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Tinkering with the Swisher/Bourn deal

(Photo courtesy of USATSI)  
It turns out we don't really know the full extent of the deal that sent Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves, and brought back Chris Johnson to the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

And honestly, we may never know the real amount of money.

No, there aren't any more players to be mentioned here, but there is something a bit more significant if you live in the land of small market baseball...

...money.

In the first reports that came out on Friday afternoon, it was believed that the Indians had sent over about $10 million to the Braves, to offset both the Swisher/Bourn contracts in context with what Chris Johnson would be making over the next two years. But it was murky, because neither team announced any specific figures, and according to several 'in the know,' they'll never have to.

The $10 million-ish figure made sense in a couple of ways:

  1. Bourn and Swisher were due a similar amount for the remainder of 2015, which would help the Braves now, and the Indians in 2016.

  2. Adding that $10 million Chris Johnson's $17.5 million (assuming the Indians buy him out for a million in 2018) puts the Tribe in the ballpark of the $30 million that Swisher and Bourn would make next year. The Braves take on $29 million, while the Indians take on $27.5 million.
Inevitably, that deal is mutually beneficial to both baseball teams in that the Indians can disperse that $27.5 million over two seasons, as opposed to lumping it all together into 2016, which will give them a sizable chunk of freedom under their selp-imposed salary cap, which lives in the land of $80-85 million at the start of the season.

Note: regarding the Indians spending and their salary cap. It's rarely fixed, and always fluid, and the Indians do have that flex-spending/saving figured into their final numbers. What you see at the beginning of a season is rarely what you get, starting day 2. No, the Dolans won't see tens of millions of dollars of change, as the big market teams do, but an-up-to-$10 million jump either way isn't extraordinary. The Indians do have a cap, and a lot of that is tied into day-to-day operations, and like I said, is fluid.

Yesterday, it was reported that the Indians sent out a bit more than that $10-ish million that was originally reported. According to former Indians beat writer for MLB.com and current MLB.com feature columnist Anthony Castrovince, the Tribe ponied up a figure closer to $15 million.

In just a straight money take on this, this alters the deal in a more than slight way. The Indians take bumps up to $32.5 million over the duration of Chris Johnson's contract, while the Braves take drops to $24 million.

Take that in for a moment, folks. EHC's Adam Burke mentioned in our podcast yesterday how the Dolans have continually stepped up to pay they type of money that our market really doesn't dictate, to try and give the Indians a fair shake, whenever they get that chance. While just mentioning the Swisher and Bourn deals isn't near fair to the Indians' owners, what they've done at the front and back-ends of their tenure speaks to their commitment to do what their baseball people tell them, regarding winning in this town.

In 2012, the Dolans forked out around $100 million in contracts to Bourn and Swisher to join the Indians. In 2015, the Dolans paid off $32 million of that deal so that Chris Antonetti could maneuver the roster better going forward into 2016. As Adam mentioned yesterday, this type of deal saves the Indians one of their top five prospects, because I guarantee you that John Hart was knocking on the Bradley Zimmer/Clint Frazier door.

Hart has been acquiring young talent since his tenure started, and this was just another way for him to add to that prospect haul.

In the end, that five extra million doesn't amount to a whole lot, but it does do a few things. It takes a bit of the luster off the move from the perspective of Chris Antonetti, who was dealing two high priced free agents that he had missed on. I'm not knocking those deals, because they needed to make them.

But they didn't work.

Look, Antonetti still should be applauded for clearing the decks on the season, and he still made the right move today for this team. This extra five million for a small market team just takes a bit of shine of the move to get rid of them, and applies another thin coat of shine to the move that brought them in.

The real credit in this deal should go to Paul Dolan, who okayed a $15 million cash buyout so they could be more flexible with the roster next year. That's a little more than 1/6th of that $85 million payroll threshold that many people talk about, that the Indians will just have to eat.

The question is, how will they eat it?

This is where the financial structure gets a little more murky. I know that teams in the past have done this, and lumped the money into their current year structure, whether it's by simply dumping the sum into their current year books, then divvying it out in the ensuing years, or putting it into a "we screwed this up" account. A move like that would put a dent into the current year profit, but would allow the team to work free and clear next year.

I know, robbing Peter to pay Paul, but sometimes that's just the way things work.

Of course, baseball financials get murky, and I'm not really sure the Indians can even do that. If they have to roll that money out into the 2016 season, it clearly hurts their overall salary structure in year's to come. If you hop over to Cot's baseball contracts (via Baseball Prospectus), they paint that type of salary structure for the Indians. They take a five million dollar hit in both 2016 and 2017, with a portion paid in 2015 as well, which we can assume is somewhere near $5 million.

The problem is obvious, as it immediately takes $5 million off the table immediately, and adds Chris Johnson to the equation. Sure, the Indians have moved a bunch of dead-weight-ish deals that I mentioned yesterday, but it looks a lot less friendly if we are dispersing $15 million, as opposed to lump-summing $10 million as a one-year payoff.

So what does this mean?

Many thought that the Indians were $22-$25 million below their cap heading into this offseason, and that they could actually go out and sign a bigger free agent. While I wasn't one of those folks, since I'm fairly sure the Tribe learned their lesson, I did believe they would be players to take on a one or two-year deal to bring in both a center fielder and right fielder who could bridge the gap too the Bradley Zimmers and Clint Fraziers of the world.

In a small market world, that's how it works.

This obviously hinders them a bit. That said, they are still under the cap, and they still have the ability to make a major trade or two to bring in players that can make a difference. In the coming weeks, we'll take a look at the value of the entire roster via the trade route, and hopefully find the gem that can net this team a winning combination of players.

Thanks to this deal, regardless of the fiscal ramifications of five more million, allows the Indians to really get creative.

Let's hope they do.
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