Around the Horn: Outfield shaping up as strength
New addition Murphy provides solid complement to incumbents Bourn, Brantley
With the bulk of the winter maneuvering complete and Spring Training rapidly approaching, Indians.com is taking a look at the state of the Tribe's roster. Today, we'll continue this five-part Around the Horn series by examining the outfield.
CLEVELAND -- It has been a relatively quiet winter for the Indians. Of course, it was bound to feel that way in comparison to the kind of overhaul that Cleveland undertook an offseason ago.
Among the many transactions last winter was the signing of center fielder Michael Bourn to a lucrative four-year, $48 million pact. Coming off a season in which the revamped roster helped capture the American League's top Wild Card spot, the Indians' biggest move this offseason has been inking outfielder David Murphy to a two-year contract worth $12 million.
Cleveland did not break the bank, but the club felt that the addition of Murphy strengthened what has the potential to be one of the team's strongest areas: the outfield.
"I think a lot's been made of that," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said about the perception that the club has not done much this offseason. "We felt we made a significant acquisition and addressed one of our primary needs in signing Murphy."
That need was an improvement against right-handed pitching, and the left-handed-hitting Murphy is expected to help in that regard as Cleveland's new right fielder. With Bourn in center, Michael Brantley in left and utility man Ryan Raburn helping on the corners, the Indians believe they have not only a sound defensive outfield, but a versatile offensive group.
Of course, much of that belief is based on the hope that Bourn and Murphy can bounce back from subpar showings, and Brantley and Raburn can build on the solid performances they turned in a year ago.
Bourn is the most important part of that equation, considering his role as the Indians' leadoff man and center fielder. Last season, which was his first in the AL, the veteran outfielder hit .263, posted his lowest on-base percentage (.316) since 2008, stole fewer than 40 bases for the first time since '07 (he had 23), missed time with injuries and saw a drop-off in his stellar defense. In October, Bourn had surgery to repair a torn left hamstring.
Like Bourn, Nick Swisher -- also brought in on a four-year deal during Cleveland's busy winter a year ago -- struggled some in his first season with Cleveland. The Indians believe that Bourn and Swisher are both prepared to rebound for the Tribe.
"Michael cares so much," Antonetti said. "He cares so deeply about contributing that he may have tried to do a little bit too much. With him, there's the added complexity of switching leagues. His game is dependent upon his speed, his ability to steal bases. Even the way he plays defense in the outfield is somewhat hitter-dependent in where he positions himself.
"I think what we'll see next year out of both [Bourn and Swisher] is that they'll be a little bit more comfortable -- with the team, with the organization, with the league -- and I'd expect each guy to be a little bit more productive."
Murphy takes over in right fielder for Drew Stubbs, who was traded by the Indians to the Rockies this winter to reel in lefty reliever Josh Outman. The 32-year-old Murphy hit .304 with an .859 OPS for Texas just two seasons ago, but he posted a .220 average to go along with a .656 OPS over 142 games in a disappointing 2013 season for the Rangers.
Cleveland is looking beyond last season's showing and leaning on Murphy's career production against right-handers (.280 with an .816 OPS).
"If you look at his track record," Antonetti said, "he's been pretty consistent, especially against right-handed pitching. We expect him to bounce back and get far closer to his career norms than how he performed last year."
Combined with Raburn, who posted a 1.020 OPS against lefties and a .902 OPS overall for the Tribe last year, the Indians feel they have a solid right-field combination for the upcoming campaign. Cleveland is not calling it a strict platoon with Murphy and Raburn, but that will be one of the options at manager Terry Francona's disposal.
"We'll see how it evolves," Antonetti said. "It's not just those two guys, because Ryan's going to get opportunities to play other than right field. He'll get some DH at-bats, he'll get some left field at-bats, he'll probably get some reps at first base this spring. I expect Ryan will be in the lineup in a variety of ways, not just as a platoon partner for David."
At the moment, Cleveland also has non-roster invitees Jeff Francoeur and Matt Carson in the fold as depth options. Outfield prospect Carlos Moncrief, who played at Double-A Akron last season, is also slated to be in camp with the Indians.
The one player Antonetti does not seem too concerned about is the 26-year-old Brantley, who was a picture of consistency in '13. Brantley moved out of center after Bourn was acquired and transitioned smoothly back to left. In 151 games, Brantley hit .284 with 10 home runs, 26 doubles and 73 RBIs, bouncing up and down the lineup for the Tribe.
"The way he approaches every at-bat, the way he plays defensively, he's a very reliable guy," Antonetti said. "You know what you're going to get more often than not from Michael. Regardless of where you hit him -- whether you hit him leadoff or third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh -- he's the same guy.
"He's going to give you a quality at-bat. He's going to perform consistently. He's going to be a reliable and effective baserunner He's going to play well defensively. He's just a very reliable, steady player, and you can't overstate the value of having that dependability."