First Reaction: Indians Sign Bourn?! Wha?!

Bob Levey

Apologies in advance for the stream-of-consciousness below.

So I was going to do some writing about the next Top 100 Indians, and was trolling the dusty Sporting News archives for 100-year-old articles on the Naps and their star catcher. I had some music on in the background, had a cup of hot tea in front of me, just took a sip, and...

[Alt/Tab]

PFFFFFFFFF

Over the last 15 minutes, I've been simultaneous been wiping the hot tea off my monitor, furiously refreshing Twitter to see if Jon Heyman had been joking, and trying to put my thoughts in order to write something about this signing. Then I realized that Heyman is essentially Scott Boras' press agent, and that if he was saying the Indians had signed Bourn, then yeah, it was true.

The shocking part of it is that this kind of signing is totally unlike the Indians of recent vintage. A four-year deal for a 30-year-old outfielder? After the Indians had supposedly maxed out on their payroll after giving out the largest free agent contract in team history? My world as an Indians fan has been knocked off-kilter; there was some bizarre form of comfort in being able to predict what the Indians were going to do, and that included not signing top-tier free agents. Yeah, we'd occasionally get a Kerry Wood signing here, a buy-low signing there....who am I kidding, those weren't really signings that made the baseball world aware that the Indians existed, those were just signings that made the second page of the Rotoworld news, and maybe got a one-sentence response by a staff writer.

I might have expected this from a new front office, a group of people that had a blank slate and a free reign with which to change the franchise around. But no, the group that has been making these moves are exactly the same people that were signing Casey Kotchman and trading for Derek Lowe last year. And I'm not saying that they eschewed good free agents for Kotchman and Lowe, but that those were the moves they were almost constrained to make.

I could have even expected a creative trade like the one that happened with the Reds and Diamondbacks; it's part of the life of a medium-market baseball team that their good players get traded before they become agents, and also that receive prospects back in return. In this case, the Indians got as much return as they possibly could for Choo, surpassing all but the most optimistic of fans. But that move in and of itself was just a variation on the same theme of Indians baseball the last few years.

But then the Indians signed Nick Swisher, a player more successful and wealthy clubs wanted. And they hired Terry Francona, who just about every other Major League club would love to have. Francona was obviously an unexpected signing, but made sense in retrospect given his history with the current front office. And a lot of us thought that the Indians theoretically could sign Swisher, as they had the payroll to do so.

But this? The Indians for the last couple weeks have been filling out their roster with NRIs. High-profile NRIs, but NRIs all the same. Pitchers and catchers reported yesterday, and the team seemed content to go into the season with the roster they had. Drew Stubbs would be a decent defender, and well, let's hope he's not an offensive black hole. The Indians didn't have a DH, but well, they can keep their key players healthy by rotating them in and out of the lineup. The Indians have dealt with holes before, even ones that they knew going in they'd have to deal with. This wasn't a club one player away from a World Series, this was a club trying to regain their competitiveness after an historically awful second half. Sure, Michael Bourn was out there; he did fit into the lineup in center field, and would solidify the lineup, but reality said that some other club would swoop in and grab him, and besides, the Indians were maxed out on their payroll.

But surprise, surprise, the Indians signed a Scott Boras contract, and not a Juan Gonzalez-style one-year deal; it's a four-year deal that means Bourn and Swisher will be in the outfield through at least 2016.

I'm sure in a couple of hours the rational side of my brain will start to crank out reasons why I'll hate this signing three years from now, but right now my emotional side is having a ball.

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