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By: Russell Shaffer
Disclaimer: I was born (or should I now say Bourn?) and raised 45 minutes south of Cleveland and am a lifelong Indians fan. Despite my obvious bias, I believe I can restrain myself to offer objective analysis of the Tribe’s offseason and its fantasy impact.
It was awesome!
Okay, perhaps a little homerism just came out there but you have to agree what Cleveland General Manager Mark Shapiro pulled off this winter was nothing short of amazing. The Indians have effectively turned over a roster that was contending at the All-Star Break and then suffered a historic August collapse to finish with 94 losses. The final Hot Stove product as Spring Training opens is a clubhouse and fan base full of optimism and a lot of fantasy value now calling the Lake Erie shore home.
Monday’s signing of Michael Bourn is the exclamation point on what was already a surprising and productive offseason that now has to be seen as only second to Toronto in terms of potential impact.
|Bourn moving to revamped Tribe offense|
Now that Bourn has a home and it’s not in an anemic offense (like he would have inhabited with the Cubs or Mets) you can safely slot him in as a 5th or 6th round pick.
But what about the rest of the lineup?
Nick Swisher proceeded Bourn in packing his bags for the Rust Belt, landing the most lucrative free agent contract in franchise history. While his spot in the order is still uncertain (he could bat anywhere from 2nd to 5th) and he may see a dip in HR due to the move from Yankee Stadium Swisher should still be a valuable real-life and fantasy player. Last season in the Bronx Swisher hit .272 with 24 HR and 93 RBI, though his averages of 26 HR and 83 RBI over the past eight seasons suggest he has the kind of consistency to make a seamless transition to the more neutral Progressive Field. With that in mind – not to mention his 1B/OF position flexibility – I’d be looking for Swisher in the mid-to-late rounds.
Bourn and Swisher join a cast that includes three burgeoning stars Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis. Cabrera, a two-time All-Star, is just 27 and has averaged 20 HR and 80 RBI the past two seasons at a shallow SS position. Kipnis, in his first full year as Cleveland’s 2B, finished 2012 with a .257 AVG, 14 HR, 76 RBI and 31 SB despite fading down the stretch. The fact Cabrera and Kipnis both play scarce positions and appear to be trending up should make them both attractive picks around the 8th round. (Kipnis is going higher than that in most drafts, so he likely won't be ending up on any of my teams.)
It’s Cleveland’s backstop with the name of a legendary guitarist, however, who presents the biggest real-life and fantasy upside. After a breakout 2011 campaign – his first full year in the big leagues – during which Santana swatted 27 HR and drove in 79 – he was considered a chic pick in 2012 fantasy drafts. To say he was a disappointment during a 2012 first half that included just 5 HR would be an understatement, but owners who didn’t bail out on Santana were treated to final totals of .252 AVG, 18 HR and 76 RBI. The RBI total is virtually identical and the AVG actually went up 13 points. The HR total is down because Santana spent the first half trying to hit everything 500 feet and had 45 fewer AB. No longer the rage that made him a 3rd or 4th round pick in many leagues (including many times I took him there) in 2012, Santana is just the kind of post-hype sleeper who is still maturing who could be a steal in the 5th or 6th round.
The Tribe’s other two big offensive acquisitions – Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds – both are former fantasy upside players coming off bad seasons in Cincinnati and Baltimore, respectively. A change of scenery and drop in the batting order that should ease the pressure could be just what each needs to have a bounce back year. If you reach the end of your draft and find yourself short on speed (Stubbs) or power (Reynolds) both could be worth a flyer if you can sustain the hit to your AVG.
The bottom line is, the Indians appear to be re-Bourn for 2013 and it starts at the top of the lineup with their new leadoff man who is Bourn to Run.
If you overlook the Tribe and its rich fantasy options when your draft rolls around you just might end up Bourn to Lose.
Follow Russell Shaffer on Twitter @RussellShaffer