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Cleveland Indians Put a Spark Back Into Disinterested Tribe Fans by Signing Michael Bourn
By Bob Evans
As the Cleveland Indians packed up and headed for spring training in Arizona, fans had finally just come down from an offseason high which saw their team land a big-name free agent in Nick Swisher and one of the top head coaches on the market in Terry Francona. While Swisher is no Josh Hamilton, giving that large of a contract to a player not currently on the roster was a major change in philosophy for the management that has been running the show the past few years.
Then, just when Indians’ fans thought things were getting back to normal with the low-risk, high reward signings of Jason Giambi and Daisuke Matsuzaka to minor league contracts, general manager Chris Antonetti went and shocked the world. Late Monday night, Antonetti and the Indians inked the biggest fish left on the free agent market, center fielder Michael Bourn.
No, this is not an early April Fool’s Day joke—the Indians’ ownership group and front office opened up their checkbook for Francona and the fans. And with a few pen strokes and a lot of zeroes, the leading men of the Cleveland Indians franchise just lit the proverbial fire back under their fan base.
Do these moves suddenly mean the Indians are going to go from a 92-loss team to one that is a contender for the World Series? Absolutely not; but what they do signify is the franchise has undergone a major culture shift—one that may result in not pawning off their star players at the mid-point of every season to the highest bidder.
Let me be honest with you for a moment. As a long-time Cleveland fan born in the mid-80s, some of the highlights of my adolescence were spent sitting down at Jacobs Field watching the dominance that was the 1995-2001 Cleveland Indians.
Six Central Division Championships in seven years, two World Series Appearances and nothing less than 86 in the win column rightly spoiled my fandom while growing up. Those gaudy numbers are why the team’s inability to rise back to the top in all but one season from 2002-2012 has been a very tough pill to swallow for myself and fellow fans.
It hasn’t always been about the losing, but more so about watching guys who should be playing in Columbus or Akron start at important positions all those years. The front office essentially waived the white flag, telling the fan base they were giving in to the “small market teams cannot win” philosophy that has seemingly taken over Major League Baseball.
When your team isn’t about putting the best possible product on the field year in and year out, why should you even care as a fan?
The level of disdain this writer held for the franchise finally reached an all-time high, as I fully expected the team to send Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez and any other All-Star level player the team had packing this offseason. But then a funny thing happened, they didn’t—instead sending Manny Acta packing in their place.
From the moment the team hired Francona, there was something different in the air. As they followed it up by acquiring top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer WITHOUT giving up Cabrera, the fan tide was starting to swing back in Progressive Field’s direction. Then—even though the contract they gave Swisher was ridiculous for his production—the team proved us all wrong by opening the checkbook and grabbing a big-name free agent off the market.
The moves prior to signing Bourn were enough to lead me back to the Jake—err—Progressive Field this season. But when they opened the checkbook one more time this offseason to bring in the speedster, defensive specialist—let’s just say it felt like the mid-90s all over again.
Not in the sense the Indians were suddenly going to dominate the Central Division for the next seven seasons, but in the sense that they were finally trying to assemble something worth watching. And as a fan who spends their hard earned dollars sitting in the stands, that is all you can ask for from your front office.
Will these moves lead to the playoffs and a possible return to the World Series in the near future for the Cleveland Indians? Who knows, but you better believe it will be a much more entertaining ride on their attempted path to get to both of those destinations.
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