Pitchers and catchers will begin reporting to spring training on February 11, yet top free agent Michael Bourn has yet to find a home.
Agent Scott Boras has said all offseason that he is looking for a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $75 million for the All-Star center fielder. Teams that may have been interested in Bourn, such as the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies have already filled their open positions through free-agent signings or the trade market.
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The market for Bourn has appeared to dwindle, and the likelihood he will sign a Boras-desired contract is shrinking with each passing day.
The Tampa Bay Rays are going into the 2013 season with a combination of Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer manning the outfield. With the inevitable call-up of uber-prospect Wil Myers to take a corner outfield spot, Tampa Bay does not seem like an ideal landing spot for the speedy, 30-year-old Bourn. However, if you look at the economics in play, a one-year deal with Bourn might be a smart move for both sides,
Currently, the Rays hold the 23rd and 30th picks in the 2013 draft. By signing Bourn, the Rays would have to give up their 23rd pick as compensation, which really should not scare the club off.
It is already a forgone conclusion that Myers will not be called up to the show until early May, as the Rays love to control the free agency clock on all of their young players.
To sign Bourn, the Rays would have to theoretically give the center fielder a contract between $12-$13 million for a one-year deal. As it stands right now, the Rays have a payroll just over $51 million, about $12 million less than what they started last season with. Therefore, the addition of Bourn would let Tampa stand pat with where they were last season. Also, the Rays would not have to worry about committing long-term to a player on the wrong side of 30 who relies on his speed as his biggest asset.
By signing Bourn, the Rays could start the season with an outfield of Jennings in left, Bourn in center and Zobrist in right. This will allow Kelly Johnson to be the full-time second baseman, and Joyce will slide into the DH spot at the start of the year.
Once Myers is called up in early May, the Rays could shift Zobrist to second base, move Myers to right , and then Johnson and Joyce can platoon at the DH spot. This gives the Rays a strong defensive line-up, and they would be able to utilize match-ups in true Joe Maddon fashion.
While this seems all fine and dandy on the Rays’ end, what incentive would Bourn have to play in St. Pete?
The most obvious answer is Michael Bourn would have a job. If spring training starts with the center fielder out of work, his leverage will be reduced to almost zero.
Secondly, Bourn would play in a style of offense tailored to his strengths. It’s no secret that Maddon loves to play small ball and let his players race around the base paths. By having players like Jennings, Evan Longoria and Zobrist hitting behind him, he’ll have a good chance of racking up some stolen bases and scoring a large amount of runs.
Depending on how the season unfolds for Tampa Bay, the Rays could go in a couple different directions should they sign Bourn.
One option for Tampa would be to flip the center fielder to a contending team to help stockpile its always strong farm system, should they find themselves outside of the playoff hunt at the deadline.
If the Rays are in the thick of the playoff hunt, they could hold on to Bourn and offer him arbitration at the end of the season with the near guarantee he will not accept. Chances are good Bourn would qualify for draft-pick compensation, and the Rays would be able to recoup the draft pick they would give up in 2013 to sign him.
With the start of the season just on the horizon, this is a solution both the Tampa Rays and Michael Bourn should consider.