When the 2012 season concluded and the free agency period began, Michael Bourn was considered one of the top players available—maybe the next best center fielder on the market after Josh Hamilton.
Signing an expensive player like that was not in the plans for the New York Mets and general manager Sandy Alderson this winter.
Yet the free-agent market has presented the Mets with an opportunity that Alderson could not have anticipated. Bourn and agent Scott Boras certainly didn't envision not having a contract by late January, with spring training just three weeks away.
Bourn signing with the Mets—or the Mets signing Bourn—would have seemed inconceivable nearly three months ago. But circumstances could end up bringing the two sides together. According to the New York Daily News, discussions of such a pairing are actually taking place.
But simply signing Bourn to a contract isn't that simple. If it was, he probably already would have latched on with a team and wouldn't be available for the Mets to even consider.
Certain conditions have to be put in place for Alderson and the Mets to sign Bourn. The ideal situation essentially has to be created. Here is what the Mets and Bourn need to happen before any sort of agreement can actually be worked out.
Protect the Draft Pick
Perhaps the primary reason no team has signed Bourn yet is because doing so would cost that club its first-round draft pick.
Under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, any team that makes a qualifying offer ($13.3 million for 2013) to its own free agents is entitled to a first-round selection if that player signs elsewhere. For many teams, that's too high a price to pay.
However, the Pittsburgh Pirates did not sign their 2012 first-round pick, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel. As a result, the Bucs get to select one spot below where they drafted last year. That gives Pittsburgh the ninth pick and pushes the Mets down to the 11th selection.
According to the Daily News report, the Mets are making the argument with MLB that their draft pick should be protected since it's really the No. 10 pick.
It's entirely possible that Boras is joining the Mets in trying to persuade MLB to give the Mets a break here since it would help his client.
Considering that several free agents—Bourn, Kyle Lohse, Rafael Soriano and Adam LaRoche—were hurt by the qualifying offer rules, the commissioner's office might be willing to make an exception for the Mets and Bourn.
Reduce the Price, Boras
According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Bourn and Boras are still hoping to get a five-year contract worth $15 million per season.
In other words, they want something along the lines of the five-year, $75 million deal B.J. Upton signed with the Atlanta Braves.
Considering how the market has worked out for Bourn, however, that sort of contract offer probably won't be available.
The 30-year-old outfielder is essentially the last player waiting to be picked by a team, sitting there along with the situational relievers, utility players and decrepit veterans typically looking for work at this point of the offseason.
Of course, Boras is still holding out for the best deal possible. The calendar means nothing to him. If anything, it provides affirmation. One year ago (Jan. 24), Prince Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers.
In that case, however, circumstances worked in Boras' favor. The Tigers lost Victor Martinez for the 2012 season after he suffered a knee injury during offseason workouts. They needed another hitter. Owner Mike Ilitch didn't want to settle for the likes of Vladimir Guerrero or Carlos Pena, and told general manager Dave Dombrowski to go big.
This is hardly the same situation.
For one thing, Fred Wilpon is not Ilitch. The Mets owner narrowly escaped bankruptcy less than a year ago. Alderson cut the team's payroll by more than $50 million and stated that the team likely wouldn't sign free agents to any long-term contracts so the payroll would be flexible.
It's doubtful that Bourn would get anything more than a two-year offer from the Mets. He could then try the free-agent market after the season or in 2014, hoping to score a bigger payday. That is, if his skills and performance warrant that kind of contract.
Perhaps Bourn could be talked into taking a lower offer if the Mets agreed not to extend him a qualifying offer. That might not be allowable under the current collective bargaining agreement, however. Well, at least not publicly.
But that's the sort of manipulation and subterfuge which may have to take place in order for the Mets to sign Bourn. That probably means it won't happen, as a source told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Either way, one person familiar with #Mets doubts team will meet Scott Boras' price for Bourn. "Zero chance," he said.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 24, 2013
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