Is draft-pick compensation limiting Michael Bourn market?
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No player has been more enigmatic this offseason than free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn. Making the National League All-Star team twice since 2010, while also leading Major League Baseball in stolen bases in 2011, one would think that Bourn would have found a home by now.
With position players scheduled to report to spring training in a little more than a month, several questions concerning Bourn remain. For instance, why has it been so difficult for Bourn to land a job? How does he compare to players at his position? Finally, where would Bourn realistically fit and why?
First and foremost, the obvious reason Bourn has yet to find a gig has to do with something called draft-pick compensation. As Anthony Witrado reported, Bourn is hitched to draft-pick compensation because he declined a qualifying offer of $13.3 million from the Atlanta Braves. The club that signs Bourn will forfeit its first-round draft pick in next year’s MLB draft while also paying Bourn a salary of extravagant proportions.
Revolutionary changes in MLB’s amateur draft have had unintended consequences, and several players, such as Bourn, are reeling from the side effects. Because of the draft-pick compensation rule, it is plausible that Bourn might not find a home until February, days before spring training opens for position players. Then again, with the breaking news of fellow qualifying offer denier Adam LaRoche coming to terms with the Washington Nationals, the dominoes may begin to fall, and teams may be more prepared to deal with the loss of a first-round draft pick by signing Bourn.
Bourn is clearly an elite base stealer. In 2011, he led the majors in stolen bases. Last season, his 42 swiped bases was second to Mike Trout (49). Following Bourn, within his position, was Ben Revere with 40, and Shane Victorino and Coco Crisp with 39. Since 2008, Bourn has averaged 51.4 stolen bases. Although, Bourn’s 42 steals in 2012 was his lowest total since becoming an everyday player with Houston in 2008 when he tallied 41.
In terms of batting average, Bourn was tied at 27th overall in MLB with Pittsburgh’s Garret Jones with a .274 average in 2012. Only four other outfielders who had 30 or more stolen bases hit for a higher average than Bourn last season. The list includes Trout, Ryan Braun, Revere, and Norichika Aoki.
More importantly, Bourn’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was elite in 2012. For those unfamiliar, WAR is simply a metric used to measure a player’s overall contribution to his team in a single season within one statistic. In 2012, Bourn’s WAR of 6.4 was the fifth highest in all of MLB among outfielders. Below is a ranking of the outfielders with the highest WAR:
- Mike Trout (Angels) — 10.0
- Ryan Braun (Brewers) — 7.9
- Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) — 7.4
- Jason Heyward (Braves) — 6.6
- Michael Bourn (Braves) — 6.4
- Martin Prado (Braves) — 5.9
- Ben Zobrist (Rays) — 5.9
- Alex Gordon (Royals) — 5.9
- Austin Jackson (Tigers) — 5.5
- Torii Hunter (Angels) — 5.3
By metric standards, a WAR of 4-5 equates to an all-star caliber player, while 5-6 is usually attributed to a superstar, and 6 or more is most valuable player territory. The question thus remains: Was Bourn’s 2012 performance then MVP worthy? One would imagine that even the biggest Atlanta Braves homer would have a difficult time trying to justify such a position. While Bourn did produce overall with more home runs, RBI and runs than at any point prior up until 2009, his average and stolen bases dipped, and his WAR of 6.4 attained a peak which may never reach again.
As compared to other players within his position, what Bourn lacks in power as compared to Trout, Braun and McCutchen, he makes up for in manufacturing production elsewhere. Then again, at 29 years of age, he may be approaching the downside of a career where he has made money with his legs. The risk and reward of losing a first-round selection for a 29-year-old base stealer, who has never hit better than .294 and may have peaked out, remains a tumultuous subject.
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