I will admit that I did not see the Indians ponying up for Michael Bourn this offseason. Chris Antonetti certainly kept things quiet until word leaked out about a week ago that his team might be a possibility. That same stealthy approach is typical of Antonetti's offseason: quietly, the Indians have done a great job of upgrading a 94-loss team, bringing veterans like Bourn, Nick Swisher, and the morally-challenged Brett Myers, while trading for an incredibly talented young starter who is major-league ready in Trevor Bauer. Now that the team has committed the money to come this far, it's time to finish the job by taking the last remaining chess-piece on the free-agent board: Kyle Lohse, come to papa.
According to Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA projection system, released yesterday, the pre-Bourn Indians had jumped past the White Sox and Royals and are projected to win roughly half of their games in 2013. That's something along the lines of a 15-win jump, a huge improvement for one offseason. Now, Cleveland still has a way to go to catch the Tigers, who are projected to win 92 games, but even if they can't make up for that gap through some combination of good fortune and good play, they're much closer to the second wild card that MLB added last year. Indeed, if we project the second wild card winners back to 1996, the first 162-game season with the current three-division format, we see that the average "fifth seed" won an average (and also a median) of 89 games, although teams would have won the spot with as few as 84 (the 1997 Anaheim Angels).
As you are well aware, the biggest remaining obstacle between Cleveland and a postseason berth is their suspect pitching. Myers and Bauer potentially help a great deal, but the Indians boasted the worst run prevention in the American League last year. On the one hand, the acquisition of Bourn creates both the possibility of having the best outfield defense in the American League (with three legitimate center fielders patrolling the grounds, at the very least, late in games) and keeping Mark Reynolds off the field as often as possible, thereby saving a great many runs. On the other, they're still slated to give 60-70 starts to the ineffective duo of Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, who combined to post a 6.06 ERA in 166.1 innings after the All Star Break last year. Given that there's still one pricey, and potentially useful pitcher out on the market, that could still change.
Look: You and I both know that Kyle Lohse isn't a great option. He's benefited greatly from his time around Dave Duncan and the Cardinals, and there is no guarantee he'll bring that same magic with him to wherever he ends up. He's going to be 34 years old, and he doesn't strike batters out at an above-average rate. Still, while Lohse may not be the ace that Terry Francona needs to front his rotation, he's still a pitcher who averaged around three wins above replacement over the last two seasons. There comes a time where even a Kyle Lohse, like a Michael Bourn, becomes an undervalued commodity and a palatable option, especially for a club that is looking to sneak into the postseason.
We're fast approaching that time with Lohse, especially considering that the one thing holding up a Lohse deal, the draft pick compensation, isn't a significant impediment for Cleveland. After all, not only is Cleveland's first round pick protected at number four overall, but its second pick is already gone thanks to the Nick Swisher signing. Indeed, the only thing the club would lose is their third round pick (which as of now is the 79th overall selection).
I understand being skittish about spending that kind of money on a flawed pitcher, but Larry Dolan has already spent $114 million this offseason and clearly has given his front office the freedom to try and win now. In response, Antonetti has put his club in position to be this year's Orioles. With so much money already invested, nothing else available on the market, and with a gaping hole in their rotation, it makes too much sense not for Cleveland to push all its chips into the center of the table and take itself seriously in 2013 with this one last move.