It was a wildly successful season at the corner of Ontario and Carnegie. For the first time in a millennia, or so it seems, the Indians played exciting, meaningful games late in the season, some of which spilled ever so slightly into the month of October.

Regardless of how the season ended – a 4–0 loss to the Rays in the Wild Card round – the Tribe outperformed the overwhelming majority of everyone’s expectations, something they started doing last offseason with the organization’s biggest free agent bonanza in history.

And while the team as a whole surpassed expectations, the club’s prized free agents – center fielder and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn and former Ohio State University alum Nick Swisher – failed to impress.

After averaging over 4.5 wins above replacement between 2009 and 2012, Bourn, who many envisioned as the second-coming of Kenny Lofton, put together the second worst season of his career, totaling 2.0 fWAR. As for Swisher, the Ohio native’s total offensive production was nearly 30% better than the league average from 2009 to 2012. Last season, his production was 16% better than the average, a solid number, sure, but his second lowest mark since 2006.

So, with four more years remaining in each of the players’ deals – assuming both players’ vesting options kick in at the end – it’s time to look at what it will take for them to live up to their lucrative contracts.

I did a write up after each of the signings, remarking how team friendly each contract was. By my quick back-of-the-envelope estimations, Swisher’s on-field production during the life of his deal would be worth approximately $92 million, about $22 million more than what the franchise will pay him. And Bourn’s estimated production, about $84 million, would exceed his deal by about $36 million.

But they both performed under their expected levels of production. So, let’s adjust.

Swisher will be entering his age-33 season. After averaging nearly four wins above replacement over between 2010 and 2012, he’s now averaged a smidge over three over his last three years. We’ll use that as a starting point. Assuming he improves slightly next season, to 3.0 fWAR, and then declines to 2.5 fWAR for 2015 and 2016 and 1.5 fWAR in 2017; Swisher would total about $53 million of on-field production. Add that to the $12 million he totaled in 2013 (per FanGraphs), and his total deal would be about $65 million, pretty much what he’s scheduled to make.

Bourn, on the other hand, will be entering his age-31 season. Adjusting his starting point to four wins above replacement in 2014, followed by totals of 3.5, 3.0, and 2.5; his future production should be worth about $73 million. Add that to his 2013 value, about $10, and his total deal would be worth about $83 million, about $23 million more than his deal.

So, how likely isn’t that each player lives up to his deal?

Swisher: not likely. A significant injury, another prolonged slump, whatever else the case may be, his team friendly deal could sour rather quickly and there isn’t a whole lot of room for error moving forward.

Bourn: pretty likely. Even if his base line is 2.5 wins moving forward, something rather attainable given his age and track record, Bourn’s deal would still total almost $67 million, exceeding his deal by $7 million.

Personally, I’d still make the deals. Even if Brohio’s value comes up short.

For more analysis check out Joe’s site: ProspectDigest.com.

8 Comments

  • The Doctor says:

    bourn’s stats last year were positively stubbs-ian. a leadoff hitter who strikes out at a horrific clip, barely walks, and gets caught stealing 1/3 of the time isn’t particularly useful at any price – and again, we already have that player and his name is drew stubbs. time and time again teams have proven that signing a player whose primary asset is his speed to long term contracts as they crest past 30 is just a terrible idea. i think we may have joined that club.

    i liked the IDEA of this contract (“hey, we’re spending money on someone that isn’t jason michaels level!”) a lot more than i liked who we actually signed with said money. i fear this deal is going to be a bust – assuming it isn’t already.

  • shaun says:

    swish, yes; bourne, no

    we overpaid for him

    • shaun says:

      for the record, there is no basis behind my claim other than gut feeling and by virtue of watching almost every game last year.

  • medfest says:

    Given that the other option to signing Bourn and Swisher was watching the parade of Shelley Duncans ,Johnny Damons and the rest of the fringe baseball universe in the outfield and line up for three or four more seasons,as long as both remain reasonably healthy (at least 130 games played /season)the Indians are ahead of the game.

    Joe’s extrapolations show that even after both players had down seasons(Bourn more so than Swisher) it should be relatively easy for them to justify their wages as long as poor health remains out the equation.Health is always the risk you assume with long term deals,and neither one of these contracts is a team killer in terms of dollars or length.(See Rodriguez,A.)

    Aside from the baseball field itself ,these guys are class individuals.If I’m bringing in a young talent like Lindor I want him to learn the ropes from players like Bourn and Swisher.Lessening the A-hole factor of your team never hurts either.

  • Weston says:

    good god I hope so.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    I won’t panic about Bourn because (1) he got hurt in April, missed a month, and battled several nagging injuries, and (2) he’s a career NL player making the switch to a new league. Most base stealers have to know the pitchers they are running on to be successful. So I’m hoping for a rebound year from him. His straight line speed is still there, as evidenced by his high number of infield hits beaten out this season.

  • Cale says:

    I do have the same concern as the doctor on Bourn. His career K% was right at 20% coming into this year. He was at 23% this year, after being at 22% last year. In addition, his walk rate decreased, which caused a dip in his OBP. The past 3 years, the OBP was between .340 and .350, this year it was .316. Not good trends, and hopefully we can chalk it up to injuries and a new league.

    I do think the comparison to Stubbs is quite unfair, though. Stubbs’ K% is pushing 30% for his career and he’s never maintained a high OBP with a career average of .310, which is less than Bourn was this year in a “down” year.

  • DaveR says:

    Cleveland has to overpay to get established players to come over. But no problem with that as long as Dolan’s wallet is open.