Bourn to Lose

Michael Bourn as a New York Met?
Michael Bourn as a New York Met?

What were once whispers that the Mets might be interested in free agent center fielder Michael Bourn have developed into a loud drum beat. There are two hang ups that seem to be keeping the Mets from locking up Bourn. The first is that they are unwilling to pay him $15 million a year and second, since Bourn is a Type A Free Agent who was offered a qualifying offer by the Braves, the Mets would lose their draft pick, 11th overall, for signing him.

Letting people think they are seriously going after Bourn is a good idea for the Mets. It helps them win the war of the sports covers in a winter where the Yankees were doling out one year contracts to guys who were All-Stars when I was in high school and were outbid by the Pirates for Russell Martin’s services. It’s also tells fans that ownership and the front office are interested in fielding a better team.

Actually inking Bourn to a three-year or, worse yet, a four-year deal, would be a disaster for the Mets. It sets back any effort to gauge what their outfield prospects can do, puts into stark relief the way the team handled the R.A. Dickey contract negotiation and subsequent trade to the Blue Jays and hampers the Mets ability to spend money if they become competitive in the next few years.

The problem is that the Mets weren’t very good last year and outside of David Wright, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy and a possibly more consistent Lucas Duda, this doesn’t look like a very good team on offense for 2013. The Mets won 74 games last year, 77 in 2011, and 79 in 2010. Last year, their run differential was -59.

Without Bourn, the Mets would open the season with Ruben Tejada leading off and a platoon of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill in centerfield. With Bourn, Tejada would slide to second in the lineup and the platoon would be relegated to the bench. There is no doubt that in the short term, this would be an improvement for the team’s offense.

But, by blocking Nieuwenhuis and Cowgill, two guys who have yet to play a full season in the majors and are 25 and 26 respectively, for a guy on the wrong side of 30 who gets most of his value from his speed, the Mets could be doing some long term damage. In three minor league seasons, Nieuwenhuis put up consistently solid numbers. In 282 at-bats with the Mets last year, he had a slash line of .252/.315/.376. Cowgill has put up less impressive numbers but has always shown pop and speed. When Bourn was 25 and with the Astros in 2008, his full season slash line .229/.288/.300. This isn’t to say Nieuwenhuis will become a Bourn type player, but if Houston had gone out and got a new center fielder, they would have missed out on his 2009 season where he went .285/.354/.384.

Bourn is 30 years old. Any multi-year deal will be paying him mostly for what he has already done. Not what he will do in a New York uniform. In 2011, Bourn led the league in steals with 60 and in caught stealing with 14. In 2012, his steals dropped to 42 but he still led the league in caught stealing with 13. On top of that, he strikes out in bunches with 140 in 2009 and 2011 and 155 in 2012. As his legs get older, his batting average will continue to drop as his loss in speed negatively impacts his batting average on balls in play.

Photo via CBC
Photo via CBC

At the last home game of the 2012 season, R.A. Dickey won his 20th game of the year. Just two months later, Dickey was traded away to the Blue Jays for a package of players headlined by catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud. The Mets traded away Dickey weeks after he won the Cy Young Award because they were unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension that would have covered the 2014 and 2015 seasons, seasons where Dickey will be 39 and 40. It wasn’t that the Mets were unwilling to extend Dickey, it was just that the sides were $5 million dollars apart. Over two years.

While they may not go as high up as $15 million a year for Bourn, they will have to go north of $10 million a year to make him a Met. Bourn isn’t a necessity for a team that isn’t going to be competitive for a few years. But Dickey, even if he didn’t replicate his 2012 form and in a winter where a pitcher like Jeremy Guthrie was signed to a three-year, $25 million deal, is a necessity. A team like the San Francisco Giants won with great pitching in the starting rotation and bullpen and an offense that didn’t overpower you outside of a few guys.

Before the trade, the Mets would have entered 2013 with a starting rotation of Dickey, Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Johan Santana and the possibility of uber-prospect Zach Wheeler at some point. Without Dickey, that rotation looks a lot less imposing as the Mets will need to lean even more so on Santana who faded post no-hitter and Dillon Gee who is working his way back from a serious season-ending injury last year.

The Mets let Jose Reyes walk, ostensibly because of their financial limitations, given their connection to the Madoff scandal and diminishing attendance. They haven’t been good in several years, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With young pitching prospects and d’Arnaud and others, the Mets could have a competitive team in an NL East that looks stacked with the Nationals and Braves leading the charge, thanks to the second wild card playoff spot. In two or three years, a Mets team that is in the hunt for the playoffs will have Bourn’s sizable contract on the books. They will be paying a high price for diminishing returns if Bourn’s contract hampers their ability to improve the team with an in-season deal or off-season acquisition.

Michael Bourn is a good player. The Mets aren’t a good team. But Bourn will age and get worse. And the Mets will mature and become a better team that could get into the playoffs. Signing Bourn won’t help in that effort.

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7 thoughts on “Bourn to Lose”

  1. This does not address the total unlikelihood that either Nieuwenhuis or Cowgill will ever develop into anything close to Bourne defensively or come anywhere close to matching his value on the bases. If all they can ever do is match his bat alone (they probably can) they are going to be far less valuable overall than him. The rest of the argument against signing Bourne I get, but I am not going to shed too many tears about blocking these guys as starters – if I am the Mets I am making the decision on the basis of whether Bourne will continue to have similar value to his 2012 season for the length of the contract he is willing to accept.

  2. It’s hard to know where to start, there’s so much wrong with this post. First, I don’t believe the Mets are unwilling to spent the $14-$15 million per year for Bourn, nor are they likely to lose their #11 pick. The spait of rumors concerning the Mets interest in Bourn are real and more than just a P.R. move, for which I and most Met fans are very glad. The platoon of Nieuwenhuis/Cowgill is not likely to be blocked at all. They will just shift over to right field. Baxter and Brown (or Byrd) will be on the bench. The only prospect who may be affected is den Dekker, who can certainly use the added time at AAA to advantage. Lagares and Puello would likely not have made the parent club out of spring training anyway.

    There’s little reason to think that Bourn’s legs at 32, when a 3 year deal would conclude, will be unsound. Moreover, if one of the Mets outfield prospects appears to be equal to or an upgrade from Bourn, (not necessarily a very high probability) the Mets will get a fine return for him in trade. Meanwhile, he gives the Mets an excellent leadoff hitter and gold glove center fielder, major unfilled needs of theirs for years. Moreover, Bourn will probably be the Mets best option as a leadoff hitter in 2014 and 2015, when, as you say, the Mets mature and are ready to make a playoff bid. Bourn therefore, definitely will help in that effort.

    Anyone who thinks the Dickey trade was made because the FO was unwilling to go that extra $5 million is naive or foolish. That trade wasn’t aboout the money at all. They did it to upgrade the team and build for the future. Obtaining a future all star catcher and a likely #2 starter, as well as a high upside young prospect, was a major coup. Signing Marcum to replace Dickey in the rotation was also a smart move. Marcum is a quality starter who could contribute 12 to 14 wins, and with Harvey winning at least 10 more games than the 3 he won last year, the rotation should easily make up the 20 wins that left with R.A. Santana, Marcum, Niese, Harvey and Gee (with Wheeler waiting in the wings) is a strong rotation, possibly stronger than last year’s.

    Lastly, you missed the boat on the Reyes departure also. The FO was willing to resign Reyes to a reasonable long term deal. What he got from Miami was not that, and the FO was wise not to match it, or to chase Reyes. Jose is another player whose game is dependent on his legs. You are complaining about a possible 3 year/$45 million deal for Bourn. How would 6 years/$106 million with a 7th year option sound?

  3. To be honest, I am only interested in Bourne if he won’t cost the Mets their first-round pick. That said, I can’t agree with your reasoning for not pursuing him.

    I think this team is closer to competing than you make out, like 2014 close. There is nothing wrong with the infield and if the hyped kids turn out to be real, they will be solid behind the plate and in the starting rotation (with Johan at the back-end in 2014, if he isn’t traded before the end of 2013).

    Bullpens and benches are always a work in progress; that leaves the outfield. With nothing expected to be on the market next off-season, why not take on Bourne. He is a solid CF on a team who doesn’t have a true major league outfielder on its roster. Neither Neiuwenhuis nor Cowgill are going to end-up being stars, and along with Duda, the Mets will have 3-guys vying for 2-positions.

    A multi-year low-teens offer to Bourne isn’t going to hurt the Mets payroll in 2014. The only real money in the payroll (aside from David Wright’s) belongs to Johan Santana and Jason Bay. Both come off at the end of 2014, and as mentioned, if Johan is having a good 2013, he is likely to be traded this year.

    Last point, I don’t understand where you are going with your comments about R.A. Dickey. Sandy’s position on that one all along was to find a good trade. If he couldn’t he would sign R.A.; he found one and pulled the trigger. If it had turned out Toronto was unwilling to part with D’Arnaud and Syndergaard, R.A. would still be a Met. Instead, Sandy got his catcher of the future, and the next coming of Zach Wheeler. Both D’Arnaud and Wheeler are likely to arrive in Flushing this May, while Syndergaard probably makes his first appearance in late 2014 (at best).

    All that puts the Mets in good position for 2014 and great position for 2015… even with Bourne as a veteran in CF. At that point the real money can be spent on a corner outfielder and potentially a closer (if they finally give up on Parnell in that role).

    So, although he is in no way a savior, I don’t buy into your argument about Bourne being a “disaster” for the Mets. Especially, if they can get him for less than the $15MM he’s seeking.

    1. One more quick thing… my comment about the money Santana and Bay coming off in 2014 is incorrect. Almost all of it comes off after 2013 (Santana’s 2014 season is a Club Option they will most certainly not take; and Bay’s money is broken down as $18MM in 2013 and $3MM in 2014). So, the Mets have a $41MM coming off the books at the end of 2013; that is half the current payroll. There is plenty of room to add what is needed starting next off season 2014, with or without Bourn.

  4. Do you really think that the Mets were unwilling to extend Dickey because of money? They traded him because they thought that they would get more value out of a package of prospects instead of a pitcher who would be in his 40′s by the time they plan on being serious contenders.

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