Lack of Production Led to the End of Overpaid Veterans
Danny Madden | On 22, Oct 2015
Remember when Michael Bourn worked with an olympic trainer this winter? Remember when Nick Swisher was going to be a brand new player after having double knee surgery? Remember when Brandon Moss was going to the big power bat the Indians had been looking for since Travis Hafner was in his prime? Whatever happened to those guys?
Oh right, reality set in.
In the winter after the 2012 season, the Indians were in a rough place. They had just lost 94 games and fired their manager, Manny Acta, after posting back to back losing seasons. With the core members of the 2007 playoff Indians team long gone, and young faces starting to make a name for themselves on the team, like Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, the Indians front office took action and went out to sign some bigger bats to power this team to the post season. Unfortunately, even though the Indians spent the money, they never seemed to get the return on their investments. These investments being the eccentric Swisher, and the one time speedster Bourn.
Bourn and Swisher both signed four year contracts with the Tribe in 2013. Swisher being for 56 million, while Bourn’s was for 48 million, and both had vesting options for the fifth season. While they put up decent numbers in 2013, the season the Indians actually made it to the post season, both of them were great disappointments in the past two seasons.
When Swisher was brought on, he was highly regarded for his consistency with the Yankees. He had averaged 24 homers a season with about a .260 average and the ability to bat from both sides of the plate. The Indians had been lacking in the power department and Swisher was meant to be that big bat in the heart of the order. After suffering a knee injury in 2014, Swisher was never able to recover. He eventually had to have surgery on both knees and never seemed to find his groove at the plate. He repeatedly said that he finally felt like he had his knees back underneath him and that he was ready to start contributing again, but his high-energy attitude didn’t sit well with the guys who were actually out there everyday performing for this team.
The switch-hitter only managed to make it into 30 games with the Tribe in 2015 where he hit .198/.261/.297 with two homers, four doubles, and eight RBI. He was pretty much nonexistent this season. Having a healthy Swisher may not have meant a whole lot for this team, but an unhealthy one was even worse. When he was in the lineup, he wasn’t producing and taking up a roster space that could have been filled by someone who could have helped the team. Being upbeat all the time only got him so far with this team.
Speed and defense used to be the M.O. of Bourn. After leading the NL in stolen bases from 2008-2012, having a solid center fielder was going to be a huge get for the Indians. While serviceable in 2013, injured hamstrings and inconsistencies at the plate became the demise of him. After losing Grady Sizemore to injuries and free agency, the Indians needed a center fielder. Sure, Brantley could have sufficed, but he’s much better in left field.
In 2012, Bourn posted a DRS of 24 with the Braves but he never came close to living up to that with the Tribe. His speed never seemed to translate in Cleveland. In his two and half seasons with the Tribe, Bourn only stole 50 bases. In 2012, he stole 42, and in 2011 he stole 61. Indians fans had hoped the next Kenny Lofton had come to town when instead, they got a broken version of Bourn. During his tenure, Bourn mostly batted at the top of the lineup, even though he averaged a K% of 22.86 in three seasons, and eventually was removed from leading off part way through this season. Needless to say, Bourn vastly under-produced in almost every capacity that the front office had hoped he would excel in.
Still needing that big middle of the order bat, the Indians went and traded second base prospect Joey Wendle for power hitting outfielder Moss from the Oakland Athletics. After posting back-to-back season with 25 or more home runs, the Indians were looking forward to have Moss’ bat to supplement the core lineup of Brantley, Yan Gomes, and Kipnis. Unfortunately, it seemed that the pressure got to Moss a little too much.
While Indians fans clamored for a big right-handed bat, Moss brought power from the left side of the plate, which fit into the structure of Progressive Field very well with its short right field porch. Not only did Moss not take advantage of the field, he never seemed comfortable at the plate. At the end of the 2014, Moss had to have surgery on his hip, which was risky for the Indians, but they knew this going into the trade and hoped that Moss could still produce. Not only did Moss not really produce at the plate, he also proved to be not so great in the field as well. He posted a DRS of -3 in 2015 and he did little to help what was an already abysmal defense.
What was most unfortunate about Moss was that he seemed to lose his consistency at the plate after arriving in Cleveland. During his two and half seasons with the A’s, Moss put together three seasons of 20 homers and that was in one of the worst power hitting parks in the league. His walk rate dropped and strikeout rate increased. He still ended up with the most home runs on the team prior to being traded with 15, but going into arbitration before the 2016 season, Moss’ contract was going to be around $10 million – much too high a price tag for someone who wasn’t producing as well as he was hoped to.
I would have done the Wendle-Moss trade again if it was offered, however.
Bourn, Moss, and Swisher all under-produced, and all three were shipped out of Cleveland because of it. All three were to have expensive contracts coming into 2016 and so the Indians had to make a decision. With eyes on the postseason, the front office had to do what it could to put together the best team that it could in 2016. That team, in their eyes, did not include the three of them. Bourn and Swisher were traded for infielder Chris Johnson, who also has a bad contract of $15 million over the next two years. Moss was moved to St. Louis for one of their top pitching prospects Rob Kaminsky.
If these three could have produced this season, the Indians could have been playing baseball in October, but we’ll never know now. All we know is that that team seems to be better off without the albatross contracts of Bourn, Swisher, and soon-to-be-expensive Moss on their payroll. With a little more flexibility this winter, the front office may have another chance to sign a free agent, or they could hold onto the cap space for contract extensions or smaller free agent signings. Regardless, the age of Bro-Hio is over, and I think we’re all going to be alright.
Photo: Charles Krupa/Associated Press