When the off-season began there were a half dozen center fielders available as free agents. It would turn out that at least a couple more would be available via trade. Most considered former Atlanta Braves lead-off man Michael Bourn to be the best true center fielder on the market.
So why is Bourn one of the last remaining center fielders standing around when nearly all of the available seats have already been filled?
The Philadelphia Phillies have been seeking a center fielder, but they came up a reported $20 million behind Atlanta in their bid for B.J. Upton. They also were outbid by San Francisco for Angel Pagan. The Nationals were looking for someone to patrol center, but they added Denard Span via trade with the Twins.
Meanwhile, Bourn continues to sit out there on the market. He’s an outstanding defender, a true lead-off man, and a threat to steal 40+ bases every season.
There do remain some teams that could certainly use his services, but none that seem to want to pay the kind of money that Bourn is looking to get. If Upton got better than $15 million per season, most figured that Bourn could command close to $20 million. At this point, he has to be wondering where that money is going to come from.
The traditional big spenders don’t seem to have room either in their budget or in their outfield for Bourn. The Yankees have scrolled back spending and Boston has Jacoby Ellsbury in place. The Dodgers have all three of their outfielders locked up long term. The Texas Rangers could be a possibility, but that only happens if they fail to re-sign Josh Hamilton and fail to swing a deal for Arizona’s Justin Upton. If Bourn is waiting to be the Rangers third option, he may be waiting a while.
The Mets need an outfielder, but there are questions about how much money the Wilpon family can commit to the payroll. You’d like to think that the teams that lose out on the Hamilton sweepstakes could view Bourn as the next best option, but they are so dissimilar as players that the market really isn’t the same.
Boras has played chicken with the market before and he usually wins. Sometimes it takes a stroke of luck, like last year when Victor Martinez tore up his knee in December, opening the door for Price Fielder’s giant contract in Detroit. Again though, Bourn isn’t the cleanup hitter how can mash 40 homers in a season like Fielder or Hamilton. He likely won’t be viewed as the same type of game changer, though he does have a great impact on the offense and defense.
The Cincinnati Reds are probably the best fit for Bourn, but that’s money they won’t spend. If the market falls apart and he has to settle for a one or two year deal, I could see the Reds being in play but more than likely when the season begins, Bourn will be elsewhere. The Mariners need offense of any kind and while they have an elite defensive center fielder already in Franklin Gutierrez, Bourn is a much better all around player and would fit well in the expansive outfield at SafeCo Park, even if the fences are coming in.
The one club that has the money and could use a guy like Bourn that no one is talking about is the Chicago Cubs. They like Brett Jackson a lot, but he’s still very young and has a lot of problems making contact at the plate. Chicago has already made a handful of shrewd moves that will bolster their rotation and allow this club to get significantly better. I’m certain that Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein would love to build from within, but if a player like Bourn is available he’s the type of guy that can speed up the timeline toward contention.