

"There's just a different feeling," Perez said. "It's a better feeling than coming back and saying, 'All right, we're going to have a young team. We're going to have some ups and downs. They're might be talent, but we're going to have to have our ups and downs.' There's none of that talk this year. We're here to compete. We're here to win. It's not a country club atmosphere anymore. It's time to work and get ready for the season."

And oh yeah, the pitching staff? They're pretty pumped about having three center fielders out in the outfield. Move the fences back a few inches and maybe Ubaldo will have a pretty awesome year.

To further that and build upon the positive attitude of the players, everyone seems to be taking note. The Indians are being talked about, so much so that Ken Rosenthal said that suddenly, the Indians are...wait for it...relevant again. RELEVANT? The Indians? I mean, really, since 2007, the Indians haven't really been cared for all that much. They go on a winning streak here and there, they have that bad streak last season, that'll catch some eyes.

But how many people were talking about the Indians on Monday? 

One thing Rosenthal also touches up on is the unique position the Indians were in. A lot of people, especially the ones who've understood the amount of money the Dolans haven't spent in the past, are wondering how this was possible. The one's who don't understand, and have complained, are simply asking, "What took so long" and saying, "It's about time!"

But as Rosenthal explains it, the deals are very much back-loaded, so for 2013, the Indians payroll actually won't be as high as you would think a team that just shelled out more than $100 million in one offseason would be. And it is back loaded to match the money that the Indians will be getting int he STO sale to Fox Sports in the coming years.

And helping that even more is the fact that the Indians are operating in an offseason climate that had a guy like Bourn available because the way the system is set up and because other teams shelled out a lot of money for the likes of Shane Victorino, Josh Hamilton, and B.J. Upton, not to mention a trade for Justin Upton.

So really, it's a perfect storm. And it was the only way that this could happen with the Indians. Things certainly are changing, and with the sale of STO, the Indians are able to enjoy themselves a little more. But the way things shook out was a perfect storm for the Indians to do what they did this winter, and now, we get to enjoy the spring.

[RANDOM RUNDOWN]

There doesn't seem to be many bruises to worry about, other than the Indians easing up on Joe Smith. And heck, if it has to be someone, please let it be a reliever. Smith will be a little behind everyone else, which shouldn't be too big of a deal for someone who just needs to get accustomed to two things: pitching one inning and pitching one inning on back-to-back days.

"We do not want this to become a big abdominal strain," Francona said. "We will slow play it, because of the length of Spring Training. It's nothing serious, but we are not going to let this be something serious."

A few years ago, when Smith had that spring from you-know-what, he really had a bad year and never really got quite on track. So, for him, he needs to be right and although he'll be behind, you don't want to get him too behind. 

If anything though, those guys like Cody Allen and Scott Barnes, fighting for a bullpen spot, could keep their eye on Smith's progress.

Other relievers, both who are recovering from the Tommy John procedure about eight months ago, CC Lee and Blake Wood are even further behind. They're on track to work simulated games by the time the season gets going, but neither should be fully ready to go or be a part of real action for a few months.

The other Tommy John, er, victim? Yeah we'll go with that. Josh Tomlin will most definitely be missing 2013, but he's still around, and trying to get used to not being able to help his team the way he's accustomed to.

"I still feel like I'm a part of this team," he said, "even though I'm not going to be there for as much as I'd want to be there."

One guy who's going to be in Indians camp and not where you thought he'd be is Yan Gomes. While he could still choose to, he's leaning towards not playing in the World Baseball Classic, and trying to make his mark in Indians camp to win a roster spot.

"I want to make sure I'm focusing on the big leagues now," he said. "A lot of people say, 'You're playing for your country' and everything, but I feel like I'm contributing more to the country by being an established big leaguer. I know I'll probably take some heat, but it's my career. I'm still a huge supporter of Brazil baseball."

Gomes could win a spot and be one of those super bench guys along side of the guy Terry Francona spoke glowingly about, Mike Aviles, someone who he said will end up playing a good amount when you account for injuries and his versatility. Maybe a little less now that the Indians have the DH spot likely taken up most of the time, but still, he'll see his time, and when he doesn't, Francona said he'll contribute.

"But it's nice for us, because he'll go anywhere you put him and he'll compete. When he's not playing, he'll make somebody else better. It's what you want. Believe me, I know him so well, he's dying to play every day. I respect that in him. If he's not playing every day, he'll still make people better. Those guys are hard to find, but on good teams, you always have those guys."

Matt LaPorta says he is feeling "a million times better" after his arthroscopic left hip surgery in October. Maybe he's being a little dramatic, but LaPorta says he had days where he questioned how he'd even been able to play baseball.

"There would be days where I'd wake up and tell my wife, 'I don't know if I'm going to be able to walk today. I don't know how I'll be able to play.' Somehow I just managed to make it through and do OK. There were times I couldn't even bend over to tie my shoe, because it was so locked up in there."

For someone who wasn't sure how he was walking, he did a pretty good job hitting 19 home runs in 101 games for the Clippers. So I'm not sure I'm buying the "I didn't think I could walk!" thing, completely. I think he was in pain, but maybe he feels so much better now, that last year was just a whole lot of pain.

But good luck to him. I think there are still people out there that hope he can break out and do something, and hey I'm one of the one's that hopes he can. But I really don't think he actually will.
Photo - Chuck Crow via Cleveland.com

I had a Daisuke Matsuzaka-Tomo Ohka bit, but I'm going to refrain from that one. But look at that, Dice-K is in camp and ready to compete. It must be nice that he's got his former manager on the team and what must be nicer? Having all the attention sucked away by the Bourn signing. I mean, the guy has a huge following because of his status as one of Japan's best pitchers ever and the success he's had in the WBC and in the Major leagues.

Now he's on the comeback trail with a new team, wearing the same colors for the most part too, and well, just as quickly as the Dice-K signing created a buzz, the next day it was gone because the Indians trumped that move.

"Going into camp with no guarantees in the rotation is actually a first-time experience," he said. "It's definitely a new feeling, but I know there's an opportunity, there's a chance. So I'd like to go in as a challenger and show what I can do."

The Indians like the move because Dice-K is two years removed from his Tommy John surgery, not one. And that Antonetti says two years removed, pitchers tend to have more command and be a little better.

"Last season, coming back from Tommy John," Matsuzaka said, "it was a daily battle figuring out how I felt, how my elbow felt and how my body felt. People around me last season told me [I was] fine, but I was still trying to figure out, within myself, how much my body can do and what condition it was in."

And finally, Dice-K said he chose Cleveland over several other offers because of Terry Francona. So, Tito strikes again.

I don't have much on the Trevor Bauer thing. Miguel Montero chimed in on his former teammate, saying he was "tough to handle" but also wishing him luck and saying he wasn't a bad guy, just needed to have an open mind.

"Take the things that you think are going to help you," Montero said, "and if you don't think it's going to help you, don't take it. But a lot of people have been in the game longer than he has and have had a lot of success, and they just tried to teach him and help him be successful in his career."

"He made it harder on himself instead of relaxing and listening," Montero said later. "Obviously I wanted to help the guy. Like I said, he's not a bad guy, I've got nothing against him, I just wanted to help him if he wanted to be helped. Apparently he didn't want to be helped."


Bauer kind of dismissed Montero's comments, choosing to really not say much, other than to praise the first amendment on Twitter. While I think Montero is probably right in that Bauer didn't really want the help, I also think Bauer is still very much young. And based off the conversation he had with the media in the offseason after he came over, it seems he knows that and that he is learning. Not only that, he's admittedly still not as advanced socially as you would expect a major league ball player. 

Add onto the fact about how focused he is on the task of pitching and becoming the best pitching possible, well, I wouldn't say he's a problem. And Montero, didn't say that. He even said he wasn't a bad guy. He wasn't a problem, he just didn't listen.

Finally, the best part of spring for me is finding out the promotions for the coming year. This year, we've got two bobbleheads, both of which are of legends. And one is a newly retired legend. Omar Vizquel and Albert Belle will get their heads in bobble form, and after strong consideration, I feel as if Belle's figure should immortalize either of the two pictures in this story on WFNY. I'm of course referring to the second and third ones. And on the last picture, it would most definitely need to be a bobble-arm.

[TRIBE SHAKE]

Bauer didn't listen, but he and the rest of the Indians better listen to this. I'm officially obsessed. I think it's time that we start a campaign that really matters. I've tried getting a lot of people to write in Jack Hannahan on an All-Star ballot, with a little success, and as much as the Bullpen Mafia has caught on, I think we can all do better.

And who wouldn't want to see the Cleveland Indians do their own Harlem Shake?

Well, most of you might be asking me, what the hell is the Harlem Shake? Well if you've been following the past day of me on Twitter, you will now just how obsessed I am with this viral hit. And if you are not familiar, read this post, watch the videos, and come back to me.

See it? Ready? I know you are. So let's go. #TribeShake on Twitter, and shoot your ideas. Tell the players, tell the world, heck, film your own, I don't care. But let's do this. 

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