Indians surprise by landing Bourn

Even Jason Kipnis seemed to show a combination of surprise and exuberance when the latest news about the Cleveland Indians broke Monday night.

“Did we just sign Michael Bourn?!” the team’s second baseman posted on Twitter.

Kipnis’ reaction was the same as most in baseball when word of Bourn’s agreement (pending physical) hit the stratosphere.

The Indians shocked many in baseball by agreeing to a four-year contract with Bourn just as spring training was set to open. This isn’t just another addition to the team. Bourn was considered among the best free agents on the market, and ranked the best in some circles.

With this signing, the Indians — led by new manager Terry Francona and GM Chris Antonetti — have transformed their lineup from a year ago.

Not only has Cleveland added talent throughout the lineup and roster, they have … spent … money. Contracts for Bourn and Nick Swisher total $104 million.

Perish the thought, but the days of Shelley Duncan and Brent Lillibridge may actually be in the past.

Evidently the Indians and their front office knew the importance of this offseason — they have attacked it with a vengeance.

Last season in Atlanta, Bourn hit .274 with an on-base percentage of .348. He stole 42 bases (but was caught a league-leading 13 times) and struck out more than twice as often as he walked.

He has led the league in steals three times, and has 276 steals in seven seasons. He’s also had more than 600 at-bats in three of the last four seasons. He has been to two All-Star Games, and twice won a Gold Glove for his defensive work in center field.

Yes, he is a free agent who will play for the Indians.

Yes, the Indians were helped by the fact they have a top 10 draft pick, which means they do not lose it to sign Bourn (they give up a pick between the second and third round). Other teams interested in him were picking lower than 10th and were reluctant to give up their first-round pick.

Whatever. The Indians won.

The addition gives Cleveland four more-than-credible outfielders in Bourn, Drew Stubbs, Swisher and Michael Brantley. Bourn and Swisher came via free agency, Stubbs in a trade and Brantley comes off a good season in Cleveland.

If Stubbs, Brantley and Bourn play, the Indians would have a defensive group second-to-few.

If Swisher plays right, Stubbs would be the fourth outfielder, with Mark Reynolds at first.
If Stubbs plays, Swisher could play first.

Regardless, Francona has to be smiling even more than he has been the past few days, when he could hardly contain his excitement at the start of spring training.

The key move in all this could have been his hiring. Francona brought a new credibility to the Indians, and players have followed. The Indians have had as busy an offseason as any in recent memory.

There is no question that concerns remain about the starting pitching, one through five. The Indians are hopeful, but hope doesn’t win.

That concern cannot be hidden, no matter how much help the lineup provides.

But the lineup is as good as it’s been in years, and the energy on, around and about the team seems totally different.

In one offseason, the Indians have added production in Swisher; power in Reynolds and Swisher; speed in Stubbs and Bourn; defense in Bourn; pitching in a young, talented and highly regarded arm in Trevor Bauer, and an experienced and proven manager in Francona.

A team that lost 94 games a year ago and ended with one of the most sour final couple months in team history starts with a new energy in 2013.

It doesn’t guarantee wins.

But it’s something.

Especially to fans used to seeing bandages applied to bleeding wounds.