The Bourjos Inquiries

The Peter Bourjos trade rumors have started to circulate again. The primary discussant in the linked article is the Nationals, but the Royals, Diamondbacks, and Blue Jays are also mentioned. With super-prospect Mike Trout in the majors, the Angels already having something of an outfield crunch and Bourjos flat-lining on offense so far this season, there is a surface rationality to the idea of trading him. Let’s briefly look at how Bourjos might fit into the plans of the teams allegedly interested in Bourjos before turning to the question of how this makes sense (or nonsense) for the Angels.

The Nationals have an obvious need for a center fielder. Just a short time ago it was a question of whether there was room for Bryce Harper in their outfield. Now, with Mike Morse still out and Jayson Werth gone for while, Harper looks like the only legitimate starter, as the other outfield spots are primarily populated by a combination Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, and a dash of Xavier Nady. Even with Adam LaRoche hitting well now and the team in contention, Mike Morse could slide to first next year, Werth and Harper could take over the corners, and Bourjos could give the team a cost-controlled and defensively adept center fielder for the next few years.

The Royals also have a pretty big hole in center field at the moment. Lorenzo Cain was supposed to be their center fielder in 2012, but he went down pretty quickly, and it is not clear when he is coming back. Cain was not great shakes to begin with, but he was certainly a better option with more upside than the pu-pu platter of Mitch “MITCH” Maier, Jarrod Dyson, and Jason Bourgeois the team has thrown out there since the Cain injury. The team is in such dire straights that for interleague play they are considering putting Billy Butler at first, Eric Hosmer in right, and, wait for it.. Jeff Francoeur. in center.

Top position player prospect Wil Myers is being looked at in center field, but he is unlikely to be a full-time regular before 2013, and most consider it a temporary experiment. In any case, I am sure that even the Royals would rather have Bourjos in center and Myers in right than Myers in center and Francoeur in right. This may also signal that the Royals do have that much faith in Cain long-term, which was at least somewhat evident by him remaining in the minors for almost all of 2011, a decision only partly justified by Melky Cabrera having a career year.

The Diamondbacks are another team hurt by an outfield injury, in this case to their center fielder Chris Young. It is a bit difficult to see how much of an upgrade in center field Bourjos would be over Gerardo Parra, although implementing some sort of platoon with a combination Bourjos, Parra, and current right-fielder Jason Kubel might be a good idea simply for the sake of not having to have Kubel’s glove out there so often. Still, given the presence of both Parra and Young, this look more like a case of a team trying to buy low (more on that below) than looking for a long-term solution as in cases of Washington and Kansas City.

The Blue Jays are an interesting case for at least two related reasons: a) they just made a big trade for Colby Rasmus last summer, and b) they are rumored to have talked to Philadelphia about Shane Victorino. The second reason adds fuel to the “Blue Jays are seeking a center fielder” fire, from which one might reasonably infer that the team is losing faith in Colby Rasmus. That does not necessarily mean that the Rasmus trade was a bad idea at the time, but, without getting this post totally sidetracked, should raise some eyebrows. If the team really does not believe in Rasmus as a long-term solution in center, then, yes, maybe trying to buy low on Bourjos makes sense. I will leave it to others to speculate on what this might mean about what Toronto’s front office is thinking about Anthony Gose‘s future.

One can make the case that all of these teams have reason to be interested in Bourjos, but that brings us back to the question of why the Angels are trying to move him now. The superficial answer: Mike Trout is ready, and Bourjos has been terrible. But as you can tell by the use of the word “superficial,” I am not convinced. Yes, Bourjos was probably over his head last year when he had a .338 wOBA, especially if you compare that with his minor-league numbers. Still, losing faith in Bourjos’ ability to hit after 61 miserable 2012 plate appearances compared to 806 career major-league plate appearances of being just below average seems unwise. Bourjos had an excellent reputation as a fielder in the minors even if you do not buy the defensive metrics, so overall he looks like a viable major-league starter under team control for the next few years.

Dave Cameron noted back in February (when an earlier Bourjos-to-Washington rumor was floating around) that it did not make much sense, and that was for a starter in John Lannan, rather than the reliever the Angels are rumored to be currently seeking. Back then, the Angels would have at least been dealing at a relatively high point of Bourjos’ value, now they obviously would be selling low. Part of the problem is that the Angels may not be willing to play both Trout and Bourjos on the field at the same time, as they may feel that neither has a bat that currently profiles in left. That is poor thinking at third base, and, as Dave pointed out in February, the Yankees seem to do just fine playing Brett Gardner and his inappropriately-profiling bat in left (when he was healthy, at least).

One hesitates to beat a dead horse, but when the horse is resurrected and is (seemingly) disrupting a team’s baseball decision-making, it needs to be flogged one more time: the problem is Vernon Wells. The Angels obviously can’t trade him (unless they are willing to eat another albatross in return), but they also obviously feel that they cannot bench him yet. However, while he is out-hitting Bourjos so far this year, it is not like Wells is burning it up with a .288 wOBA himself. Bourjos was a better hitter last season, and I feel pretty safe saying Bourjos is far superior defensively. I am not saying it would be fun or simple to eat Vernon Wells’ contract. There may be another creative solution to that situation. Any of it has to beat selling low on Bourjos.

Of course, that is from the Angels’ perspective. I am sure that any of the four teams (and probably a few more) listed above would be happy to take advantage of the Angels’ mostly self-imposed predicament to buy low on a player who is very likely still at least a league-average starter in center field.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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