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Trading Bourn and Swisher: Clearing the decks for the Indians future

On Friday, the Cleveland Indians and Chris Antonetti lived in the land of Hyperbole. In a move that many said was unthinkable and unattainable, the Tribe GM once again proved that anything was possible.

He traded Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher away from the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Bourn and Swisher were sent to the Atlanta Braves, along with $9 million and change for third baseman Chris Johnson, who is set to earn $16.5 million over the next two seasons, with a $10 million club option in 2018. Atlanta had been aggressively looking to unload Johnson's contract since last October.

Both Bourn and Swisher were acquired in an organizationally aggressive 2012 hot stove season that also saw the Indians bring in current manager Terry Francona. Swisher was signed to a four-year, $56 million deal with a $14 million vesting option for a fifth year that could bring the deal to $70 million during a holiday-season courtship. A month later, Antonetti made another splash just before Spring Training began by signing Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal (with a vesting option for a fifth year that could bring the total deal to $60 million).

The moves were heralded by most as game-changers for the Indians at the time of the deal. While there were some naysayers about the price paid for players 30 years or older, it was thought that both players would significantly improve two positions that were organizational holes in the minor league system at the time.

While the team did get a bounce in a 2013 wildcard run, both Swisher and Bourn were long-term disappointments. In the end, their massive contracts severely limited what the Indians could do both financially off the field, and with regards to roster management on the field.

While there was a lot of rhetoric about potentially designating both for assignment because of their "sunk-cost," the reality is that when you pay upwards of $30 million for one season of two players, they are going to get chance-after-chance-after-chance to play in Cleveland's small market economics. In other words, not only are the Indians not going to just release that kind of money, but they are going to get everything they can out of each player on-the-field.

On the outside looking in, the deals appear to be nearly equal in total money. Johnson's remaining two guaranteed years are worth $16.5 million, and with the added $1 million buyout that the Tribe will likely utilize, it bumps up to $17.5 million. With the $9+ million the Indians added to the deal to compensate for the Swisher/Bourn salaries, it ups the overall cost to the Indians to around $27 million, give-or-take a few hundred thousand.

The Braves take on the 2016 salaries of Swisher and Bourn, worth a total of $29 million.

Fortunately, this isn't a deal for the Indians that should be looked at as "lump sum comparisons." Instead, it's important to look at the deal with regards to flexibility going forward, especially when taking into account the moves that they also made prior to the non-waiver deadline.

After talking with both EHC's Steve Orbanek and Did the Tribe Win Last Night's Mike Brandyberry, it's clear that the estimated $9-10 million dollars the Indians are paying the Braves the offset their remaining contracts approximates the remainder of their salaries in 2015. In other words, Chris Antonetti figured out a way to DFA Bourn and Swisher, while getting Braves' president of baseball operations, John Hart to foot the bill for their 2016 salaries.

I know what you're saying, "Jim, you aren't taking into account the Chris Johnson salary, you idiot." Bear with me for a moment. Prior to the deadline, the Indians dealt Brandon Moss to the St. Louis Cardinals for top prospect, Rob Kaminsky. Moss was on the books this year for $6.5 million on his current one-year deal. While the Indians could have released him in 2016 to avoid paying his cost, it was more likely that they would have either re-signed him to another one-year deal to avoid arbitration, or allow him to go to arbitration, which isn't an Indians' tendency. What would his cost have been? Likely between $8-9 million dollars.

Chris Johnson's cost in 2016 is $7.5 million.

In essence, what the Indians have done is DFA'ed Swisher and Bourn, gotten John Hart to pay off their 2016 salaries, and traded Brandon Moss's salary for Chris Johnson's, and acquired Rob Kaminsky. When you add Mark Rzepczynski and David Murphy to the equation, things begin to get a little more fun.

David Murphy had a $7 million club option for 2016, with a $500 buyout. Rzepczynski was making $2.4 million this year, with two arbitration seasons left. Like Moss, the Indians could have just released him, but it was more likely that he was in tune for a $4-5 million contract on top of that. You can safely say that the Indians gained roster flexibility, saved in the realm of $35 million off their 2016 payroll, and  acquired Kaminsky and Eric Stamets and Abraham Almonte, if you consider him a worthwhile  (in the Murphy deal).

Yes, the Indians have to replace roster spots and salary going forward.

Yes, the Indians are done in 2015, but these were words we could have and should have uttered months ago.

Yes, Chris Johnson isn't as good as Brandon Moss or David Murphy, although I would guess they are getting a lot closer as each day goes by (they are a combined 10-for-55, with four runs scored, one double, and two RBI since their trades).

But in the end, the Indians are now focused on seeing what they have over the final two months of the season, and now are over $20 million below their estimated $85 million payroll limit in 2016, according to Mike Brandyberry.

What does this mean going forward for your Cleveland Indians?

It's likely that the Indians will use the rest of 2016 to evaluate players on their current roster, as well as players in both Columbus and Akron. No, I'm not saying Brandon Zimmer is getting called up any time soon, but I am saying you could see some progression at both levels.

In Columbus, I would expect that Cleveland will take a good look at both James Ramsey and Tyler Naquin in the outfield, especially now that Tyler Holt has been sent down after joining the team when David Murphy was traded. I suppose Abraham Almonte would be included in that discussion as well, although I'm a lot more bearish on his big league chances.

On the infield side of things, I would guess that Jesus Aguilar and Zach Walters are both a couple of guys that the Indians may want to take another look at. While I'm not suggesting either are long-term solutions, both have skills that may or may not translate to the big league level, should they get a chance. While Erik Gonzalez rates highly on most prospect lists, my guess is he's staying in Columbus for the rest of the year, since he has no shot to unseat Francisco Lindor, and they have no desire to have him play in part-time capacity. He may be in the dugout in September, but that would be the extent of it.

On the pitching side of things, the new blood we could see in the pen are Shawn Armstrong and Giovanni Soto. While I'm not big on bullpen arms in the least, both have some upside, and if the Indians are to improve next year, these guys will likely be a part of the equation, and I suppose there are some other relievers they might take a look at as well, including some retreads like C.C. Lee.

With Cody Anderson struggling, we may see a start from newcomer Will Roberts, but that's most definitely a stretch.

I'm more curious about the Akron kids than anything else, and while I don't see any getting promoted to the Indians, I am on the lookout for any late bumps to Columbus, starting with Bradley Zimmer. He's been struggling of late, so I'm doubtful, but you never know what could happen now that it's clear the Indians have cleared out 2015. Yandy Diaz is another guy that's been making some waves in Akron, and actually may be more ready regarding make-up than the more heralded Zimmer as we speak. And if you still believe in Ronny Rodriguez, he's had a pretty productive year, and is still only 23.

Akron's rotation consists of Shawn Morimando, Ryan Merritt and Adam Plutko, who all are interesting, although I don't think the Indians will ever push starters with their type of upside.

Past this year, the Indians have set themselves up for the offseason, in what could be an interesting few months. While I think the Indians have learned their lessons from going "all in" on deals like the ones from Swisher, I do think they'll be in play for specific free agents, should they be both available and at the right price.

But...do you really think Chris Antonetti is going to jump into a long-term, high-cost free agent after just dumping his high-cost free agents?

I don't either, but the option is there, with the Indians payroll in the $63 million range.

Where I could really see the Indians make the most impact is regarding the trade front, and while some would prefer to keep the talent we have, there could be options to make a HUGE splash in the months to come.

I think we've already seen the plan put in place by Antonetti, which I'll get into in tomorrow's Corner. With that said, the Indians have clearly been in contact with several teams already, and we've seen Antonetti build relationships at the deadline before, that have come to fruition during the offseason, or in season's past.

Or, the Indians could stand pat, bring in some minor league invites, and prime the pump for the Zimmers and the Fraziers over the next two seasons.

I just doubt that's the way to go.

You can begin to see the value of the Indians dealing both Bourn and Swisher when you ask yourself what might this front office be planning on for the future.

What might the Indians do going forward?

Promote from within?

Sign free agents?

Make a small trade?

Make a blockbuster trade?

Bide their time?

Thanks to a brilliant group of moves by Chris Antonetti, all of the above....
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