The Verdict: Fantasy Baseball – The Bourn Fallacy
The latest rumors surrounding free agent outfielder Michael Bourn are that the Mets of all teams are interested in him. The Mets, who finally signed their first free agent to a major league contract earlier this week (Shaun Marcum), are in desperate need of an outfielder after Scott Hairston signed with the Cubs for two years. Bourn is clearly the best available free agent left on the market, but he comes with a hefty price tag. Not only is he a Scott Boras client with an inflated asking price, but he also could cost the Mets their 11th overall draft pick.
Besides costing significant dollars per year, giving up a valuable draft pick would go against the formula that Sandy Alderson and the Mets have committed themselves to as they rebuild the franchise. The Mets are looking into obtaining an exception to the new collective bargaining rules regarding draft pick compensation. If for some reason the Mets can obtain Bourn and keep their 11th overall pick, then that would be somewhat palatable. But it could still be a mistake.
The case for Michael Bourn.
At the present time, the Mets starting outfield come Opening Day will be Lucas Duda, Kirk Niewenhuis and Mike Baxter. Clearly they are in need of an upgrade both offensively and defensively. The Mets also do not have any viable options for a leadoff hitter. Ever since Jose Reyes left after the 2011 season, the Mets have been unable to find a suitable replacement in the number one hole. Enter Michael Bourn.
It is invaluable to have a bona fide leadoff hitter who can dictate the pace of the game and get a pitcher out of his rhythm immediately. Bourn has been one of the most prolific base stealers in baseball for the past several years, including leading the league each year from 2009-2011. This is an element that the Mets have sorely missed since Reyes left. At only 30 years old, Bourn still has plenty of gas left in the tank to rack up the steals.
Bourn is an above-average centerfielder with two Gold Gloves on his resume. With his speed, he could cover a lot of ground in Citi Field’s cavernous outfield. This would be especially important because Lucas Duda runs slower than John Olerud trapped in quicksand. With Bourn patrolling the outfield, it would benefit the pitching staff who can concentrate on throwing strikes knowing that batted balls in the air will get caught.
Bourn also brings veteran leadership from a winning culture. He has been in the league for over seven years and has played on two of the Mets’ division rivals. He was part of the Phillies’ 2007 team that miraculously overtook the Mets with 17 games to play and won the NL East. He has also been with the Braves since 2011 where a winning culture exists. Bourn could be a positive influence on some of the Mets younger players.
If the Mets can keep their 1st round draft pick, it makes perfect sense to give Bourn a three-year contract even if it means spending $13M – $15M per year. After this season, both Jason Bay and Johan Santana’s contracts comes off the books. The Mets will have more financial flexibility so they can afford to backload this contract. It is imperative to be strong up the middle, and Bourn would certainly help achieve that goal.
The case against Michael Bourn.
The Mets have decided to rebuild their entire franchise through the development of young players in their own farm system. They have accumulated prospects by trading established players such as Carlos Beltran and R.A. Dickey. They have stopped handing out lucrative long-term contracts that would leave them financially strapped. They have accepted that they are not winning anything right now as they continue to develop their young talent together. Signing Michael Bourn goes against all of those philosophies.
Bourn is a nice player, but he is certainly not worth $12M – $15M per year. He brings very specific and limited talents to the table. Sure he can steal 40-50 bases per year, but he has a hard enough time getting on base. He drew 70 walks in 2012 which was a career high, but he also struck out 155 times. That is not what you want from your leadoff hitter. The Mets will need to manufacture runs and play small ball in order to have any success. It won’t do them any good to have a fast leadoff hitter without plate discipline.
At 30 years old, Bourn is in the prime of his career. But for someone who relies so heavily on his legs and speed to be effective, his window of premier effectiveness is quickly dwindling. It is no secret that players lose speed as they get older. As time goes on and Bourn ever so slightly reduces his stolen base attempts or loses a fraction of a second in his acceleration speed, how valuable will he really be?
The fact is that Bourn is a marginal player. He has never topped 100 runs scored or hit .300 for an entire season. Granted numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but they do emphasize when a player is completely overhyped and overpriced. For where the Mets are right now, they are better suited spending $13M – $15M per year in other areas of the roster.
Most importantly, if the Mets are forced to give up the 11th overall pick in the draft, then under no circumstances should they even entertain the thought of signing Bourn. They “earned” that draft pick with a miserable season. After seeing what the Tampa Bay Rays did with their draft picks after years of futility, the Mets should heed the lesson and focus on building their system in a similar fashion.
The Verdict: the Mets should only sign Michael Bourn if they can keep their 11th overall draft pick and get him at a price tag under $13M per year for a maximum of three years.