January 25, 2014

Bourjos will be starting in center. Period.

The 26-year-old, right-handed hitting, speedy center fielder, Peter Bourjos - (BOOR-jus), came to St. Louis as part of the four-player trade that sent former World Series MVP David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels. The Cardinals also picked up minor league outfielder Randal Grichuk, who immediately slides into the organization as a borderline Top 10 prospect for St. Louis. The Cardinals sent reliever Fernando Salas to the Angels as the fourth player in the deal.

The St. Louis Cardinals, in my opinion, pulled off the best move this winter, by getting Bourjos here and suited up in a Cardinals uniform. The deal got better when the club was able to avoided arbitration with Bourjos recently. They signed Bourjos, who was injured most of the last season, to a one-year, $1.2 million deal, a bargain, that I would not expect to find anywhere else but here at the local Dollar General Store. The Cardinals maintain control of Bourjos for three years

If you wanted to be politically correct, you would say that Bourjos is in St. Louis to compete for the center field job with Jon Jay. From where I sit, which is way out behind the Bob Uecker seats, is that Bourjos is the Cardinals everyday centerfielder and will be for at least the next three years.

Last season Bourjos missed most of the 2013 campaign due to a strained hamstring and broken wrist. He is expected to be ready to go by the start of spring training. When healthy, with his plus speed, Bourjos brings to the Cardinals a potential Glove Glove star to play in center field every day.

David Cameron, from FanGraphs last November put together some of the most interesting numbers highlighting Bourjos defense. According to Cameron, since 2010, here are the top 5 center fielders in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR/150) among players who have spent at least 2,000 innings in center field;

Peter Bourjos, +20.2

Carlos Gomez, +18.2

Jacoby Ellsbury, +13.7

Michael Bourn, +9.9

Denard Span, +9.5

Regardless of how much stock you put in stats like UZR, Bourjos would still have to rate as one of the very best defensive center fielders in baseball. He certainly past my eye-test, watching Bourjos highlight films, he looks like the best centerfield in the game. When he is healthy, he will cover ground in Busch Stadium, like another former Angel did in St. Louis, Jim Edmonds. Defensively, compared to Jon Jay, Bourjos is clearly superior in fielding percentage, range factor and vastly superior in defensive WAR (dWAR) 4.2 compared to a -0.5 for Jay.

The bottom line is, with Matt Holliday, who is still one of the best left-fielders in the game, getting a year older, maybe losing a step or two and Allen Craig nursing a foot injury, moving from first base to right, to make room for Matt Adams to play first base, Bourjos is in St. Louis primarily because of his plus speed and that potential Gold Glove to patrol center and compensate for the lack of speed at the corner outfield positions.

The knock on Bourjos is that he has problems staying healthy and that his speed, while a major asset in the outfield, is neutralized offensively because of his inability to get on base, demonstrated by his career .306 OBP. But I would not write Bourjos potential offensive contributions off just yet. This is the kid that the Angels were so high on, that they move best player in the game, super star Mike Trout from center field to left, to make room for promising Bourjos.

Looking back at the 2011 season, we may have gotten a glimpse of what Bourjos will contribute offensively to the St. Louis this season. In 2001 he stayed healthy enough to make 552 plate appearances. He responded by giving the Angels 12 homers, 26 doubles, 11 triples, 22 steals and a respectable .327 OBP. In St. Louis, Bourjos will be playing with perhaps the best team of his career and that could be a key factor in Bourjos, who will only turn 27 this season, living up to his full potential, just in time to help lead the Cardinals to another trip to the Fall Classic. The best is yet come. My take is that he will play basically every day, probably in the bottom third of the lineup. Jon Jay will be a very good 4th or 5th outfielder coming off the bench.

BH Bourjos 2014 Projections: 502 (AB), 70 (R), 10 (HR), 45 (RBI), .270 (BA), .331 (OBP), 22 (SB)


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