Last year, I was surprised to see a decrease in stolen bases from Michael Bourn. He had 61 in 2011 and 42 in '12. Now that Drew Stubbs has been traded, do you anticipate a more aggressive Bourn on the bases this season? Or do you think 20-25 stolen bases can be expected again?
-- Betsy W., Perrysburg, Ohio
I'm not sure trading Stubbs to the Rockies will have an impact on Bourn's individual baserunning performance. Whether Stubbs was still on the team or not, I believe Bourn would still be taking a more aggressive approach on the bases in 2014.
Bourn repeatedly cited an unfamiliarity with the American League as a possible explanation for his decline in stolen bases in 2013, when he ended with 23 in the first season with the Indians. It's also worth noting that the Major Leagues as a whole last year turned in the lowest stolen-base total (2,693) since 2005. Of course, that alone doesn't explain Bourn's drop-off.
I'd expect an improvement from Bourn, but I'm not sure he's going to be a threat to steal 50 or 60 bases like he was in the past. His percentage of stolen bases to stolen-base opportunities has decreased in each of the past three seasons (down to 9.6 percent in 2013 from 21.3 percent in '10). Bourn's success rate has also dropped to 72 percent in 2012-13 after sitting at 83 percent from 2007-11.
Familiarity with the AL will surely help in 2014, but another key for Bourn will be improving his on-base percentage. In '13, Bourn had a .316 OBP (lowest since '08), compared to a .348 OBP across the 2009-12 seasons, when he averaged 54 stolen bases per year. Bourn's strikeout rate went up and his walk rate down last season, so returning closer to his career norms would be a step in the right direction.
Bourn had 41.6 percent of his plate appearances develop into stolen-base chances in 2013. That figure decreased for the second straight season, but it also was higher than in 2010 (40.3) and '08 (35.2), when he stole 52 and 41 bases, respectively. That shows that Bourn didn't capitalize on his chances as he had in years past. I'd wager that he's aiming to correct that trend next season.
Do you expect the Indians to make any late free-agency moves similar to last year, or will they stay put? My inclination is that they are maxed on money spent, but I would hope they could find someone to help bolster the rotation or lineup.
-- Ken G., Rocky River, Ohio
The Indians had a unique situation last offseason with a protected first-round Draft pick and an extra compensatory pick. Due to that, Cleveland was able to sign both Nick Swisher and Bourn to long-term deals, and still have a normal Draft in June. That situation played a role in the decision to sign Bourn in February.
I wouldn't expect a repeat scenario this spring with any players that would cost the Tribe a Draft pick. I could see Cleveland remaining a player on some second-tier free agents to potentially strengthen the rotation or bullpen, especially if the price tags drop as Spring Training nears. The pitching staff remains the biggest area of focus for the club.
If Cleveland addresses its lineup any further, I'd expect it to be via trade and not through free agency. Position players added as free agents at this point would likely consist of depth signings, which could mean some non-roster invites. Every team adds a handful of players via that route, and the Indians have had plenty of success doing so in recent years.
If no teams make an offer to Ubaldo Jimenez and he goes unsigned into Spring Training, would the Indians be able to sign him for a cheaper price than the qualifying offer?
-- Josiah A., Avon, Ohio
That's the risk Jimenez took when he declined the Indians' one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer earlier this winter. Cleveland did so in order to secure Draft pick compensation in the event Jimenez signs with another team. To date, that hasn't happened, and the right-hander's asking price could fall as the season nears. If it gets to the point where a one- or two-year contract is possible, then the Indians might again be players to re-sign Big U.
What are the odds of the Indians putting up a bid for Masahiro Tanaka?
-- Chris S., Westerville, Ohio
While I haven't heard officially one way or the other, I don't see why the Indians wouldn't at least post the $20 million bid to secure a negotiation window with Tanaka. If Tanaka signs elsewhere, Cleveland isn't on the hook to pay that fee. Now, I'm not expecting the Indians to win the Tanaka sweepstakes, but posting a bid makes sense for the sake of due diligence.
What accounts for the Indians' inability to sign their exiting free agents? Both Joe Smith and Matt Albers signed reasonable contracts. Why weren't the Indians competitive on them?
-- Ryan M., Austin, Texas
There is no universal answer -- it varies for each player. In Smith's case, the Indians did not want to offer three years at the value he sought. For Albers, Cleveland leaned against a two-year deal, especially when some in-house options have the potential to offer similar production at a lower price. With every player, the Indians have a value in mind, and they typically try to stick to that in talks.
With the Hall of Fame announcement coming this week, I was wondering who you would vote for this year.
-- Kevin R., Cleveland
I don't have a vote. If I did, here are the 10 players I'd select (in alphabetical order): Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell. I don't have the space here to go into each explanation, but what I will say is that I feel the Hall of Fame is a place to recognize history -- both the good and the bad.