Cleveland Indians Shed Two Bad Contracts and Acquire One More
Before the All-Star break, trading Michael Bourn seemed nearly impossible. Yet somehow the Cleveland Indians have managed to unload not only Bourn’s albatross of a contract, but the contract of injury-prone first baseman Nick Swisher, as well.
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The Cleveland Indians will also send cash to the Braves, covering a signficant portion of the $29 million that the two players are owed next season. Meanwhile, the Tribe will receive Chris Johnson, a 30-year-old corner infielder who is owed $19 million through 2017. Johnson is familiar with at least one Cleveland Indian, having played college baseball with Tribe ace Corey Kluber at Stetson University.
Neither Bourn nor Swisher had played well during their time in Cleveland. After the signings took place before the start of the 2013 season, there were high hopes that the contracts signaled a new era for the front office, in which they were willing to spend money to win. Those hopes were quickly crushed, as both veterans had faced intense criticism for their declines in production at the plate and inability to stay healthy throughout the duration of their time with the Indians.
In two and a half seasons with the Tribe, Swisher batted .228/.311/.377, with just 32 home runs — 22 of which came in his first season. It was a far cry from what fans expected from the Ohio native, who arrived with much fanfare when he was signed the day before Christmas. Swisher struggled with knee injuries throughout 2014 and 2015, spending significant time on the disabled list and having little impact on the field.
This trade marks the bitter end of a relationship with Cleveland that started with unlimited optimism and ended with anger and frustration for everyone involved. MLB.com reporter Jordan Bastian summed it up best on Twitter after the trade:
Bourn faced a similar decline in public opinion, although his signing wasn’t nearly as dramatic. He too struggled to stay healthy, and his speed declined dramatically, swiping just 46 bags in his entire time with the Tribe, compared to 42 in the season before the signing. Bourn batted .257/.315/.345 during that time, but his streakiness at the plate made him an unreliable leadoff hitter.
Meanwhile, Johnson has split time between first and third base for the Braves, while batting .235/.272/.320 with just two home runs this season. The right-hander isn’t as hopeless as those numbers make him seem, however. In 2013, he batted .321/.358/.457 in a stellar campaign that included 12 home runs. He doesn’t walk much, and he does strike out a lot, but he is capable of performing well if given the opportunity.
While the return is certainly not overwhelming, this deal signals a new beginning for the Tribe. It frees up two roster spots that can be used to give rookies a chance to prove themselves, and it allows the Indians to have some extra salary room on hand in the upcoming offseason, despite what they will owe Johnson.
Chris Antonetti did the right thing in admitting his mistakes and sending Swisher and Bourn to Atlanta, rather than continuing to insist that they had value for the Indians.