Will the Rangers be the team to finally sign Michael Bourn?
Thus far into the offseason, with spring training just over a month away, the Texas Rangers haven't added an impact player.
The one difference-maker among the free-agent position players still available is outfielder Michael Bourn.
Could the Rangers and Bourn get together and make a happy coupling from what's been a relatively disappointing winter for both sides?
According to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, the Rangers haven't officially decided to make an offer to Bourn. But with him and pitcher Kyle Lohse still out there on the open market, the Texas front office is considering both free agents for its team.
Between the two players, it's more likely that the Rangers would pursue Bourn.
While their starting rotation could arguably use another arm, general manager Jon Daniels wanted to add an ace-type of pitcher. Lohse had an excellent season for the St. Louis Cardinals with a 16-3 record, 2.86 ERA and 211 innings pitched.
But with a strikeout rate of 6.1 per nine innings, he's not really the dominating presence the Rangers need at the top of their rotation.
Texas needs an outfielder to replace Josh Hamilton, who bolted for the Los Angeles Angels via free agency. Bourn won't replace Hamilton's offensive production, of course. Hamilton hit 43 home runs last season, while Bourn has hit 22 in his seven-year major league career.
The Rangers wouldn't need Bourn to replace that power, though. Between adding A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman to their lineup, Texas may have enough left-handed pop to make up for much of what they lost with Hamilton.
Bourn's game is more about speed and defense.
His 42 stolen bases are twice the total that Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler led the Rangers with last season. According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Bourn saved 22 more runs than an average center fielder would have on defense. That's a better performance than any Texas outfielder showed at that position last year.
It's worth noting that five Rangers had a better on-base percentage than Bourn's .348 mark last season. But none of those players will likely hit leadoff, unless manager Ron Washington wants to supplant Kinsler at the top of the order with Elvis Andrus, David Murphy or Craig Gentry.
However, Kinsler compiled a .326 on-base percentage and .749 OPS while showing some pop with 19 home runs. Oh, and the Rangers led MLB with 808 runs scored last season. So Washington probably isn't going to mess with a good thing unless he gets a player viewed as an upgrade.
Some might argue that the Rangers don't need Bourn. Kinsler has shown to be a capable, if somewhat unconventional leadoff hitter. Four players in the Texas lineup reached double-digit stolen base totals last season. And Gentry and Leonys Martin could be a productive platoon in center field.
Martin had the kind of season in Triple-A last year that warrants a look in the majors during the upcoming season. He hit .359 with a 1.033 OPS, 12 home runs, 42 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Yes, Martin played 55 games and totaled 260 plate appearances, but he appears to have done all he can at that level.
Yet, if the Rangers were to sign Bourn, they would have a proven commodity in the leadoff spot for the upcoming season. That would allow Washington to explore a number of possibilities with his lineup.
Kinsler could conceivably move down to the second spot, giving Texas some power near the top of the order. If the preference is to keep Andrus in the No. 2 hole, Kinsler could be pushed further down to more of a run-producing role, perhaps to the sixth spot in the batting order.
Daniels said on local sports talk radio (as transcribed by ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett) that Washington is contemplating batting Berkman third. That is, if Berkman and his dodgy right knee can stay healthy.
That likely puts Adrian Beltre in the cleanup spot, where his 30-homer power would be best suited. Nelson Cruz would probably bat fifth behind him. Then, depending on how Washington wants to mix his right- and left-handed hitters, A.J. Pierzynski and Kinsler would bat in either the sixth or seventh spots in the lineup.
From there, David Murphy and Mitch Moreland would fill out the last two slots on Washington's lineup card.
One potential hang-up with signing Bourn is that he would cost the Rangers their first-round draft pick, since the Atlanta Braves made a qualifying offer of $13.3 million before Bourn became a free agent. That's likely the primary reason Bourn is still available this late into the offseason.
However, the Rangers have the No. 25 selection in this year's MLB draft. While Texas could still get a player of value at that spot, of course, that pick isn't as vital to a contending team like the Rangers as it would be to a team picking in the middle of the first round, such as the New York Mets or Philadelphia Phillies.
Daniels surely has no interest in signing Bourn to a long-term deal. But at this point, Bourn and agent Scott Boras likely realize that the multi-year contract worth $75 million to $80 million isn't going to be offered.
It's probably better for Bourn to sign for one year, perhaps with an additional option year, and then go back into the free-agent market after the season. He still may be able to sign for a $15 million salary if a team knows it's only for one year.
The Rangers could be one of those clubs.
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