Thursday, January 3, 2013

Newsletter Extra: Landing Spots for Bourn

The best free agent remaining on the market, Michael Bourn, has a flawed profile, as discussed in Thursday's newsletter. Bourn was expected to pace the center-field market when the offseason began, but B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino and Angel Pagan all signed fairly quickly, and teams like the Nationals and Reds filled center field through trades. Despite this, there are a number of teams who could use him, even teams not specifically in the market for a center fielder. Here are the teams that are the best fits to sign Bourn at this late date.

Rangers: The Rangers got neither Zack Greinke nor Josh Hamilton, and they signed A.J. Pierzynski to a bargain-basement deal. Even eating money for Michael Young and some raises due to players under contract, the Rangers have money to spend. With Hamilton gone, they're missing an outfielder, with Leonys Martin now slated to have a starting job -- something he's yet to prove he's ready to keep. With Nelson Cruz a free agent after 2013, the Rangers are going to need an outfielder in 2014 as well. They could sign Bourn, get a big defensive upgrade in 2013 and fill the leadoff spot, allowing Ian Kinsler to bat lower in the order, better fitting his skill set. Bourn/Kinsler, with Elvis Andrus ninth, is better than Kinsler/Andrus, with Martin ninth. Signing Bourn a short-term solution that would make the team better, and he'd even be a serviceable fourth outfielder on the back end of a three- or four-year deal.

Orioles: The Orioles don't have a leadoff hitter, though they did get good work from Nick Markakis in that role last last year. They've re-signed Nate McLouth, but McLouth makes a better extra man than starting left fielder. (They also hope for a healthy Nolan Reimold in 2013.) Signing Bourn is also unlikely given Adam Jones' defensive reputation and salary, even though he's not a plus center fielder. File this under moves that make more sense to the statheads than the front offices.

White Sox: Alejandro de Aza was an incredibly important player for this team last year, and he sets up as one again next year. The White Sox project to get poor OBP from as many as six lineup slots, and there's no guarantee de Aza repeats rather than adds to that number. The Sox, down Kevin Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski, need Bourn's OBP, even taking the downside risk into account. A de Aza/Viciedo platoon in left field is much more attractive than Viciedo as an everyday player as well.

Rays: Desmond Jennings moves over to center field, but he's 26 years old and has a career .327 OBP in the majors. That number was .314 last year. Sam Fuld is listed as a starter for this team, so clearly Bourn would be an asset. In an AL East where the Yankees and Red Sox are down, the Rays could pick this year to spend some money. Bourn also fits their defense-centric approach.

Yankees: This is unlikely, because the Yankees are determined to reset their payroll below the luxury-tax threshold. Doing so could save them $50 million over a period of years, so it makes sense to do so. Signing Ichiro Suzuki -- who has been a replacement-level player for two years -- blocks Bourn, as well.

Reds: The Reds don't have a center fielder, and signing Bourn would crowd both their payroll and their outfield. Were they to sign Bourn, though, the impact on their defense, their depth, their team as a whole might be enough to make them the best team in the NL. Given that the Reds have remained below average in attendance despite two division titles in three years, it may be difficult to argue that they should blow open the vault doors for a luxury item.