The Phillies made something of an effort to sign B.J. Upton and pushed hard for Angel Pagan before trading Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Twins for Ben Revere.
The move gave them a young, cost-controlled centerfielder who plays excellent defense and offers top-notch baserunning. He probably isn’t a finished product yet either, which lends credence to the belief that he could consistently produce at a 3-WAR clip as he enters his prime. The move came out of nowhere and was met with some criticism, but it was a risk worth taking if the team was opposed to doling out a lucrative, long-term contract.
One centerfielder the Phillies shied away from was Michael Bourn.
The former Phillies outfielder, who blossomed into an elite player with the Astros and Braves, was set to sign a big-time contract this offseason. Best laid plans haven’t come to fruition for Bourn, a Scott Boras client, and he remains unsigned. Granted, Boras likes to wait until late in the game, but the rumor mill has virtually dried up with respect to Bourn.
He’ll find a home somewhere but he may have to settle for a one-year deal that enables him to test the free agent market under friendlier conditions next year. If push comes to shove and that scenario plays out, should the Phillies consider him even after acquiring Revere?
If he has to settle for a pillow contract, could we see this again?
The first issue to consider is cost — Bourn is one of the best centerfielders in baseball and will prove costly. The shorter the deal, the higher the average annual value he will likely seek.
The value of this type of deal to Bourn is in the money he would make next year and in the ability to garner a lucrative, long-term deal next offseason.
How much would Bourn cost? In all likelihood, on a one-year deal, Bourn would cost $14-$16 million.
He made $6.8 million in his final year of arbitration-eligibility last season and would certainly look for more than the qualifying offer in the $11-$12 million range.
Since early reports had him seeking a five-year deal worth $80+ million, an AAV of $16 million, a 1/$15 contract would likely get the job done for this type of pillow contract.
At this point, that pillow contract might really represent the best route. There simply aren’t many realistic fits remaining for a high-priced centerfielder, even one who hasn’t had a sub-4 WAR campaign since 2008 and who has averaged 5 WAR over the last four seasons. The major reason is the select number of teams looking for an impact centerfielder filled the position via less expensive means. With Upton, a long-term deal was given to a 28-year old who might not yet have even entered his prime.
Even fewer options exist now that Upton, Pagan and Melky Cabrera were signed and Denard Span, Ben Revere and Chris Young were traded. The Cubs, Astros, Mets, Mariners and Rangers each have intriguing internal options, but players who are far from sure things. Other than the Rangers, however, none of those teams has a legit reason to go out and spend 5/$75 on Bourn.
It’s doubtful that Bourn would accept a lesser long-term deal right now when a pillow contract at a high rate could allow him to unquestionably be the guy next offseason. That he has gone unsigned thus far speaks to the creativity of his potential suitors. Teams are looking at acquisitions a bit differently and showing a better understanding that getting 80% of Bourn for 30% of the price is better than paying for 100% of Bourn when even that is an unknown.
Sure, he has been consistently above the 4 WAR threshold over the last four seasons, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 years old and lacks the requisite skills — contact rate, walk rate, power — that helped Kenny Lofton age so well.
There are legitimate concerns about how Bourn will age and many teams didn’t want to take an $80 million risk to find out for themselves.
The second issue is that Bourn declined the Braves qualifying offer, meaning any signing team will lose their top draft pick. While past top picks like Larry Greene, Anthony Hewitt and Zach Collier have proven to be disappointments so far, losing a first-round pick is tough to stomach. It isn’t a concrete deterrent when discussing the one-year addition of a 4-6 WAR centerfielder but it definitely goes in the ‘Cons’ column.
In the end, this could all be a moot thought experiment. It took Prince Fielder forever to sign last offseason and he still got a $200+ million contract from the Tigers. Scott Boras has tried this wait-it-out tactic numerous times before. Sometimes he gets his clients the big deals they originally sought. Other times it angers his clients and they leave him.
If Boras isn’t able to get Bourn that long-term contract he desires, the Phillies should seriously consider signing him to that one-year deal. They can shift Revere to a corner outfield spot, much like how the Twins handled both he and Span in the same outfield, and move him back to centerfield after Bourn signs a lucrative deal the following offseason.
They would start Bourn, Revere and Brown in the outfield, with Nix and one of Mayberry or Ruf as backups. The odd man out goes to the minors — or in Mayberry’s case, might be let go entirely — while Inciarte is offered back to the Diamondbacks.
The Phillies have plenty of outfield question marks as it is, but if they have the chance to add Bourn on a one-year deal, it’s worth pursuing even after solving the centerfield void by acquiring Revere. Odds are Bourn signs a big contract somewhere but this is at least some food for thought if he and Boras misjudged his market.