Bourn Remains Atop the Centerfield Market

It’s rare to see so much offseason activity related to a premium position like centerfield, especially this early in the offseason. The market was always considered deep, but it has been surprising to see an equal number of trades as free agent signings. With two upper echelon free agents remaining and a few intriguing trade targets conceivably on the block this centerfield carousel has been a terrifically fun offseason storyline.

Whether due to an outfield logjam, an unwillingness to dole out extremely lucrative deals or simply an opportunity to improve at a premium position, a number of teams have been very active with centerfielders. The swift nature of many of these transactions was somewhat unexpected as, with so many talented players available, it stood to reason that the surplus would allow teams to wait and effectively force down asking prices. Instead, seven centerfielders have already found new homes, and at least one of them was never really considered a legitimate trade target.

Through the various signings and trades, Michael Bourn is still on the market. Though he is the best overall player available at the position, his case is an interesting one, as his number of potential suitors has dwindled and legitimate alternatives remain. While a big contract hasn’t been ruled out, it’s starting to look like he won’t get near what he expected, even though he’ll likely provide more value at the position than anyone else.

The Athletics established that the centerfield market would prove interesting when one of the first moves of the offseason saw them acquire the very affordable Chris Young from the Diamondbacks. While pundits spent most of their time discussing B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton and Angel Pagan, it was the potentially undervalued and inexpensive Young that set the tone of the market.

When Melky Cabrera signed for two years and $16 million, after being sought out by several teams, it suggested that teams were willing to risk his true talent level for the opportunity to pay far less than other popular options stood to receive.

Upton then brought about a supposed bidding war between the Braves and Phillies, signing for five years and over $75 million with Atlanta, before it was reported that the Phillies best offer was over $20 million less. Upton’s contract, though signed early in the offseason, was still reasonable given his age, potential and current talent level.

Angel Pagan re-upped with the Giants for $40 million over four years, also getting significant attention from the Phillies before making his decision. Shane Victorino signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox, which may or may not have pushed Jacoby Ellsbury onto the trading block.

The Nationals traded former first-rounder Alex Meyer to the Twins for Denard Span. The Twins then, somewhat surprisingly given that they just dealt their starting centerfielder, traded new starting centerfielder Ben Revere to the Phillies. The Phillies actions suggested that they weren’t interested in spending a great deal at the position, and the solid moves made by the Nationals and Athletics indicated that surrendering prospects was a viable alternative to making a splash and limiting future financial flexibility.

That leaves Bourn and Hamilton as the top free agent centerfielders, Jacoby Ellsbury, Peter Bourjos and Dexter Fowler as the best conceivably available trade targets, and Rajai Davis as potential a lower-cost — and lower-productivity — alternative to everyone.

Bourjos is slated to start now that Torii Hunter signed with the Tigers, and it would likely take an awful lot to bring in someone who lacks certainty in his offensive game. Ellsbury might only be a one-year rental and the Red Sox will look to bring in a nice haul for the former MVP candidate. Fowler is young, but hasn’t rated well in the field, and hits like Davis when away from Coors Field. Davis barely played the position last year, doesn’t hit all that well, and hasn’t posted a positive fielding rating in four years.

Everybody has flaws, from those mentioned above to Bourn’s strikeouts, to the likelihood that Hamilton doesn’t even play the position in two years. But Bourn is the least offender in most of these areas, as someone still likely to provide 4.5 WAR production for a couple of seasons. And if he ages like Kenny Lofton did, potentially for a longer period of time that could actually justify a five-year, $90 million contract.

There aren’t many teams left in need of an everyday starting centerfielder, but those who have waited might actually be able to make the best deal of the offseason if Bourn decides against taking a pillow contract and signs for something like five years and $65 million.

It’s a far cry from his original stated asking price, but with more teams seemingly willing to trade for a riskier player like Fowler than dole out the big bucks, he is presented with an interesting dilemma. If one of his remaining suitors signs Hamilton or signs Nick Swisher as their big offseason move, there is even less money available for him.

Centerfielders with terrific defensive and baserunning skills, who get on base at an above average clip to fully utilize those baserunning abilities, don’t typically struggle to find a home. There is plenty of offseason left, but the teams that made the most sense for Bourn at the onset of the offseason — most notably the Phillies, Nationals and Braves — all went in different directions, while other potential landing spots solved their problem by other means. Bourn might truly be the least sought after 5 WAR player in recent memory.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

28 Responses to “Bourn Remains Atop the Centerfield Market”

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  1. TKDC says:

    I think Scott Boras would rather kill himself than let Bourn get less money that Upton. For some reason, I don’t think Scott Boras will kill himself.

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  2. Hurtlockertwo says:

    The Nationals look like they won the CF sweepstakes by getting Span for a minor league pitcher. Span fields almost as well as Bourne (according to Bill James) and is a similar type hitter, and one year younger.

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  3. Nik says:

    Nothing mentioned about Scott Boras? Gee, I wonder why Bourn is “the least sought after 5 WAR player in recent memory”.

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    • Rob says:

      Look how Prince Fiedler had to settle!

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      • Cookierojas16 says:

        If Victor Martinez had stayed healthy, Prince would have had to play on a one-year contract. Maybe a Boras operative will kneecap Austin Jackson next month.

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      • BX says:

        Austin Jackson IS a Boras client.

        Also if VMart had stayed healthy they just DH him instead of Delmon and have a much better team. 2 years of VMart wouldn’t have stopped Illich from getting Prince.

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      • joser says:

        But would he have started getting him otherwise? The narrative last year certainly was that the VM injury directly led to an opening of the purse strings in Detroit. There wasn’t much buzz about the Tigers being in the running for Prince’s services before that. Maybe they’d always planned to swoop in and the injury just forced them into the open earlier, but like I said that wasn’t the way the story was framed last year.

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  4. wade says:

    Shouldn’t Coco Crisp be on the list of CF trade targets?

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    • Lg4ny says:

      That is what I keep coming back to…. doesn’t make any sense to me. Especially after snagging CY. I think DeJesus is another guy that hasn’t gotten much attention, but could fill the hole for cheap.

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  5. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    If he ages like Kenny Lofton? Bourn doesn’t have and has never had Lofton’s contact skills, power, batting average or walks. The only point of comparison is that they’re both fast and black.

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  6. Los says:

    With the talk of the Cubs, why don’t the Pirates step in? Slide Cutch over to Left, Bourn in Center and then Marte in Right. That outfield would have quite a bit of range.

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  7. Los says:

    I was basically throwing it out there assuming his price fell. That outfield D would help a pitcher like Wandy greatly though.

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  8. LIz Phair says:

    It’s hard to look at Bourn’s slash line and get excited about his productivity. Even knowing about the value of defense, base running, defensive spectrum…maybe I’m still too traditional but 6+ WAR for what his did last year seems way too high.

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  9. EditPolice says:

    Like the topic … but didn’t like the grammatical and stylistic execution. I typically couldn’t care less but by the end of the post accumulation of comma offenses and other errors pushed me to comment.

    (I’m not saying hire a copy editor … simply providing one reader’s reaction.)


    Bourn is the least offender in most of these areas

    With two upper echelon free agents remaining, and a few intriguing trade targets conceivably on the block

    and it would likely to take an awful lot to bring in someone

    Ellsbury might only be a one-year rental, and the Red Sox will look to bring in a nice haul for the former MVP candidate.

    Fowler is young, but hasn’t rated well in the field, and hits like Davis when away from Coors Field.

    Centerfielders with terrific defensive and baserunning skills, who get on base at an above average clip to fully utilize those baserunning abilities, don’t typically struggle

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    • Antonio bananas says:

      Bourn gets on base because of his speed. How much longer will he keep that speed? Ow much longer is his bat speed going to stay at a level he can sufficiently put the ball in places he can run out?

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  10. fo fo fo says:

    I can’t wait to see the spin when the Mariners overpay for Bourn.

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  11. Antonio bananas says:

    As a braves fan, I’m glad they don’t have him. He’s very one dimensional. Almost his entire value comes from his speed. Defense, infield singles, bunt for a hit, stretching hits an extra bag, I don’t see that lasting. He’s on the wrong side of 30. His 2013 will probably still be good, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a very dramatic fall after that. He kind of fell of near the end of last year. I know it’s not that predictive, but at his age, I saw it as a preview of his post-prime years.

    You could end up paying 17M a year for a defensive replacement/pinch runner.

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    • Snowman says:

      Agreed. He’s always been an averagish hitter overall (which is, of course, above average for the position, but still), with most of his positive value coming from the steals and defense, both speed based. And I personally thought he already looked slower in 2012 than in 2011. I beleive it’ll be a bad contract sooner rather than later, perhaps as soon as 2014.

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  12. Ari N says:

    I’d like to see Bourn go to the Orioles and have them shift Jones to Left.

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  13. Cidron says:

    He may be atop the market (as the header says), but, what market is there? It is almost getting to be “He is at the top of the (8track, cassette tape, video tape, bell bottom jean, — pick anything well out of date) market.. Who cares if he is at the top, if the market has dried up (which it is doing very fast.

    He, and his agent have to realize that soon it will be the teams that set their price if he even wants to be employed, not a negotiated price somewhere between player and teams wishes.

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  14. 81 says:

    Where is Nyjer Morgan?

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