GOODYEAR, Ariz.: If fans are still wondering how the Indians came up with the cash to pay Michael Bourn, General Manager Chris Antonetti provided the answer Friday during a news conference to introduce the Indians’ new center fielder/leadoff batter.
After signing Nick Swisher for $56 million, Brett Myers for $7 million and Mark Reynolds for $6 million, it appeared the cupboard was bare. That’s also what Antonetti thought.
“At that point I didn’t think we’d be able to make a commitment of this magnitude,” he said, referring to Bourn’s $48 million, four-year guaranteed deal. “But the Dolans were willing to make an investment. This was an opportunity to acquire a great player. They stretched. They made a substantial investment.”
In other words, the money wasn’t part of the budget, but owners Larry and Paul Dolan dug a little deeper. Maybe they got a bargain. Media reports earlier in the winter indicated that Bourn’s agent, Scott Boras, was seeking a contract worth much more than $48 million.
The rumors were unconfirmed, but three months ago, one media outlet speculated that Bourn was seeking a contract worth as much as $100 million. Maybe, maybe not. The Braves wanted to keep Bourn and made a one-year qualifying offer of $13.3 million, which Boras declined.
After that, it appeared that the New York Mets were Bourn’s most persistent pursuer, but in the end they chose not to forfeit a first-round draft pick (11th overall) and refused to offer Bourn a vested option (550 plate appearances) that would increase the value of the deal to $60 million for a fifth season. Like the Tribe, the Mets apparently offered Bourn $48 million for four years.
So the Dolans and Antonetti stepped up to the plate, making their first serious approach during the winter meetings, according to Boras.
“We talked [with Antonetti and club president Mark Shapiro] for two hours, and we talked about ownership,” Boras said. “I felt a dynamic that was very different … I felt they were ready to make a free-agent addition to make this a competitive and winning team.
“I told Michael, and he did a lot of research on the Indians, and he said they have a lot of young players.”
Boras also knew the Indians were serious for another reason.
“Chris and I have done business for a long time,” he said. “But I talked to him more in four months than I had collectively in seven years. So I knew how diligent he was.”
Meanwhile, Bourn waited. Should it take this long for a premier defensive player and three-time National League base-stealing leader to sign?
“It was a long offseason, but it was fun,” Bourn said. “It taught me patience. It taught me a lot.
“We [he and Boras] talked a lot. In a process like this, you’re going to have some ups and downs, and you’re going to have some days when you don’t know what’s going on. Things were unfolding in a lot of different ways. … But it was just something you have to go through.”
Bourn insists he had no expectations or preconceived ideas about what he wanted to happen.
“I didn’t really think anything,” he said. “I just let him take over the process. I knew he would keep in contact with me and give me all the information I needed. When I got the call, the pressure was relieved.”
Bourn’s attraction to the Tribe seems to be its core of relatively young veterans: Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera and now Drew Stubbs.
“Every team is on my radar,” Bourn said. “So yes, they were on my radar. I pay attention to all teams and what a team is going to be like.
“You notice things that happen with teams. In baseball, teams are doing [one of] two things: trying to win or trying to rebuild.”
Bourn put the Tribe in the “trying to win” category.
“The difference between the Indians today and four years ago,” Boras said, “is that their players have arrived. And they have players in key positions, up-the-middle positions.”
Even more than his ability to steal bases, Boras believes Bourn’s greatest asset is his defense.
“The value of Michael Bourn is the metric of defense,” Boras said. “His defense is far above everybody else’s.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.