Pitchers and catchers are slated to report to their spring training camps starting on February 11, yet top free agent Michael Bourn has yet to find a home.
Agent Scott Boras has said all offseason that he is looking for a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $75 million for the All-Star center fielder. Teams that may have been interested in Bourn, such as the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies, have already filled their open positions through other free-agent signings or the trade market.
The market for Michael Bourn has appeared to dwindle, and the likelihood that he will obtain the contract that Scott Boras is said to be looking for is becoming less and less with each passing day.
The Tampa Bay Rays look to be going into the 2013 season with some combination of Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer manning the outfield. With the inevitable call-up of uber-prospect Wil Myers to take a corner outfield spot, Tampa Bay does not seem like an ideal landing spot for the speedy 30-year-old outfielder.
However, if you look at the economics in play, a one-year deal for Michael Bourn might be a smart move for both sides,
Currently the Rays hold the 23rd and 30th picks in the 2013 draft. By signing Bourn, the Rays would have to give up their 23rd pick as compensation, which really should not scare the club off.
It is already a forgone conclusion that Wil Myers will not be called up to The Show until early May, as the Rays love to control the free agency clock on all of their young players.
To sign Bourn, the Rays would have to theoretically give the center fielder a contract between $12 and $13 million for a one-year deal. As it stands right now, the Rays have a payroll just over $51 million, about $12 million less than what they started last season with. Therefore, the addition of Bourn would let Tampa stand pat with where they were last season.
Not only that, but the Rays would also not have to worry about committing long term to a player on the wrong side of 30 that relies on his speed as his biggest asset.
By signing Bourn, the Rays could start the season with an outfield of Desmond Jennings in left, Michael Bourn in center and Ben Zobrist in right field. This will allow Kelly Johnson to be the full-time second baseman, and Matt Joyce will be able to slide into the DH spot at the start of the year.
Once Myers is called up in early May, the Rays would be able to shift Zobrist to second base and move Myers into right field, then Kelly Johnson and Matt Joyce can platoon at the DH spot. By doing this, the Rays would be able to not only give themselves a strong defensive lineup, but they would also be able to utilize matchups in true Joe Maddon fashion.
While this seems all fine and dandy on the Rays’ end, what incentive would Bourn have to play in St. Pete?
The most obvious answer would be that Bourn would have a job. If we end up in spring training with the center fielder still out of work, his leverage will be reduced to almost zero.
Secondly, Bourn will be able to play in a style of offense that tailors to his strengths. It is no secret that Joe Maddon loves to play small ball and let his players race around the base paths. By having players such as Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist hitting behind him, he’ll have a good chance of racking up some stolen bases and scoring a large amount of runs.
Since there does not appear to be a multi-year market out there for Bourn at the moment, a one-year deal with Tampa would give him a chance to build on his value with a speed-oriented offense for the 2014 off-season in hopes of securing the type of contract that he could not obtain this year.
Depending on how the season unfolds for Tampa Bay, the Rays could go in a couple of different directions should they sign Bourn.
One option for Tampa would be to flip the center fielder to a contending team to help stockpile their strong farm system should they find themselves outside of the playoff hunt at the deadline.
If Tampa finds themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt, then they could hold on to Michael Bourn and extend him a qualifying offer at the end of the season with the near guarantee that he will not accept. Chances are good that Bourn would qualify for draft pick compensation and the Rays would be able to recoup the draft pick that they would give up in 2013 to sign him.
With the start of the season just over the horizon, this is a solution that both parties should strongly consider.