Michael Bourn is STILL a free agent, which has been a source of some annoyance for me of late, but which today I am counting as a small victory. The intrigue surrounding his predicament is beginning to ramp up, now only a fortnight shy of the start of Spring Training, and with most MLB fans seemingly enthralled by Alex Rodriguez and performance-enhancing drugs all over again (good Lord, who cares?), it’s ni to be able to retreat into my musings about this instead of that.
Bourn, of course, will cost whichever team signs him their first unprotected draft pick, because the Atlanta Braves made a qualifying one-year offer worth $13.3 million to him back in November. Reports then were that Bourn wanted a five-year deal. that seemed attainable, or at least approachable, so turning down the offer was the only logical course. That he’s still apparently seeking that contract is a bit foolish, but it’s not like he dove headlong into the shallow end of the pool here—or at least, if he did, it was because it looked deep and there was no warning sign.
Anyway, Bourn and agent Scott Boras are struggling to find a fit, a team willing to surrender a selection in an amateur draft now governed by tighter spending restrictions and therefore less malleable in terms of finding talent somewhere other than the top 100 selections. this is the new baseball economy, and it’s stupid, and it hurts the game and it makes it less likely than ever that young minorities, within the U.S. or internationally, will want to play baseball, but this is what we have.
There is a workaround, though.
Consider Rafael Soriano and the Washington Nationals. Soriano hung out there on the market, dangled, really, for two full months, seemingly without a suitor. Only with great reticence will anyone sign Bourn (a starting center fielder and lead-off candidate) or Kyle Lohse (a starter capable of racking up 200-plus innings) at the cost of a draft pick. It seemed wholly possible that NO ONE would do it to add a 60-inning asset like Soriano.
Washington finally did, though, for a few reasons. As has been reported thoroughly, even redundantly, Boras is close to GM Mike Rizzo, of the Nationals. Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon all are Boras clients. So is Jayson Werth. So is Edwin Jackson. The team and the agent were certainly a match. Moreover, seeing the Braves doing well this winter and sensing, perhaps, that Atlanta was in the lead for Justin Upton, the Nationals stood to gain quite a bit from the marginal wins Soriano might offer. Their bullpen looked solid, but Tyler Clippard is starting to push the historical limits on the longevity of high-effort, high-strikeout set-up men as assets, and Drew Storen carries both injury and performance risk.
Finally, though, and maybe most importantly, the Nationals are well-situated to surrender that draft pick. They have lately spent much less than their owner could reasonably have spent, at least on big-league salaries. They have the cornerstone pieces they need to be an elite team for the next half-decade in-house right now. They made the playoffs last season, which lends them revenue momentum and a reasonable expectation of increased income this year. And they had Michael Morse.
Morse was a completely superfluous piece for Washington. He’s extraordinarily limited defender, does not draw many walks and bats right-handed. Once the Nationals traded for Denard Span (blocking Morse’s path to outfield at-bats) and re-signed Adam LaRoche (crossing first base off the list), Morse became entirely expendable.
Rizzo signed Soriano, then within 36 hours, Morse was gone. The Nationals traded him to Seattle in a three-team deal, netting them pitching prospect A.J. Cole and two other minor-leaguers. Rizzo traded Cole for Gio Gonzalez last winter, not because he didn’t like him, but because he really wanted Gonzalez. Along with the two throw-ins, what Rizzo got out of Morse was worth the 30th (or so) pick of the 2013 draft.
So, I think, it will have to be with Bourn. Boras got creative to get Washington interested in Soriano, with deferred money involved. I don’t see him going exactly the same route with Bourn, though. To get some team interested in a longish deal at a fair rate, Boras probably needs to find a club who can spin off a luxury item for a prospect or two who match what said team will lose. Only two teams really fit the description, on top of having the budget space and outfield need: The Texas Rangers and the Chicago Cubs.
Even if the Rangers don’t sign Bourn, they might be looking to trade Mike Olt in the near future. A big slice of Olt’s potential value lies in his defensive skills at third base, but the Rangers have Adrian Beltre on what looks like a slow march to the Hall of Fame at that spot for the next three years. With Nelson Cruz reportedly entangled in the PED garbage breaking today, Olt might be able to go play some right field if Cruz is suspended, but again, there’s some wasted utility to that plan. They can and they should deal him, and signing Bourn would make that decision even easier. It would also allow them not to sweat the forfeited pick.
If the Rangers really are set on keeping Olt, they could as easily trade Craig Gentry, a sparkling defensive outfielder who kills left-handed pitching, but Olt would yield a better return. Bourn would be a perfect fit for the Rangers, a top-of-the-order guy who hits righties much better than Ian Kinsler or Elvis Andrus and who cushions the development of Cuban outfield prospect Leonys Martin.
Scott Hairston helped balance the Cubs’ outfield options when he signed a cheap two-year deal last week. He, David DeJesus and Nate Schierholtz are limited by large platoon splits, and none is a true center fielder, but otherwise, they are good pieces. Alfonso Soriano is the anchor of the outfield, in left, and allows Chicago to easily switch the others in and out of the lineup to optimize matchups.
Bourn would change that, in a good way. His greatest asset is his league-best defense, so he would allow the out-of-place corner guys to go right back to their places. He would also loosen the team’s ties to Soriano, who could become trade bait immediately.
Soriano has two years remaining on his contract, expensive years. The Cubs, though, have been quite blunt about their willingness to eat the bulk of the obligation in exchange for the right talent. He would not cost much, has rehabbed his reputations both as fielder and as a power hitter, and remains respected for his role in keeping his teammates level and loose. He’s more valuable than he has been in at least two years, and since the cubs only need to replace a second-round pick if they sign Bourn, they should be able to find a taker at their asking price.
Alternatively, Chicago could keep Soriano, but look to trade Matt Garza. A trade candidate from November 2011 until the moment he left a July start with elbow problems, Garza swears he’s healthy headed into 2013, and when healthy, he’s a top-tier talent. he’s also a free agent at year’s end, meaning if the Cubs want to make him part of their grand rebuilding plan beyond this season, they’ll have to pay up. With Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker and Carlos Villanueva having joined the rotation mix this winter alone, it’s clear the Cubs could trade Garza without missing a beat, and the return would at least equal the potential value of a lost draft pick, even as he returns from injury.
Boras is brilliant, so maybe he convinces the Mets to make Bourn co-face of the franchise alongside David Wright. Maybe he wheedles a surprise deal with the Dodgers, who trade Andre Ethier to make it work. Maybe the Blue Jays find a taker for Colby Rasmus at a surprising price, and decide if they’re going for it, they might as well GO for it.
The Cubs and Rangers, though, have obvious need. They both could benefit quite a bit from the addition, given their projected spots on the win curve (Rangers needing huge win total to take the AL West, Cubs sort of on the bubble of contention, now). They both stand to lose fairly replaceable picks; neither is in the Mets’ predicament. Both have the right talent in the organization right now to turn around and drop the other shoe once Bourn is in place. If he signs somewhere other than Chicago or Texas before June, barring a sign-and-trade involving the Braves, I would be shocked.Next post: On Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Baseball Brothers and Bill James
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