Free agency in any sport is its own season. Fans, media members, and players are glued to their phones and televisions waiting for the news that their team just signed the next superstar. The difference between baseball and every other sport is that there is no salary cap. This allows for teams to get into high priced bidding wars and generally over paying for talent. There are teams with large budgets that can afford to get away with it, but small market teams cannot miss on these free agents. The majority of the time these large and lengthy contracts do not work out for the team, and if it turns out to be a dud it can greatly handicap and hinder a small market team.
There has been a history of terrible contracts in baseball, and most of them involve a big market team which a plethora of money. For the most part these teams have the money to support a couple bad contracts so lets focus on the teams that cannot. In Cleveland every year the fans plead for the ownership to spend money and get that one piece to get them over the top. Well a few years ago it seemed as if they granted the wish of every fan, not once, but twice. The Indians dished out 56 million dollars to bring in the eccentric Nick Swisher. Then a few months later they brought in Michael Bourn for 48 million dollars over four years. These two players were supposed to anchor the lineup, and put the Indians lineup over the top. Finally, all of the fans prayers were answered!
Let us fast forward two and a half years. Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher are now members of the Atlanta Braves and the Indians find themselves near the cellar of the central division while having one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball. How did we get here? Weren’t these two players supposed to anchor the Indians lineup and bring them to the promise land? Well, obviously things took a turn for the worst. Over the two and half years Michael Bourn was with the tribe he stole 46 bases. This is a guy who averaged 51 steals over the previous five seasons. Now Nick Swisher consistently couldn’t hit his weight. Literally, the man couldn’t hit .210. He also struggled to stay on the field. So much money wrapped up in underachieving players effects the teams personnel decisions in many different ways.
Alright, lets step back a few years. The first year with Bourn and Swisher was 2013, and the Indians did make the playoffs. They ended up losing to Tampa Bay in the wild card game at home. What we do not realize is this was Bourn and Swisher’s best year with the team and they both underperformed. Luckily, with the emergence of Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes, they were able to go on a post season run and make the playoffs. They were obviously missing a piece. Maybe a right handed power bat to help drive in runs. The issue is they are tapped out. The Indians do not have the budget to spend money all willy nilly. With the added contracts of Bourn and Swisher they do not have the money to go out and get a bat. Let’s hope the young guys take another step forward.
Alright, 2014, the Indians are supposed to take a step forward and go deep into the playoffs. Well, that did not happen. If it wasn’t for a late season hot stretch they would have finished far below .500. Nick Swisher went on the DL in August and did not play the rest of the season. Michael Bourn had a pitiful year. They had holes that needed filled. They were still close. Corey Kluber just won the Cy Young, and their younger pitchers have been developing. Nelson Cruz just had a solid year and was becoming a free agent. He could be the perfect bat to plug into the middle of the order. There is one problem. They do not have money to spend. Bourn and Swisher are taking up almost have of their yearly payroll while they are giving out long term contracts to the core players of the team. The players that they were supposed to be when they signed them two years ago.
2015 was supposed to be the year of the Indians. Sports illustrated picked them to win the World Series. Michael Bourn worked out with an Olympic sprinter. Nick Swisher was coming back healthy. The pitching staff was going to dominate. Alright I’m getting pumped! I’m ready for some Indians baseball. Well, you know they drill. They don’t have a power bat in the middle of the lineup. They are left handed heavy, and yea you guessed it, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher are terrible. What position would this team be in if they didn’t have these two bums in the lineup every day? What if Nelson Cruz was hitting 4th. I know it might not have made a difference, but for the majority of the season the lineup was pitiful. Oh yea, and Jason Kipnis is having career year, and Michael Brantley is putting up solid numbers again. Don’t get me wrongBourn and Swisher have been great to the fans, and have done good work for the community, but they were busts. It is so difficult to overcome a bad contract for a small market team. Look at the Padres and Dodgers the past few years. They are buying everyone they can, or trading for larger contracts of good players that need a new home. These small market teams just can’t do that. It’s a tricky battle they have to fight, but it’s the nature of the beast.