Well, we’re officially two years removed from what was – and likely will be, at least for the foreseeable future – the most expensive offseason in Cleveland Indians history. Newly signed manager Terry Francona helped lure a pair of high profile free agents – switch-hitting Moneyball star Nick Swisher and speed-demon center fielder Michael Bourn – both of whom would become major pieces in the Tribe’s $100+ million offseason.
Swisher, who signed a four-year, $56 million with a fifth year vesting option, was coming off of a typical Swisher-like campaign, hitting .272/.364/.473 en route to topping the league average offensive production by 28%, the second best showing of his career. And Bourn, who inked a four-year, $48 million with a fifth year vesting option, was worth a smidgeon over six wins above replacement for the Braves the previous season.
Since then, though, the pair has battled injuries and disappointment; Swisher’s batted a .231/.316/.386 while donning the hometown uniform and Bourn’s managed to hover around his career offensive norms – he’s a .269/.333/.364 hitter – but leg injuries have slowed his ability to effectively patrol the outfield and he’s totaled just 2.3 fWAR.
And with as much as $83.5 million remaining on their respective contracts (assuming the options vest), what are the odds that the pair don’t eventually fall into the Travis Hafner/Jack McDowell/Jake Westbrook/Wayne Garland/Matt Lawton/Kerry Wood category?
In terms of dollars per wins above replacement, for the Indians to breakeven on the contracts Swisher would have to tally a little more than 13 fWAR (with the vesting option) and Bourn would have to total about 11 fWAR (including vesting option). So far they’ve been worth 1.3 and 2.3 wins above replacement, respectively.
Meaning: For the Indians to breakeven, Swisher would have to compile about 11WAR and Bourn about 9 WAR.
And what are the odds of that happening?
For Swisher, not very.
During his peak, the switch-hitting OSU alum would hover around – almost like clockwork – 3.5- to 4.0- wins above replacement. Add in the fact he’s entering his age-34 season with back-to-back career lows in power (he’s posted a .177 and .122 ISO) and it’s almost a certainty he’s going to come up short. Something reasonable to expect would be about 1.5- to 2.0-wins over the next three seasons given his tremendous eye at the plate and typically strong defensive showings.
Bourn, on the other hand, has performed as expected on offense – sort of. Through two seasons with the Tribe, he’s hit .260/.315/.360, numbers more or less in line with his career norms (.269/.333/.364). He has, however, been hampered by leg injuries which have limited his base stealing prowess and defensive contributions.
Bourn’s gone from a consistent 40+ stolen base threat and an elite defensive wizard to averaging about 20+ swipes in a full season and a slightly below-average center fielder. But because of his advancing age and injuries, his plus-plus-speed is likely a thing of the past. Assuming the bat doesn’t slow down too much over the next three seasons he could be expected to be worth about a 1.5- to 2.0- wins above replacement as well.
Adding it up, Swisher’s likely to total about 6.5 fWAR during his duration of the contract, or about $35 million in on-field production, or just about half of what the Indians will be paying him. And Bourn should come in around 7.5 fWAR, which will be worth about $40 million, or about $20 million less than what was expected given his contract.