With a 74-88 record and fourth-place finish in the NL East, the New York Mets were one of the 10 worst teams in MLB last season.
Typically, a team that performs so poorly needs its first-round draft pick. Picking in the upper third of the first round should yield an amateur talent that can be a building block for the future. Get enough of those types of players and a club should avoid fourth-place finishes in seasons to come.
But if the Mets sign free-agent center fielder Michael Bourn—as general manager Sandy Alderson told SiriusXM's Jim Bowden was a possibility—the team will lose its first-round selection as mandated by the new rules of the collective bargaining agreement.
Before filing for free agency, Bourn received a qualifying offer of $13.3 million from the Atlanta Braves. As a result, any team that signs him has to surrender its first-round draft pick—or its second-round selection if that club has one of the first 10 picks in the draft, which are protected under the new rules.
However, the Mets have the No. 11 selection in this year's draft because of a somewhat unusual situation. The Pittsburgh Pirates have the ninth pick in the first round because they did not sign last year's first-round selection, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel.
That resulted in the Pirates getting an extra first-round pick (They already had the No. 14 selection). The compensatory pick goes one spot below where Pittsburgh drafted last year, placing them ninth. Unfortunately for the Mets, that pushed their first-round pick down to No. 11.
According to the New York Daily News, the Mets are arguing that their No. 11 pick should be protected as if it were a top-10 selection because fluke circumstances pushed it down one spot.
Is Bourn worth this kind of trouble for the Mets?
With spring training two weeks away, the team's starting outfield is projected to be Lucas Duda in left field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center (with Collin Cowgill to play against left-handed pitching) and Mike Baxter in right.
On paper, that trio sits a notch below the Atlanta Braves' starting outfield of Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward. The Washington Nationals also have a far better threesome with Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth.
But with Bourn in center field, the Mets would boast a more competitive outfield. For one thing, he would provide the lineup with the leadoff hitter that Nieuwenhuis and Andres Torres were incapable of being last season.
More importantly, Bourn would help a relatively young pitching staff with excellent defense in center field. FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating measured him as the best defensive player at that position, saving 22 runs more than the average center fielder.
That sort of defense could be extremely valuable with Duda in left field. Going into his fourth major league season, Duda is better suited to be a first baseman. But with Ike Davis holding down that spot, Duda has to play the outfield to be in the Mets lineup.
However, as the New York Post's Ken Davidoff points out, losing the 11th pick in this year's draft could cost the Mets a potential core player or even a franchise cornerstone. Over the past 10 years, Andrew McCutchen, Max Scherzer, Neil Walker and Justin Smoak have been drafted in that spot.
Obviously, there are no guarantees the Mets could draft such a player this year.
But a team that needs to replenish its talent and control costs has to corral the young talent that the amateur draft yields. That even applies to the second-round pick the Mets would lose if they successfully lobby MLB to keep its first-round selection.
Adding Bourn to the roster might help the Mets' profile with their fanbase, bringing in a recognizable name that was viewed as one of the top free-agent position players available. This offseason has surely been a frustrating one for fans, as the Mets traded NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey away and only signed one major league free agent thus far in Shaun Marcum.
But the Mets shouldn't sign a player simply to placate the fans.
Alderson doesn't seem like he's willing to do that either. He's already made the unpopular move of cutting last year's payroll by more than $50 million. The Mets GM has also tried to sell patience to the media and fanbase by arguing the Mets are better off creating payroll flexibility by signing players to short-term contracts.
Even if the free-agent market has worked in the favor of a team like the Mets, presenting them with the opportunity to sign a top player for a lower-cost, short-term contract, bringing in Bourn runs contrary to the plan Alderson has put in place over the past couple of years.
Besides the draft pick, a consideration with Bourn is how much he wants. Bourn's agent is Scott Boras, and he doesn't typically advise his clients to take a lesser deal and perhaps try the open market again next year.
Though CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports that the Mets have room on their payroll for Bourn—presuming he signs for around $15 million a year—does Alderson really want to invest his available resources on a player who would help but not be an impact addition to his lineup?
The Mets might be better off waiting until next year. Not only will the team have more payroll freed up to spend on free agents, but better players such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Corey Hart and Ryan Madson will be available.
Alderson apparently has his eye on the 2014 free agency class, telling ESPN New York's Adam Rubin that the Mets could have "significant activity" in next winter's market.
Unless circumstances work into the Mets' favor—with MLB agreeing to protect their first-round pick if they sign Bourn, along with Bourn agreeing to a below-market contract—this isn't the kind of situation that should make Alderson deviate from his plan. There's too much risk with too little potential reward.
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