Following today’s news of the Atlanta Braves acquiring two-time All-Star Justin Upton, it was revealed today that while the Mets have “legitimate” interest in free-agent center fielder Michael Bourn, the organization is lobbying MLB to protect their 2013 first-round draft pick. It has been greatly debated by Mets fans whether signing Bourn is worth the risk. As we all know, he will serve as an immediate upgrade to what can be currently viewed as one of the worst outfields in the National League, but as is the case with any free-agent signing, every front office must first evaluate the pros and cons of any potential signing.
For starters, Bourn is currently represented by super-agent Scott Boras. While Boras originally had been looking for a deal similar to what B.J. Upton signed for — five-years worth $75 million — it is still unknown whether those demands have been lowered. While the price tag may be an issue for general manager Sandy Alderson, another issue may prove to be the deciding factor in offering a multi-year contract to Bourn.
Sept 12, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Bourn (24) makes a diving catch of ball hit by Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Logan Schafer (not pictured) in the fourth inning at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
As provided by the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, if an organization signs a free-agent, that club must surrender their first-round pick as compensation to the athlete’s former team (if player was offered a qualifying one-year offer worth the average annual value of last year’s top 125 free agents and declined). That average value of contracts given to free-agents a year ago was $13.3 million. Back in November 2012, the Braves did just that and offered Bourn a qualifying one-year offer worth $13.3 million. He quickly declined and because of that the Braves are now subject to receive a first-round draft pick from the team he chooses to sign with as compensation. However, the first top ten draft picks are known as “protected,” meaning those — first ten— clubs would be subject to instead give up their second round pick. Unfortunately, the Mets currently stand to have the 11th overall pick — which is unprotected — in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
Despite the Mets having to give up their first-round pick to the Braves, if they choose to sign Bourn, Anderson is currently trying to plead a case to Major League Baseball in which, if ruled in his favor the Mets would have their first-round pick protected. In the current draft order the Pittsburgh Pirates hold the ninth overall — protected — pick. But they only find themselves in that position because the Pirates failed to sign their 2012 first-round draft pick, Mark Appel. The way the Major League Baseball draft order is determined is by a win-loss perspective. Statistically speaking, the Mets’ 2012 record of 74-88 puts them in the top ten protected category in this year’s upcoming draft. But, because the Pirates did not sign their 2012 draft pick, Major League Baseball issued Pittsburgh a first-round protected pick as compensation, despite finishing with a better record — 79-83 — than the Mets.
Now let me list all of the reasons signing Bourn makes sense.
Bourn will give the Mets much needed leadership in a young, unexperienced outfield
- According to ESPN.com’s Mets’ depth chart, their current starting outfield consists of Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter. Nieuwenhuis and Baxter are far from being everyday outfielders, and Duda is a natural first baseman who has yet shown complete comfort in the outfield. Bourn, a two-time All-Star and a two-time gold glove winner — in 2009, 2010 — is a veteran who still has the ability to cover plenty of ground in center field. It has been said the Mets will rely heavily on strong pitching moving forward. While this is fine, I am a firm believer that defense and pitching compliment each other perfectly. Bourn’s well-above average defense can ease the workload off of the other outfielders, as seen when Carlos Beltran controlled center field in his earlier years as a member of the Mets.
Bourn is familiar with the National League East
- Bourn, 30, was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the fourth round of the 2003 amateur draft. Bourn spent two seasons with the Phillies before being traded to the Houston Astros, in a deal for closer Brad Lidge. After spending four successful seasons with the Houston Astros — in which he compiled a batting average of .271 with 193 stolen bases — Bourn was traded yet again, this time to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for four players. Since the 2011 trading deadline, Bourn has been a key piece in the Braves recent success. In 208 games played as a member of the Braves, Bourn tallied up 64 stolen bases to along an OBP of .341.
Bourn fits perfectly into the Mets lineup as a leadoff hitter
- After Jose Reyes signed with the Miami Marlins, it left a huge void in the team’s lineup. Without Reyes, the Mets lacked speed and production from the leadoff spot, as the Mets ranked 15th — 79 stolen bases — as a team in 2012. Bourn alone stole 42 bases for the Braves last season. Although it is a significant drop from his 2011 production— 61 stolen bases — Bourn’s ability to hit in the leadoff spot with his current speed will greatly boost the Mets’ lineup from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. Having Bourn atop a lineup that should project to include Wright, Davis, d’Arnaud — at some point in the season — definitely shows promise for the immediate future.
Significant amount of money coming off payroll after 2013 & lack of possible intriguing 2014 free-agents
- It has been well documented of the payroll flexibility the organization will be receiving after the 2013 season. With over $45 million in total salary — Santana, Bay, Francisco among other contracts — coming off the books, the Mets will be in a position to sign top-tier free-agents, if Alderson decides to go in that direction. Problem is, as far as the projected 2014 free-agent outfield class goes, it seems to be a relatively weak class. Of the projected upcoming free-agents, only Hunter Pence, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo stand out, at least in my opinion. Ellsbury may be seen as a intriguing option, however he has a history of injuries. Both he and Choo are represented by Scott Boras. So either way, the Mets are going to need to spend some significant amount of money, whether that is now or later, if they view these two players as future options.
As a fan, I can most certainly understand why some are wary of the Mets signing Bourn. However, given the current needs of the Mets’ roster — speed and defense — it does make sense to plug Bourn in with the young and unexperienced outfielders the Mets currently have. It will be interesting to see whether MLB supports the Mets in keeping their first-round pick, as I feel Alderson has a strong point with believing the Mets should have that pick protected, which will make the decision easier to sign Bourn. If Bourn and Boras are willing to agree to terms on a three-year deal worth approximately $35-45 million, with even a possible fourth year option, the Mets should get their man to prove to the fan base a plan is in fact in place and that the front office has no intention on “punting” the 2013 season.