With Opening Day less than two weeks away, teams across the league are down to a few remaining roster battles. If you’ve been wondering about the whereabouts of some of your old favorites here in Cleveland, this ongoing series will take a look around the league to see where they’ve gone, who’s landed on their feet, and who’s taking off running since their last Tribe appearance.
That being said, the first look around the league likely will not involve any of your favorites as we’ll take a look at the parties involved in the two largest contracts in recent team history and perhaps the most important trade made by Chris Antonetti in 2016, at least from a roster construction standpoint – the dual salary dump sending Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to Atlanta for Chris Johnson.
Terry Pluto did a nice job this week recapping the money involved in the trade, including the fact that the Indians are paying Johnson $17 million not to play for them over the next two years, along with paying Atlanta $15 million to help with Swisher and Bourn’s contracts. The ramifications of these days may still have hampered the team’s decision not to spend on any big upgrades this past offseason. When we last saw these three in 2015, they certainly seemed to be on the wrong side of their peak years. Let’s see where they stand coming into 2016.
Though he played just 46 games for the Braves last season after the trade from Cleveland, Nick Swisher’s days in Atlanta may be up before Opening Day. A recent article from mlb.com says that the Braves are looking to find takers for even a small part of Swisher’s $15 million salary or may end up releasing him outright. This is the final guaranteed season from Swisher’s original 4 year/$56 million contract that he signed before the 2013 season.
What can prospective teams expect from Swisher in 2016? His spring stats are respectable enough through 34 at bats. Swisher has a .294/.429/.382 triple slash with an encouraging on base percentage (8 walks vs 6 strike outs) but low on slugging (3 doubles and no home runs). His defense last season rated so badly according to Fangraphs and baseball-reference that it’s hard to picture Swisher ending up anywhere other than an American League team looking for some DH help.
It’s been a long fall for Swisher. For 9 seasons between 2005 through 2013, Swisher averaged 25 home runs per season with an overall OPS+ of 118 while playing in 91% of his team’s games. Over the past 2 seasons, however, Swisher has hit 14 home runs total with a 72 OPS+ while playing in 173 total games. Entering his age 35 season and with 2 bum knees, it’s hard to imagine Swisher ever making much of an impact again.
An article in the Atlanta Sun Times last week reports that the Braves are likely to keep Bourn around as a backup outfielder because of his leadership abilities and ability to occasionally fill in at center field. Like Swisher, Bourn is in the final guaranteed year of a 4 year deal signed before the 2013 season guaranteeing him $48 million. Bourn is also likely past his final opportunity as a starter on a major league squad, and it will be interesting to see what kinds of offers Swisher and Bourn receive after this season.
Bourn’s spring stats thus far are pretty pedestrian. He’s slashing .278/.316/.333 which is pretty much right in line with his last full season in 2014 with the Indians over 444 at bats when he slashed .257/.314/.360 and was worth 0.8 WAR according to baseball-reference. Most damning, perhaps, is that fact that Bourn does not have a single stolen base attempt this spring and seems to have lost his after-burners entering his age 33 season.
After being released by the Indians in December, Johnson was picked up by the Marlins in January and seems to be in line to have a spot on their 25 man roster mainly as a backup corner infielder and occasional outfielder. Johnson most likely will spell the Marlins’ late blooming 27 year old first baseman Justin Bour, who was acquired as a Rule 5 pick from the Cubs in 2013. Bour hit all 23 of his home runs last season against righties and received only 75 plate appearances against same side hurlers.
Through a small sample of 96 plate appearances against lefties in 2016, Johnson slashed .326/.354/.391 which is pretty closely in line with his career numbers against left-handers over 724 plate appearances (.314/.350/.436) and which is 80 points higher than his OPS against righties. Through 27 at bats this spring, Johnson has hit .259/.333/.333 with 2 doubles, although he is just 1 for 9 against lefties (small sample size alert!).
Any other former Wahoos around the league that you’ve been wondering about? Leave a comment below and I’ll include them in future editions of “Where Are They Now?”