Every day you'll find a look back at the 2014 season for one of the Indians or their key prospects, as we sort out what happened and what it means for the franchise going forward.
- Position: Center fielder
- Age: 31
- Acquired: Signed as free agent in February, 2013
- Contract status: $13.5M in 2015, signed through 2016
I didn't really have a problem with the Nick Swisher signing when it was made nearly two years ago, but I also wasn't especially excited about it. To me, Michael Bourn was the much bigger addition that winter. He'd been one of the very best defensive center fielders in baseball and had stolen 40+ bases for five consecutive seasons, with a success rate of better than 80% during those years. In 2013 though, in addition to a decline in his modest hitting production, he stole only 23 bases (with only a 66% success rate) and his defense was not nearly as good, with his range going from elite to average. The decline in his speed that I expected to take place over the course of four seasons had instead taken place all at once, and we were left hoping for a rebound in 2014.
A hamstring injury suffered early during spring training did not bode well, and Bourn missed the first 13 games of the season. When he did finally take the field, things went pretty badly for the first month or so, as he hit just .250/.276/.350 in his first 23 games of the season, and went only 2 for 5 on stolen base attempts.
His play picked up from there, as he did very well over the next eight weeks. By early July his batting numbers were better than they'd been the year before, back to about what they'd been in 2011 and 2012 with Atlanta, when he was an above average hitter. At that point though, another hamstring injury knocked him back out of the lineup for another six weeks. After he returned again in mid August, his batting dropped back down to below what he'd done last season.
His full season batting line: .257/.314/.360, for a wRC+ of 94. That's a little better than he'd done in 2013, and only a little worse than what I was hoping to see from him this season. League wide, offense is at its lowest levels in more than twenty years, and a player can be very valuable with that batting line if he's doing other things as well as Bourn was doing them a couple years ago. Bourn isn't doing those things well anymore though.
The 23 bases Bourn stole in 2013 were a big letdown. This year things got even worse: Bourn was just 10 for 16. Last season Bourn still rated pretty well on things like going from first to third, or scoring from second on a single, but in 2014 he rated as below average. Meanwhile, in center field Bourn's range continued to drop, this time to below average. His arm was worse too.
In two years Bourn went from one of the 4 or 5 best base runners and one of the 4 or 5 best defensive outfielders in baseball to being below average at both. That is a dramatic decline.
2014 grade: C-
If the trends of the last two seasons continue, Bourn is going to be out of a job by midseason next year. He turns 32 next month, which for a player with his (once upon a time anyway) skill set is creeping into the "old" range. If his hamstrings hold up better, his production should improve, but is anyone comfortable betting on his hamstrings holding up better? Like Swisher, Bourn has two years left on his contract. (each player also has a vesting option for 2017, but neither of them is likely to reach the playing time threshold required to guarantee that option) Those contracts will likely keep the Indians from adding anyone significant for the next two years, potentially squandering what is otherwise a very affordable roster with a lot of talent on it.
Same as a year ago, we've got to hope for a rebound.