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Gary Armida's Blog
The Bourn Overplay Stuck
Posted on January 3, 2013 at 10:21 AM.

Scott Boras is the best agent of all-time. While he is much maligned in most circles, he is the number one agent in terms of maximizing his clientís value. Every winter seems incomplete until we can say that Boras hoodwinked another team into overpaying for one of his players. We are still waiting for it this winter as two of Borasí clients are still waiting to find new homes for the 2013 season. Pitcher Kyle Lohse is waiting, but even more surprising is that Michael Bourn is still available. The market for Bourn was supposed to be one of the most competitive of the winter. Yet, he is still waiting.

It is difficult to doubt Boras, but it does look as if he overplayed Bournís value this winter. With many teams needing a centerfielder, it seemed like Bourn would have his choice of teams. But, then the Braves signed BJ Upton rather than re-sign Bourn. The Nationals traded for Denard Span. The Phillies traded for Ben Revere. The three teams with the biggest need for a centerfielder no longer needed Bourn, who has ranked as an elite defender in two of the last three seasons.

Josh Hamiltonís signing with the Angels may have helped Bourn as the Angels didnít need a center fielder, but there are so few teams left with a real need and money. The entire American League East looks set in centerfield. While the Rays could possibly use a center fielder--assuming they wanted Desmond Jennings back in left field--they donít invest in players like Bourn, a free agent at the age of 30 who is looking for a long term deal. The American League Central doesnít look like a match either, leaving just two of the five West Division teams--the Mariners and Rangers--with possible openings. The National League doesnít look any different with so few teams having a pressing need for a centerfielder and the budget to sign Bourn.

The most obvious reason for a lack of interest in Bourn is the draft pick that the signing team would have to give up. Under the new agreement, the signing team would lose its first round pick. Because of that, Scott Boras may have overlooked the most obvious reason of all. Players like Bourn have never really been valued.

Michael Bournís game is predicated on speed. His offensive and defensive skills have everything to do with his legs. Players with that skill set are rarely valued. Kenny Lofton, a Hall of Fame candidate, worked under just one long-term contract during his 17 year career ( a four year deal with the Indians). And, that was during a time when long term deals were in fashion. Brett Butler never really had a long-term contract, although it was a different era. There is always a worry that the legs will go and the player will have no value.

It is a concern, but perhaps one that is overblown. Over the past four years, Bourn has been one of the most durable and most consistent players in Major League Baseball. Heís averaged 153 games per season while compiling an average season of .280/.348/.378 with 28 doubles, 10 triples, 4 home runs, and 54 stolen bases. Although he walked a career high 70 times last season, he isnít a patient hitter and did strike out a career high 155 times, while averaging 136 strikeouts since 2009.

While Bourn has been an average to slightly above average hitter, he has proven to be an elite defender. Last season, he posted a UZR of 22.4, by far the best mark in Baseball among centerfielders. He also posted a DRS of 24, also tops in the Major Leagues. Besides a poor 2011 defensive season, Bourn has consistently been one of the elite defenders in the sport. In most seasons, it hasnít been that close.

With an increased emphasis on run prevention in Major League Baseball, it seemed certain that Bourn would have been involved in some sort of bidding war. But, many are afraid that heíll age poorly. Perhaps thatís a valid concern, but it seems like a power hitter has more of a chance to regress quickly. Bourn is just 30 years old. He is still in his prime, although at the end of it. There are probably four seasons at his current level left in him.

Although Kenny Lofton was a better hitter, Bourn does have a similar skill set. From age 25 through age 29, Lofton hit .316/.382/.437 while averaging 65 stolen bases. From age 30 through 35, Lofton hit .285/.371/.417 while averaging 30 stolen bases. From age 36 through 40, Lofton hit .301/.363/.419 with 23 stolen bases per season. There was regression, but it wasnít as if Lofton was useless and didnít have speed. While Lofton was a better hitter than Bourn and made more contact, he wasnít as good defensively. As Lofton aged, his defense stayed relatively consistent in terms of UZR and DRS.

What does it all mean? It means that the idea of Bourn falling off to the point of being useless is very slim. While Loftonís batting average and stolen bases regressed during his early 30ís, his on base percentage remained the same. And that was despite the fact that he walked at a similar rate. There is every reason to believe that Bourn can age in a similar manner, making a three to four year deal a sound investment. And, perhaps Bourn is developing more plate discipline as evidenced by his career best walk total. If that trend continues or simply remains at the 2012 level, he can still have value on the offensive end while playing elite level defense.

Michael Bourn seems to be a victim of three things. Historically, Major League Baseball does undervalue hitters with his skill set. Secondly, the new compensation system has made it more difficult for teams to be winning to give up draft picks. And, finally, his agent may have overplayed the market.

He isnít a star unless measured by defensive standards. But, Bourn can be a useful, above average player on a good team for the next couple of seasons. Because of the industryís attitude and history when it comes to dealing with non-power hitters, Bourn wouldíve been better served to sign early in the hot stove season before teams found other alternatives. Now, Bourn looks like he could be one of the better bargains of the winter because of so little demand. Anything less than a four year deal would be a victory for any signing team. That would make the sting of losing a draft pick a little less hurtful.

Itís not often that a Scott Boras client loses his market, but it has happened to Michael Bourn. It looks like he will be one of the few who doesnít get that big contract that a Boras client typically procures as a free agent. But, with Scott Boras, you can never say never.
# 1 BSchwartz07 @ Jan 4
I would LOVE to see Atlanta make a modest offer to Bourn and move BJ to left... LOVED having the guy the last two years.
Great article, very well thought out!!! Also, very true!
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