Michael Bourn is still unemployed. He was one of the best players available on the free agent market this year and was one of baseball’s most valuable players in 2012, but he does not have a team lined up for 2013.
Before going any further we can assume that the reason for this is that Bourn wants more money than any team is willing to offer right now and believes that some team will meet his price before the season begins. At some point, a team will either match his price or he will decide to lower his price, which a team will then decide to meet.
That’s a pretty straightforward understanding of how negotiations work. One side or both sides are currently unrealistic about the expectations of the other side. This will change eventually and Bourn will sign, the questions is, with who?
What teams are most likely to pay the most for Bourn?
Bourn is no slouch. He is entering his age 30 season and has posted 4.0 WAR or better in four straight seasons with a 6.4 coming in 2012. He’s an elite defender (career UZR/150 of 11.5 and a UZR of 22.4 in 2012) and baserunner (5 straight years of 40 or more SB) and gets on base at at .340 clip or better.
In terms of straight value, you’re looking at a player who was work between $20 and $30 million last season and figures to be worth at least $15 million or more over each year of a 3 or 4 year deal if he stays healthy. And there is no reason to think he won’t stay healthy.
Throw all of that in a blender with current team rosters and what do you get? A list of teams that might sign Bourn.
The Royals probably don’t have the money to swing Bourn, but man do they need him. With two outfield spots filled by Cain and Francoeur, there is a lot of room for improvement. Bourn over Francoeur in 2012 would be worth something like seven wins in the standings. Even if you expect Frenchie to regress upward in 2013, there’s a lot of room to improve on a team that seems like they are committing to going for it over the next two seasons.
This only makes sense if the Reds are willing to make Ludwick the highest paid fourth outfielder in baseball. With Choo and Bruce locked into the outfield, this is a long shot but the Reds would benefit greatly from upgrading on defense and at the top of the lineup.
The Braves could resign Bourn even after adding Upton. If BJ will move to left to accommodate Bourn, the Braves could put Prado at third and have one of the better lineups in the NL. It might be hard to make that work financially given what some other teams might be willing to offer, but it’s worth exploring for both sides.
Blue Jays (10%):
The Jays are going for it in 2013. That much is clear. They’ve taken on a good amount of payroll through trades over the last couple months, but their outfield is a bit thin. Colby Rasmus is slated to be the everyday centerfielder and he isn’t exactly a picture of consistency. Additionally, Jose Bautista is coming off a wrist injury and Melky Cabrera is plagued by questions of his true ability following a steroid suspension. If the Jays can afford Bourn, he would be a good fit. They probably don’t want to make a four year offer, but if he decides to take a pillow contract, a one year, $18-20 million deal from Toronto might make sense.
The Rangers can and should probably get by with a Martin and Gentry platoon in centerfield, but Bourn would be a nice addition to offset the loss of Josh Hamilton. However, the lineup is already crowded with Andrus, Profar, Olt, and Kinsler, so the Rangers are probably best left to keep their outfield unblocked.
The Mets are good fit for Bourn. They need outfield help, presumably have some money to work with and are not that far off from contention. Their rotation has the potential to be great in the coming few seasons and they have a number of players on the roster who could work as compliments to a contending club. They need a couple more core pieces, and a great defensive centerfielder and speed demon would be perfect for them.
White Sox (30%):
The White Sox make a ton of sense for Bourn. De Aza, Viciedo, Rios are capable outfielders on an average team, but they aren’t a group that you imagine would get you to a world series. If Bourn was on the team instead of Viciedo in 2012, they might have beaten out the Tigers for the AL Central. Additionally, Konerko is in the last year of his deal and Dunn has one more after that. A backloaded deal could easily work to make Bourn a piece of the Sox franchise for years to come.
Nick Swisher is underrated and Nick Swisher is now a Cleveland Indian. He’ll likely replace Shin Shoo Choo in right field, but can play left, first base, or DH over the course of his four year, $56 million deal (vesting option could take it to 5/70).
Most people figured Josh Hamilton would get more than Swisher on the free agent market, and we now know they are right. Hamilton got 5/125, which is more than 4/56. But that’s because Hamilton is overvalued and Swisher is undervalued. This is a great deal for the Indians. A great one.
Swisher is a young 32 and this deal will cover his age 32-35. Those are past his peak years, but not way into Alex Rodriguez territory. Swisher played his first full season in 2005 and was a full time player from 2006-2012. Over the last seven seasons, Swisher has never played fewer than 148 games. He’s never hit fewer than 22 homeruns. He’s had a walk rate under 12.3% once. He’s had an OBP under .355 once. He’s been an above average hitter and an average or better defender.
He’s been worth less than 3.0 WAR once in that span. All of these “onces” came during his worst season in 2008 where he was still an okay player.
Even if you figure he’ll decline into this thirties, he’s been a model player. Consistent power and patience mixed with solid defense. You can write him down for a 3 win season. He’s getting paid to be worth 2-3 wins over the next four season each, so if there is no salary inflation, he should be worth it. But there will be inflation, so he’s a steal.
Also, at $14 million a season, the risk isn’t so high that he’ll fall off the table and drag the team with him because he doesn’t have that $25 million price tag of Hamilton.
Swisher is essentially provides consistent, reliable production at the level that Hamilton averages out to. He’s a 3-4 win player with power. That’s what Hamilton is, but Hamilton has the amazing ceiling and flashes of brilliance mixed with the terrible lows.
With no inflation, Swisher needs to accumulate 11-12 wins to earn his deal. Hamilton needs to accumulate 25 wins. I’d much rather take the Swisher contract with a lower ceiling than the Hamilton contract with the bottomless-pit-like floor.
The Indians are a small market club and have a lot of work to do to build a winner. But in the weak AL Central, contention is probably not too far off. They have a solid young infield and catcher and an outfield that is serviceable. One more good bat and some rotation upgrades could get the Tribe near the top. Swisher is a good step in the right direction.
It will take some luck for the Indians to play with the Tigers in 2013, but anything can happen. Nick Swisher is a reliable player at a good price and he’s a fun loving guy who went to school at Ohio State. He seems like a natural fit for the Indians. He’d have a been a great fit for a lot of teams. It’s a little surprising a bigger market club didn’t offer more money, but fans in northeast Ohio will be glad they didn’t.