Now that Justin Upton has finally been traded, the next big-name outfielder to find a home this winter should be speedy center fielder Michael Bourn.
As for where he'll end up and when, well, your best guesses are as good as mine.
The start of spring training is getting to be a little close for comfort for Bourn and mega-agent Scott Boras. He has a knack for finding his clients the right deals even if it takes a long time, but not even Prince Fielder was still a free agent on this date last year.
However, Boras isn't one to allow desperation to get the better of him. He could lower Bourn's asking price in terms of both years and dollars to help attract more suitors, but he doesn't have to do that now that Upton is off the block. Boras knows he has the best outfielder who's immediately available, and he should know that there's business to be done with any teams that missed out on Upton.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com penned a piece about Bourn's market on Thursday that came out shortly before Upton was traded to the Atlanta Braves. In it, he set the parameters for Bourn's contract at around five years and $15 million per year, and he also provided a list of teams that could make a move for the 30-year-old outfielder.
Going off that list, here's a rundown of the usual suspects and where they stand in regard to Bourn.
Atlanta Braves: Count 'Em Out
Well, they got Upton, and now their outfield is made of 100-percent pure awesome. Upton will play left field alongside older brother B.J. in center and Jason Heyward in right field. Each of them has power and speed, and the three will combine to form an excellent defensive outfield.
If the Braves really wanted to stake their claim to the 2013 NL East title, they'd sign Bourn as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner. But since moves such as those only happen in video games and in the minds of fans who have had too much to drink, we can probably rule that out.
Besides, signing Bourn would probably put Atlanta's 2013 payroll over $100 million, and that's not the organization's comfort zone.
Texas Rangers: The Fit Is There, But Not the Willingness
We've been waiting and waiting for the Rangers to make a big move this winter. But so far, no dice. They didn't re-sign Josh Hamilton, whiffed on Zack Greinke and didn't land Upton in a trade.
According to Heyman, the Rangers hadn't even spoken to the Diamondbacks about Upton in the weeks before he was traded. That's an indication that they're not about to turn from their top choice to their second choice for their outfield, as they were cool on their top choice to begin with.
So not surprisingly, indications are that the Rangers are a no-go for Bourn. Nightengale tweeted on Thursday that the Rangers are "not involved" with Bourn, and Texas GM Jon Daniels said this week that he's "not looking at anything major."
Bourn would certainly fit well at the top of the Rangers lineup, where he would supplant the unpredictable Ian Kinsler. But most of Bourn's appeal is tied to his defense, and that's something the Rangers don't have incentive to pay for so long as Craig Gentry is in town.
Gentry is lined up to be Texas' everyday center fielder in 2013, and he'll be a Gold Glove candidate if he plays the full season. We are, after all, talking about a guy who posted a 13.7 UZR and a plus-16 DRS in only 648 innings in center field in 2012 (see FanGraphs).
The other thing Gentry did in 2012 was post a .367 OBP, higher than Bourn's .348 OBP. He could essentially be a poor man's Bourn in 2013 and beyond, in which case the Rangers would forget Bourn was ever even an option for them.
Seattle Mariners: How Desperate Are They?
You may have noticed in Nightengale's tweet that the Mariners are among the favorites for Bourn if the Rangers are indeed out of the running, and that adds up.
The Mariners have been linked to Bourn steadily throughout the offseason, and he still looks like a fit for them in center field. They could sign him and look to trade Franklin Gutierrez, and they could also stash Bourn at the top of a lineup that has gotten some power this winter.
The Mariners have about $69 million in salaries committed for 2013, and Baseball-Reference.com projects their final payroll to be about $75 million. Because their payroll was around $85 million on Opening Day last year, and because Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik has hinted the club's payroll could grow a bit this winter, it looks like the money is there for Bourn.
In addition, the Mariners should also have the right amount of desperation to follow Boras' lead. They haven't made a big move yet this winter, but they've been trying. They made a serious play for Hamilton and had an agreed-to deal for Upton get shot out of the sky by Upton himself.
Unless the Mariners hypnotize the Miami Marlins into giving up Giancarlo Stanton, signing Bourn to a big free-agent contract is their last chance to make a significant impact this offseason.
The one major thing standing in Seattle's way of signing Bourn is the fact that it would lose a high draft pick if it were to sign him. The Mariners are slated to pick just outside the top 10 at No. 12, and that's not the kind of pick a team should forfeit lightly.
So if the Mariners are going to make a play for Bourn, it will be because they're really desperate.
New York Mets: The Need and the Willingness Are There, But So Are the Obstacles
Like the Mariners, the Mets missed out on Upton. Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog.com wrote that they always liked him, but that they didn't have the pieces to make a trade work.
Also like the Mariners, the Mets could view Bourn as a fallback option. If anything, the word around the campfire this week suggests that they actually have their hearts set on acquiring him.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com tweeted on Thursday that the Mets' interest in Bourn is sincere, but that a deal for him would have to be back-loaded so as not to pile more money on top of a crowded 2013 payroll.
The bigger hurdle is Bourn's ties to draft pick compensation, but the Mets are trying to wiggle their way out of having to deal with that. John Harper of the New York Daily News reported on Wednesday that they're seeking a ruling that would allow them to surrender their second-round pick for Bourn rather than their first-round pick.
The Mets just missed out on having a protected top-10 draft pick, but they have a case for exception because they finished 2012 with one of the league's 10 worst records. The only reason they're not picking in the top 10 is because the Pittsburgh Pirates were awarded the ninth overall selection after failing to sign Mark Appel after drafting him eighth overall in the 2012 draft.
Rosenthal brought up another good point, and that's that a ruling for the Mets to surrender a second-rounder instead of a first-rounder for Bourn would increase his value. That's something Boras would pounce on, perhaps to a point where the Mets' efforts for an exception would be for naught.
The dominoes would have to fall in a very precise way for Bourn to make sense for the Mets. But since you never really know with the Mets, they may sign him even if doing so didn't make sense for them.
Tampa Bay Rays: How Big of a Long Shot Are They?
Maybe the Rays will find a couple million bucks buried beneath Tropicana Field and give Boras a call.
Sorry, I should have said "MAYBE" there.
This idea comes from ESPN's Jayson Stark, who wondered aloud last week if the Rays would make a play for Bourn to fill their need for a reliable everyday center fielder (i.e. not Sam Fuld).
I'm on record saying that I love the idea, as Bourn would combine with Desmond Jennings to form a terrific defensive outfield. He would also shore up a leadoff spot that produced a .315 OBP in 2012.
But the Rays are probably only going to be a realistic player for Bourn if he and Boras get fed up with waiting and go looking for a one-year pillow contract.
The odds of that happening were very slim to begin with, and they're more slim now that Bourn is the best outfielder still standing after the Upton trade. As soon as Boras gets a single multiyear offer, the Rays will be eliminated as a possibility for Bourn.
And this is assuming, of course, that Boras hasn't already received a multiyear offer.
Potential Mystery Teams: Hard to Find
You can never rule out the mystery team. There's always one out there, lurking and waiting to strike.
But in Bourn's case, the identities of potential mystery teams remain, well, mysterious.
The Los Angeles Angels can be counted out. They do the mystery team thing quite well, but their outfield is already stacked with Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Hamilton lined up.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are more of an option, as they could sign Bourn and then trade Andre Ethier to make way for Matt Kemp in right field. However, ESPN's Buster Olney wrote in an Insider piece earlier this month that the Dodgers plan on opening the 2013 season with Ethier in right field.
The New York Yankees were briefly linked to Bourn earlier this winter, but Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com squashed that talk in December. He said there's "no chance" of the Yankees making a play for Bourn, as doing so would compromise their payroll plans for 2014.
The Chicago Cubs talked to Bourn earlier this offseason, but their outfield has since been filled by the likes of Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston, and they also have talented prospect Brett Jackson waiting in the wings. They're probably done adding to their outfield depth chart.
The Toronto Blue Jays are an interesting team to watch, as they've made it clear that they want to win now regardless of the cost. They could sign Bourn and then look to trade Colby Rasmus.
However, the Blue Jays have already bloated their payroll much more than usual, and Bourn likely doesn't appeal to them as a potential leadoff upgrade now that they have Jose Reyes.
Heyman noted in his article that the Baltimore Orioles could swoop in and grab Bourn as an upgrade for their leadoff spot. But since they have an All-Star center fielder in Adam Jones, they probably wouldn't be willing to pay a center field price for Bourn, especially if it meant surrendering a draft pick.
The Kansas City Royals could make a play for Bourn, but their payroll has already grown beyond their usual boundaries this winter. Plus, they shouldn't want to sacrifice any draft picks, as their long-term future was damaged enough by the James Shields-Wil Myers trade.
So as far as mystery teams go, the pickings are pretty slim. The teams listed above are intriguing players, but all of them come with reasons for why they won't be signing Bourn.
But there's one last mystery team I want to mention: none other than the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Sure, their outfield is less crowded now that Upton is gone, but that's something Arizona GM Kevin Towers might not be pleased about. He could prefer to keep Gerardo Parra and Adam Eaton buried on his depth chart, as they were when the D-Backs had Cody Ross penciled in to play center and Upton penciled in to play right.
Also, the D-Backs saved some money by trading Upton to Atlanta. Towers could use some of that to sign Martin Prado to an extension, and some to sign Bourn to play center field.
It sounds like a crazy notion. But since these are Towers' D-Backs we're talking about, that's why I won't rule it out.
Note: Salary and contract info courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
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