This afternoon, Buster Olney reported that the Indians could be interested in Michael Bourn if the price dropped “a lot.” Bourn, considered one of the top free agents out there this winter, still finds himself homeless with pitchers and catcher reporting in just a few days. There are likely several reasons for this – he’ll demand a large salary, and his agent happens to be Scott Boras. Plus, since the Braves made him a qualifying offer, teams risk losing their first round draft pick if they happen to ink Bourn.
One of Bourn’s primary suitors this winter has been the New York Mets. The Mets are in a unique position when it comes to draft pick compensation. The top 10 picks in the draft are protected; it’s how the Indians avoided giving up a first round pick for Nick Swisher. The Mets would be in the top 10 if it wasn’t for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since the Pirates didn’t sign Mark Appel, their first round pick last season, they jump the line into the top 10 with their compensation selection. This means that the Mets’ first pick would fall to number 11, and would not be protected under the rules in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Why did I just provide that lengthy explanation of the Mets’ draft situation? Because it may have bearing on where Bourn ends up. The Mets are exploring the possibility of signing Bourn and fighting to keep the 11th pick overall, arguing that they’re technically the tenth worst team. If the Mets believe they can get MLB to rule in their favor, they’ll probably go hard after Bourn, thus completely eliminating the Indians from contention. If they have reason to believe that they’ll still lose their first round pick, they may decide to take a pass on Bourn. As a side note, I personally don’t think they should receive any kind of special deal from MLB. If you make exceptions for one team, you’re going to have to make exceptions in pretty much every future case. It sets a bad precedence for future teams if you let the Mets hang on to their first round pick.
Normally when Boras is a player’s agent, I think to myself “oh, well that guy won’t be coming to Cleveland any time soon.” This is an opportunity where having Boras in the picture may actually benefit the Indians in any pursuit of Bourn (and notice I said “may” not “will.”) It sounds as if Boras is concerned that these qualifying offers could really hurt his clients in the future. It’s a big reason that two of his biggest clients, Bourn and Kyle Lohse, remain unsigned as of February. He may be willing to get creative in order to help these players get the best deal possible. Since the Indians wouldn’t lose a first round pick by signing Bourn, perhaps Boras could attempt to get him a one-year deal and send him back to the free agent market next winter. A team that would lose a first round pick probably would never settle for a one-year deal – if they’re going to lose the pick anyway, it might as well be for a multi-year deal. It may be worth it for a team that will lose a later pick, however. On the other side of that coin, Boras always seems to get his client a crazy awesome deal, even when it looks like nobody will be willing to offer such a deal. I fully expect a team to swoop in with a great offer in the near future.
If the Indians were to somehow, someway, manage to sign Michael Bourn, it would give them several options in the lineup and on the field. They could use Bourn, Michael Brantley, and Nick Swisher in the outfield and use Drew Stubbs as a fourth outfielder. They could rotate Swisher between the outfield, first and DH, and in turn, rotate Mark Reynolds between first and DH. Bourn is a pretty solid player that hit .274/.348/.391 with 9 home runs and a had a 6.0 WAR last season, in line with his career averages of .272/.339/.365. He doesn’t hit for a lot of power, but is fast (stole 42 bases in 2012 and 61 during two different seasons) plus Bourn is a decent defensive player. I’m a fan, and if by some miracle the Indians are able to get a bargain, they should jump on it.
Now, about the odds on that bargain…the Indians need the price to drop “a lot.” This is almost like me saying that I’d like a BMW, but only if I can find a really nice one for about $2,000. It may sound good on paper, but how likely is it that I’ll find a luxury automobile that’s in great shape, for $2,000? Even if such a deal sounded possible, someone with more money will always swoop in at the end and snag the car away from me with a full price offer. Unfortunately for the Indians, in the Bourn situation I think that full price offer will eventually come from a team like the Mets or Mariners.