When the offseason began, Bourn was considered one of the top position players available. He was arguably the second-best center fielder on the market after Josh Hamilton. According to FanGraphs' ultimate zone rating (UZR), he saved 22 runs more than the average player at his position.
Though considered a notch below Zack Greinke, and perhaps Anibal Sanchez, Lohse was widely viewed as one of the best starting pitchers in free agency. He went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 33 starts and 211 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals last season.
Both players have been adversely affected by receiving qualifying contract offers (for $13.3 million) from their previous teams. Under the rules of MLB's new collective bargaining agreement, any team that signs Bourn or Lohse has to give up its first-round draft pick (or second-round selection, if that club has one of the first 10 picks in the draft).
Clearly, that's too high a price to pay for players who would help any team, but not make a significant impact along the lines of a Hamilton or Greinke.
However, as MLB teams look at their rosters before reporting to spring training, a few might see an opening for a center fielder like Bourn or starting pitcher like Lohse. Those clubs will likely be hoping for a bargain with so little time left in the offseason.
Bourn and Lohse are surely also surveying the MLB landscape for the right fit. But will either player accept a short-term, less expensive contract and perhaps try the market again next year (ideally with different rules for free agency)? Or are both still holding out for the big payday and multi-year deal they hoped to sign this winter?
While the Texas Rangers have apparently decided not to pursue either player at this point, according to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, a few teams are still contemplating a move. Here are the latest rumors linked to Bourn and Lohse as the calendar quickly approaches February.
Bourn to the Mets?
The team currently attached to Bourn in MLB free agency rumors is the New York Mets.
With a projected outfield of Lucas Duda in left field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center (with Collin Cowgill playing against left-handed pitching) and Mike Baxter in right, the Mets are in need of some star power—not to mention some established run production.
Bourn would give the batting order the leadoff hitter it never really had last season. Andres Torres was tabbed for that role, but had a subpar season with a .230 average and .664 OPS. Nieuwenhuis showed promise when he filled in for Torres, but slumped badly after a strong April and May.
Perhaps most importantly, Bourn would provide excellent defense in center field. Having a center fielder with great range might be even more of a consideration with Duda—whose best position is probably first base—in left field. UZR measures Baxter as an above-average defender in right field, however.
The primary obstacle for the Mets—as with most every other MLB club—is giving up that first-round pick for signing Bourn. As it currently stands, the Mets have the No. 11 selection in the MLB draft.
But according to the New York Daily News, the team is arguing that its pick should be protected because it had one of the 10 worst records in baseball last season. The reason the Mets are picking 11th is because the Pittsburgh Pirates did not sign their 2012 first-round pick, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel.
Consequently, the Pirates get an extra first-rounder this year. (They also have the No. 14 selection.) That pick is placed one spot below where Pittsburgh drafted last year, putting them ninth and pushing the Mets down to No. 11.
Joining the Mets in their argument is the players' union, sticking up for one of its members not getting a contract because of the new rules regarding free agency. Newsday's Marc Carig reports that the union could file a grievance regardless of whether or not Bourn signs with the Mets.
To clarify, a source says the union could file a grievance re: draft pick issue, even if Mets don't agree to terms with Bourn first.— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) January 26, 2013
The draft pick is surely a deal breaker for the Mets. As the New York Post's Ken Davidoff points out, the No. 11 selection has yielded players such as Andrew McCutchen, Max Scherzer, Neil Walker and Justin Smoak over the past 10 years. The Mets absolutely need that sort of player.
Brewers Looking at Lohse?
Meanwhile, Lohse could be attracting interest from another NL Central team. According to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy, the Milwaukee Brewers could be interested, depending on the sort of contract Lohse is seeking.
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio didn't come right out and say his team was looking to sign Lohse, however. He was asked during a question-and-answer session with fans if Lohse could fit into the Brewers' plans and Attanasio said there was "always a chance."
"It’s a function of size of contract, length of contract," Attanasio said. "Kyle had a phenomenal two seasons the last two seasons. We just have to see if that fits in our overall scheme.”
Lohse would seemingly be a fit in Milwaukee, providing the club a veteran starter at the top of its rotation with Yovani Gallardo.
While the Brewers have several arms that appear ready to fill the other four spots on the starting staff—such as Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Mike Rogers and Wily Peralta—they're largely unproven.
Additionally, Lohse is familiar with NL Central lineups, having pitched with the Cardinals for five seasons and the Cincinnati Reds from 2006-07.
Losing their first-round pick—which is the No. 17 selection this year—doesn't seem to be as large a consideration for the Brewers as it might be for other teams, however. Attanasio mentioned the team's willingness to surrender young players in trades for CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke in the past. Milwaukee might do so again if it contends for a playoff spot this year.
“So, the draft pick compensation hasn’t been as big an item for us in looking at this as it’s been for other teams," said Attanasio. "We’ve got the No. 17 pick. We’ve done some good things with that level of pick, but I’m mindful that we drafted Ryan Braun No. 5 and Prince Fielder No. 7 and Rickie Weeks No. 2.”
One more team that could give Lohse a look is the Seattle Mariners.
Like the Brewers, Seattle could use another veteran starter at the top of its rotation. Felix Hernandez is really the only proven commodity on the Mariners' starting staff after Jason Vargas was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for Kendrys Morales.
The Seattle Times' Larry Stone believes that the Mariners would be hesitant to give up the No. 12 selection in the MLB draft for Lohse, however.
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