Michael Bourn is the Prince Fielder of this year's free-agent market. He's a good player worth a nice contract, but there are no obvious fits for him and his list of suitors is shrinking every day.
According to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, not even the Texas Rangers and the Seattle Mariners are in the market for the speedy center fielder anymore:
Spoke with a source today who said both the Rangers and Mariners prefer power over speed as they look to add a hitter.— Mark Feinsand (@FeinsandNYDN) December 20, 2012
That means no Bourn for them, and that means Scott Boras is out there on a throne somewhere frowning at his court of minions, for surely this is all their fault.
Boras will find a home for Bourn eventually, and the contract he's bound to get for Bourn won't be a disappointment. Boras worked his magic with Fielder last year, and he'll do it this year with Bourn.
If the Rangers and Mariners are truly out of the running, however, trying to pinpoint a likely landing spot for Bourn is about as easy as finding a holiday gift for each of your in-laws.
Don't believe me? Just take a look at how messy his list of suitors is.
Neither the Boston Red Sox nor the New York Yankees are in the market for a center fielder, but both clubs should be considered to be distant possibilities for Bourn.
The Red Sox have Jacoby Ellsbury in center field and a center fielder in Shane Victorino penciled in to play right field, but their outfield could get a shakeup if Ellsbury is traded. If that happens, the Red Sox could either move Victorino to center or keep him and right and go after Bourn.
Don't count on it. Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com has heard from Boston GM Ben Cherington that Ellsbury isn't going to be moved, and it's easy to take his word for it. Ellsbury's trade value is low, and the Red Sox don't have the motivation to trade him for a starting pitcher after signing Ryan Dempster.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were marked as a potential suitor for Bourn by Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe. If they were to sign him, they would be able to trade either Curtis Granderson or Brett Gardner.
However, Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com heard there's "no chance" of the Yankees signing Bourn. He surely would be a defensive upgrade and an upgrade for the leadoff spot in their lineup, but he's too expensive for their payroll-obsessed ownership (The Boss is quaking with rage in his grave).
The Minnesota Twins could make a run at Bourn after trading both Denard Span and Ben Revere, but they don't have an excess of payroll flexibility and this is a downright awkward time for them to go after a big-name free agent. They're rebuilding more than they're "retooling," as they say.
With these three clubs lurking in the (very distant) distance, it's on to the more reasonable suitors.
Rumor has it that the Rockies are willing to trade center fielder Dexter Fowler after his breakout season in 2012. Troy Renck of The Denver Post tweeted earlier this month that Fowler could be moved for pitching, which makes sense given Colorado's eternal need for arms.
If the Rockies do trade Fowler, they'll find themselves without a center fielder and without a leadoff man. They could turn to Bourn to fill both needs.
Affording him would be the hard part. The Rockies have a modest TV deal that they're stuck with for a few more years, and they already have a lot of money tied up in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
Since Jorge De La Rosa and Todd Helton will soon be off the club's hands and the Rockies are about to have some extra national TV money to play with, they could make it work. They'd still be a dark horse, though, and this is assuming, of course, that they find a taker for Fowler first.
There are more realistic options out there.
New York Mets
Take one look at the Mets' outfield, and the first thought that should pop into your head is: "Goodness gracious, where are the outfielders?"
Or something like that. The Mets have a very thin outfield that could use a boost, and they would do well to acquire a defensive-minded center fielder who could handle Citi Field's expansive outfield.
Bourn is perfectly suited to the task, and he could also shore up a leadoff spot that produced a mere .677 OPS in 2012.
However, who knows how much money the Mets have to spend? They have a little over $70 million in salaries committed for 2013 after operating with a payroll around $90 million in 2012. That leaves very little room for Bourn.
Besides, David Wright's extension may be the only long-term contract that team owner Fred Wilpon can afford. Boras and Bourn are better off turning to clubs that are more likely to break the bank.
With Ryan Ludwick in left, Shin-Soo Choo in center and Jay Bruce and right, the Reds have a pretty solid outfield lined up for 2013.
It's just too bad they don't have a true center fielder.
The plan is to go with Choo in center, but he's logged a total of 10 games in center field in his major league career. Bruce could slide over to center if need be, but he also lacks experience in center.
The Reds kicked the tires on Bourn before acquiring Choo, but GM Walt Jocketty told Mark Sheldon of MLB.com that Bourn's asking price would have to "really fall."
Jocketty may just get his wish if Bourn goes unclaimed long enough, and he could go after Bourn as the final piece of the Reds' championship puzzle (which already looks complete enough). They would have an excess of outfielders if they were to sign him, but that's not a bad problem to have.
But since Boras is very unlikely to allow Bourn's price tag to fall, Cincinnati is only slightly more realistic than Flushing.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have been quiet since re-upping with Jake Peavy early in the offseason, but there's definitely some action going on behind the scenes.
A couple weeks ago, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reported that the White Sox have discussed deals involving left fielder Dayan Viciedo and center fielder Alejandro De Aza. If they were to trade De Aza, they'd suddenly be in the market for a center fielder and a leadoff man.
Signing Bourn would help the White Sox catch up with the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central arms race, but acquiring him would require the White Sox to up their payroll close to where it was in 2011 at roughly $130 million.
If the White Sox figure the addition of Bourn would give them a chance to steal the division title from the Tigers, it could happen. They don't stick out as a big-spending team, but you can never rule out them doing something unexpected so long as Kenny Williams is running the show.
If the White Sox hold on to De Aza, maybe Bourn could head elsewhere in the AL Central.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals are clearly looking to contend in 2013 after re-shaping their rotation, but their roster doesn't come close to measuring up against Detroit's in regards to talent.
Signing Bourn would help the Royals close the gap. His glove would certainly help the club's remodeled rotation find success consistently, and having him in the leadoff spot would make the club's lineup much deeper.
The complicated part, as you can probably guess, is the money. The Royals have never had a payroll higher than $75 million, and they already have close to $70 million committed for 2013. If they sign Bourn to a multi-year deal, they'd be in uncharted territory in regards to their payroll.
The Royals may not be willing to roll that particular set of dice. And if they don't, perhaps Bourn could return to the place from whence he came.
The Braves signed B.J. Upton to take Bourn's place in center field, and they may not have that much more money to throw around after handing him a $75 million contract.
Nonetheless, the Braves still have a need for an upgrade in left field. One thing they could do is re-up with Bourn and then move Upton to left, with Martin Prado moving to the hot corner.
This arrangement would give the Braves a very good defense, and keeping Bourn would allow them to avoid using Upton as their leadoff man. His power and aggressive style are better off lower in the order.
The Braves wouldn't seem to have the money to make this work, but they might. They've operated with a payroll over $90 million each of the last two years, and right now they have less than $60 million in salaries committed for 2013. They have several expensive players coming off the books next winter.
If an NL East team is going to go all-out to sign Bourn, however, it will probably be the one in Philadelphia.
The Phillies seemed to be the top suitor for Bourn once upon a time, but then they traded for Ben Revere. His skill set is similar to Bourn's, and he's a lot cheaper.
...But the Phillies may not be done adding to their outfield just yet. Ruben Amaro hinted to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com on Thursday that they're still looking:
phillies gm amaro on top free agent OFs: "we feel like the demands are north of where we want to be.'' eying trades too— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 20, 2012
Granted, the fact that Amaro is wary of the prices for free-agent outfielders would seem to take the Phillies out of the market for Bourn. He could be the most expensive outfielder still out there.
But hey, these are the Phillies we're talking about. Amaro loves the big deal, and he may go for one here if he likes the idea of having an outfield with two speedy center fielders in it.
If ownership doesn't let Amaro go for Bourn, he may look to team up with the club on the north side of Chicago.
The Cubs didn't end up signing Anibal Sanchez, but the fact that they made a spirited effort to sign him suggests that they're willing to speed up their rebuild with a major free-agent signing.
Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com reported in November that the Cubs have discussed Bourn, and the noticeable lack of interested parties could be their excuse to swoop in and grab him.
Where things would get complicated is what would become of Brett Jackson. He's ready for a shot to be an everyday player in the majors, but he would be blocked if the Cubs were to sign Bourn. The Cubs could move Jackson to left or right, but they have a good value contract in right (David DeJesus) and an immovable contract in left (Alfonso Soriano).
Nonetheless, the Jackson dilemma probably wouldn't stop the Cubs from signing Bourn if the price is right. It's not like they have to worry about that one team out in Los Angeles escalating the price beyond their reach.
...Or do they?
Los Angeles Dodgers
With Carl Crawford in left, Matt Kemp and center and Andre Ethier in right, the Dodgers have one of the top outfields in the National League.
Nonetheless, they may think they can do better. Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has reported that Ethier is on the block, and that the Dodgers could target either Bourn or Nick Swisher after trading him.
Bourn would be the more likely acquisition. The Dodgers could play him in center and move Kemp to right to help keep his legs fresh, and Bourn would also be the stud leadoff man that the Dodgers' offense currently lacks.
Ethier would have to be traded and Kemp would have to agree to a move in order for Bourn to end up in Los Angeles, so this idea is far from a slam dunk. But since the Dodgers have made it clear that anything they want to happen will happen, they'll find a way to get Bourn if they want him bad enough.
They're the new Yankees, folks. Get used to it.
Final Thoughts and Best Bet
The Dodgers would be the easy favorite for Bourn if they had an opening in their outfield. But since they have to trade Ethier to clear space for Bourn, they can't be considered the favorite to sign him so long as there are clubs that have clear openings for Bourn.
To this end, I have my eye on the Phillies.
Yes, they have Ben Revere and their payroll is big enough as is. But moving Revere to either left of right field wouldn't be a problem, and the Phillies could ramp up their pursuit of Bourn if they think signing him would put them on the same level as the Washington Nationals.
After all this, though, there's one very likely suitor for Bourn that we haven't discussed yet.
And that's the mystery team. There's always at least one out there, and you get the sense that a mystery team is going to end up with Bourn in the end. Just like how Prince Fielder ended up with the Tigers last year and Josh Hamilton ended up with the Angels this year.
Because the list of clear possibilities for Bourn (above) doesn't feature any obvious fits, a mystery team is Boras' and Bourn's best bet for a multi-year deal. In the event that no mystery team comes forward with a multi-year deal, the best thing for Bourn to do may be to just accept a one-year contract and to try his luck again next winter.
And let's face it. That's not happening.
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