Ranking the 6 Top Destinations for Michael Bourn Next Season
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Michael Bourn figures to be one of the most popular free-agent targets this offseason. Plenty of teams need a quality center fielder, and Bourn is having the best season of his seven-year major league career.
As of Aug. 17, Bourn is batting .290/.350/.425 with nine home runs, 22 doubles, nine triples, 51 RBI and 31 stolen bases in 547 plate appearances. He has also played excellent defense in center field. Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating places him as the best defender at that position in baseball. No one has more defensive runs saved in center field than Bourn's 15.
Bourn has been everything the Atlanta Braves could have hoped for since acquiring him from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline last season. Yet according to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, the Braves don't believe they can re-sign him as they haven't had good luck dealing with Scott Boras' clients.
So where will Bourn play next season? Which teams will go after him hard in free agency? Here are six teams that have the greatest need for him and will give him the five- to six-year deal worth $15 million per season that the Atlanta Journal Constitution's David O'Brien believes he'll pursue.
1. Washington Nationals
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has pursued a center fielder for years.
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According to ESPN's Buster Olney (Insider access required), a major league executive joked with him that the most inevitable signing this offseason will be Bourn going to the Nationals.
The Nats have been looking for a center fielder for years. It's basically the worst-kept secret in baseball, as they've chased Denard Span and B.J. Upton during the past couple of seasons.
Bourn will almost certainly be the team's top free-agent target and projects to fit in nicely between Bryce Harper in left field and Jayson Werth in right.
With Bourn, the Nats will also have the leadoff hitter they've lacked this season. Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi have been miscast in the role all year, but manager Davey Johnson doesn't have any better options.
However, with a true leadoff man to get on base in front of the Nats' big bats next season, they'll score many more runs and can be a far stronger team.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. needs a center fielder for next season.
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If the Nationals are the inevitable destination for Bourn, the Phillies have to be a very close second.
Philadelphia traded Shane Victorino because it wants an upgrade in center field. General manager Ruben Amaro wasn't able to get a young center fielder at the trade deadline and has since stated publicly that outfielders will be his top priority in the offseason.
The Phillies are already familiar with Bourn as he came up through their minor league system. He was traded to Houston in 2007 in a package for Brad Lidge.
CSN Philly's Corey Seidman doesn't think Bourn will get $15 million per season, but could fetch at least a five-year deal worth $13 million a year. Amaro traded Hunter Pence to save $14 million that could go toward signing Bourn and also shed Victorino and Joe Blanton from next year's payroll.
But the Phillies are also concerned about staying under the luxury tax threshold. Can they sign Bourn, fill the other holes on the roster and accomplish that objective?
3. Texas Rangers
Will Josh Hamilton return to the Texas Rangers next year?
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Re-signing Josh Hamilton will surely be the Rangers' top offseason priority.
But what if another team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles swoop in with a big offer? The Rangers might be willing to let him walk with doubts about his durability and off-field discipline.
Texas native Bourn would be a defensive upgrade over Hamilton in center field and provide the lineup with a true leadoff hitter. With Bourn at the top of the order, Ian Kinsler could be moved down in the order to give the Rangers a run-producing bat in the middle of their lineup to replace Hamilton.
4. San Francisco Giants
Has Melky Cabrera ruined his future with the Giants?
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Melky Cabrera's 50-game PED suspension puts his future with the Giants in doubt.
That could present the Giants with an opportunity to re-sign Cabrera for a much lower salary than he would have gotten before testing positive for testosterone.
But San Francisco might decide to move on instead. With Cabrera and Angel Pagan set for free agency, there would certainly be an opening in center field. Whatever the front office may have been projecting to pay Cabrera can now be directed toward Bourn.
As with every other team on this list, Bourn would also provide a much-needed leadoff hitter that could get on base, steal some bases and be a run-scoring threat in front of Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.
5. Cincinnati Reds
Can the Reds upgrade in center field over Drew Stubbs?
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Perhaps the Reds can win the NL Central and World Series this season without a true leadoff hitter, but that remains the biggest hole in an otherwise strong lineup.
Cincinnati already has a center fielder with great speed in Drew Stubbs. But his poor batting average and ability to get on base (.228 average, .679 OPS this season) prevents him from using that speed to its best capability.
Stubbs is under club control for another three seasons and won't cost nearly as much as Bourn, so that might be a preferable option for the Reds. But a significant upgrade is available.
If the Reds can't win the National League pennant this year, they might decide to make a bigger push with a player like Bourn next season.
6. Atlanta Braves
The Braves need to re-sign Michael Bourn.
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This article is being written because the Braves reportedly won't re-sign Bourn. But until that actually happens, Atlanta has to be considered a contender for his services.
With no suitable replacement in their system, the Braves will have a need for a center fielder and leadoff hitter next season, and they already know what they'll get from Bourn.
Atlanta could pursue less costly options like Victorino, Upton or Pagan. That might allow them to use some money to get a left fielder as well, with Martin Prado moving to third base to replace the retiring Chipper Jones.
But why not just make a run at keeping Bourn, unless Boras makes it virtually impossible to keep him? Perhaps that's the whole point: The Braves don't do business well with Boras. And Bourn's price on the open market might be more than Atlanta wants to pay.
However, there's really only one position the Braves would have to throw money at next season. Bourn might as well be the fortunate recipient of that effort.
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