Indians: What Contracts Were The Worst?

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Jul 19, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Nick Swisher (33) during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot of flak over the last 18-24 months about the contact of Nick Swisher. Some has been warranted, some not so much.

Recently, Grantland’s Jonah Keri, handed out his annual list of worst baseball contacts. In the Top 10 format, Swisher and Michael Bourn made the ‘dishonorable mention’ list. Not the actual Top 10, which included a pitcher in the AL Central and a former Indian.

Of course, Keri precluded his rankings based on value and teams ability to absorb a bad contract. So yes, if one of the Dodgers big name, high-priced acquisitions doesn’t pan out, big deal.

How will the Padres fare if one of their big-ticket items fails?

Over the years, big contracts haven’t been kind to the Indians. The common fan loves to point out how ‘the Dolan’s are cheap! When they committed over $100 million in the 2012-13 offseason to Bourn, Swisher, Mark Reynolds, and Brett Myers (gulp), was that cheap?

"When the Indians signed Bourn and Swisher, I praised the team for spending real money on free agents to augment its core of promising young players. The Bourn deal in particular looked like a coup: The speedy center fielder had sought a $75 million free-agent deal, but by waiting out the market until February, the Tribe landed the All-Star for considerably less, doling out $48 million over four years instead – Jonah Keri"

Thankfully Reynolds and Myers were under one year deals, and didn’t even last all of 2013.

Last season, Swisher posted a WAR of -1.1, the worst of his career, while also playing hurt and appearing in just 97 games. In 2013 however, Swisher finished with a WAR of 3.8, the second highest of his career.

In giving Swisher a big contract, the Indians undoubtedly overpaid to land him. He was also  paid like a player who would hit .300, hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs.

At least that’s what Indians fans expected from his, based on his contract.

Even though he posted the 4th worst batting average of his career, he hit 20 home runs or more for the ninth straight season, was only .022 off of his career OBP.

Yes it’s clear that Swisher is on the decline and his best baseball is behind him. But the Indians paid for consistency. They banked on the 20 home runs and the solid OBP, and a clubhouse leader. In his first season, they got that. He got hurt in 2014 and they didn’t. You can’t predict injuries or predict that he’ll come back strong after double knee surgery.

The point is – is paying $15 million to a player that can give you 3.8 wins at best worth it? Probably not, but if Swisher is healthy, the Indians have paid more for less.

Bourn’s contract doesn’t seem to get as much criticism as Swisher’s, something I’ve never understood.

The Indians jumped on Bourn because his price dropped, spring training opened and they had money from the SportsTime Ohio sale still.

For $7 million, the Indians got a 1.8 WAR from Bourn. Even though he was 20 steals under what he produced in 2012, the rest of his numbers were about in line.

In 2014, Bourn posted his lowest defensive WAR in four seasons at -0.2, one of the biggest reasons the Indians signed him. He made $13.5 million. He stole 10 bases, the worst of his career since becoming a regular, but his 10 triples led the league and probably are what salvaged his 1.4 offensive WAR.

He’ll make $13.5 million again in 2015 and dealt with hamstring injuries all of 2014, just what you want in a player whose entire worth is connected to his speed. Did I mention players over 30 with hamstring injuries just age so gracefully?

If he’s healthy, he can help. But like I said with Swisher, that’s no guarantee and he’s certainly proved otherwise too.