With the organization prepared to build around several of its younger players, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija, the news comes as a surprise—somewhat.
As I wrote about a few weeks ago, the organization is still multiple years away from serving as a playoff contender, even if only in the NL Central. And although it has a fine crop of highly-regarded prospects, none of them figure to be big-league-ready until the 2014 season at the earliest.
Therefore, it was nearly a foregone conclusion that as its top prospects neared the major leagues, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and company would begin to add pieces at the major-league level, addressing the perceived deficiencies via free-agency and small trades without sacrificing any of the strengths within their system.
However, the news that the organization would be interested in Bourn this offseason, a Scott Boras client who will likely command one of the highest free-agency contracts, comes as a surprise. Furthermore, such an acquisition also has the potential to affect several of the team’s top outfield prospects.
Hoyer, the Cubs’ general manager, had this to say in a conference call on Friday:
We do have to address our outfield and we will look to do that. We like our prospects, but when they are as far away as some of those guys are you can’t think about those guys. You have to think about your team now. There are a number of players we will be talking to over the next few weeks.
As I detailed last week in my analysis of the team’s top 10 prospects, Albert Almora has all the makings of the team’s future center fielder, but he doesn’t figure to be ready to make an impact in the major leagues until the 2015 season. While a Bourn contract could ultimately prolong his arrival as the Cubs’ everyday center fielder, it would also mean that the team would not be forced to rely on him earlier than expected and therefore not be forced to rush him through its system.
Similarly, the acquisition of Bourn would presumably move Brett Jackson off center field for good. The 24-year-old, who was long considered the Cubs’ top outfielder prospect prior to their recent drafting of Almora and signing of Cuban defector Jorge Soler, finally reached the major leagues last season after a call-up in early August.
While he drew rave reviews for his hard-nosed defense, Jackson’s lack of offensive upside poses as a legitimate concern moving forward, as the left-handed hitter fanned in 41.5 percent (59 times in 120 at-bats) of his at-bats during his big-league trial. Therefore, the signing of Bourn would allow the Cubs to offer him more time to refine his plate discipline at Triple-A while determining where exactly he fits into their long-term picture.
Regardless of how you choose to view it, the addition of Bourn, even though it may not help them in the immediate future, is a move that could pay significant dividends for the organization for many years to come.