CLEVELAND -- The Indians pulled off a shocking trade on Friday, shipping veteran outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Braves in exchange for corner infielder Chris Johnson. Considering the size of the contracts leaving Cleveland, the Tribe will also be sending cash to Atlanta.
Swisher and Bourn both signed long-term contracts with the Indians as free agents prior to the 2013 season, playing key roles in helping that year's club reach the American League Wild Card Game. In the seasons since, their time with Cleveland has been defined by a rash of injuries and by subpar performances on the field, putting a strain on Cleveland's payroll and production as it plans for the future.
"As we tried to look forward at the best way to shape our team, we felt this move allows us to do that," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "It gives us some roster flexibility. It gives us an opportunity to play some young players here in the second half and learn more about ourselves and, as importantly, it gives us a little more clarity heading into the offseason as we look to build a championship team moving forward. And we feel this move helps us along that path."
Even though the non-waiver Trade Deadline passed on July 31, the Braves and Indians still managed to pull off this two-for-one deal during the current waiver period. Swisher and Bourn are scheduled to earn $15 million and $14 million, respectively, during the 2016 season, and each player has a vesting option ($14 million for Swisher and $12 million for Bourn) for the '17 campaign.
Antonetti would only say that Cleveland is sending a "significant" amount of cash to Atlanta as part of the trade. The figure is believed to be around $10 million, which would help balance the guaranteed salary remaining on the deals for all three players.
"We have a net savings in the deal over the balance of the contract," Antonetti said. "There's different contract terms in place, but we'll save some money. But, again, that was only one component of it for us."
In Johnson, Cleveland receives a right-handed hitter capable of playing first and third base, and the Indians plan on testing him in the outfield, too. The 30-year-old Johnson has appeared in only 56 games this year due to a fractured left hand that cost him most of May, perhaps explaining his diminished offensive output (.235 average with two homers and 11 RBIs). From 2012-14, Johnson turned in a .287/.324/.420 line with an average of 12 homers, 30 doubles and 67 RBIs in 144 games per year.
During the 2013 season, Johnson hit .321 for Atlanta and finished second in the National League batting race.
Johnson is under contract for $6 million this season and is scheduled to earn $7.5 million in 2016 and $9 million in '17. His deal also includes a team option worth $10 million for the '18 season.
"He's played [some] games at first. We know he can play third," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think he's dabbled in the outfield, and I don't know much more than that. I want to talk to him about those things before we start making any proclamations."
Swisher, who just finished a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus, has been on the 15-day disabled list since June 14 due to a setback with his surgically-repaired knees. Swisher underwent season-ending surgery on both knees last August and hit .198 in 30 games in his return to the Tribe this year before landing back on the DL. Across the past two seasons combined, he has hit .206 with a .597 OPS in 127 games.
After signing a four-year, $56 million contract with the Indians -- the largest free-agent contract in franchise history -- Swisher, 34, hit .228 with 32 homers and 113 RBIs in 272 games over the past three seasons.
Bourn, 32, dealt with hamstring woes in each of the 2013 and '14 seasons, but he has been injury-free this year. Still, the center fielder has hit just .246 in 95 games for Cleveland in 2015, and .257 with a .660 OPS in 331 games since signing a four-year, $48 million deal with the Tribe. Bourn stole just 46 bases in his time with Cleveland after averaging 51 per year from 2008-12.
"When we signed both guys, we were hopeful that they would help expedite our return to competitiveness," Antonetti said. "And in the 2013 season, both guys were key contributors to us making the postseason. Unfortunately, since that time, things haven't played out maybe the way anyone would've hoped, and so that got us to today.
"At this point, we had to not necessarily dwell on the past, but figure out the path forward. We felt this move made sense for us and allows us that flexibility that would be helpful for us as we build our teams."