The Indians undoubtedly busted their budget Monday, but fans certainly won’t complain after the Tribe signed free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn to a four-year guaranteed contract, pending a physical.
General Manager Chris Antonetti’s interest in Bourn was well-known, but Indians officials — including Antonetti — insisted that the money wasn’t available to sign a costly player. Bourn is hardly in the earning class of C.C. Sabathia or Alex Rodriguez, but the 30-year-old, left-handed batter will make $48 million over the next four seasons and can make an additional $12 million with a vesting option for 2017.
Bourn is one of three legitimate center fielders on the roster. Until Monday night, Drew Stubbs figured to be the starter in center, displacing Michael Brantley, who played center in place of Grady Sizemore in 2012. Brantley can move back to left, but where does that leave Bourn, who has played nothing but center since 2007?
The abundance of center fielders leads to speculation that either Brantley or Stubbs might be traded to allow Antonetti to address the club’s No. 1 problem, putting together a viable rotation.
Bourn, like Stubbs and Brantley, is a speed player. Last year with the Atlanta Braves, Bourn scored 96 runs and stole 42 bases (for a 76 percent success rate) while batting .274 with nine homers and 57 RBI. In four of his five full seasons, Bourn has scored at least 80 runs, and he led the National League in steals from 2009-2011. His career best in steals is 61.
Bourn was a fourth-round draft choice in 2003 and has played for the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros in addition to the Braves.
Signing Bourn will push the payroll to nearly $80 million. A trade for a pitcher could alter that total, but whether that happens remains to be seen.