Michael Bourn Gets Burned
The Indians have reportedly signed center fielder Michael Bourn to a four-year deal for $48 million. While Bourn won’t be going to bed hungry any time soon, this deal is a disaster for him and his agent Scott Boras, given that the majority opinion was that Bourn was the best true center fielder available in this year’s free agent class.
The obvious comparison is with B. J. Upton, who got five years at a guaranteed $75.25 million from the Braves earlier this off-season. Yes, Upton is two years younger than Bourn, but Bourn has been much better last year and the last three years.
In 2012, fangraphs rated Bourn’s performance as worth $28.9 million and Upton’s at $15.0 million. Over the last three seasons, fangraphs rated Bourn’s performance as worth $66.2 million and Upton’s at $49.9 million.
Strangely, fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan thinks both the Indians and Bourn got good deals out of this signing. I just don’t see it.
Even taking into account that much of Bourn’s value comes from his center field defense and the facts that he’s getting older and his defense is likely to slide in the next few seasons, Bourn looks like the kind of player who will be a more valuable lead-off hitter in years to come. Bourn still runs extremely well (ten triples and 42 stolen bases in 55 attempts last season), he hit with more power than ever in his career (his nine home runs nearly doubled his career total), and he gets on base fairly well for a lead-off hitter who runs as well as he does (.348 OBP last year, and between .341 and .354 the previous three years).
I will admit, however, that Bourn is not an ideal lead-off hitter, due to his relatively low on-base percentages. Bourn has not scored 100 runs in any of the last four seasons despite averaging 677 plate appearances per year and leading the NL in stolen bases in three of those seasons. Wade Boggs, who ran like a slug, scored 100 or more runs in seven consecutive seasons because he got on base roughly 45% of his plate appearances.
Even so, the fact that Bourn got less than four years and $60 million has to be seen as a failure by his agent Scott Boras. In fact, it’s not clear at all that the Braves decided they wanted Upton over Bourn. Early in the off-season, Bourn/Boras were throwing up pie-in-the-sky contract numbers, and the Braves simply went out and got the next best player, for what at the time seemed like a more reasonable amount.
Would the Braves back in November have been willing to give Bourn the same contract they gave Upton? I don’t have much doubt they would have.
Boras has generally been so good at turning what looked like a bad situation into a huge contract that I wasn’t willing to write him off until a relatively bad contract was actually signed. Well, that bad contract has now been signed. Boras overplayed Bourn’s hand, and Bourn will have to live with it — he’ll be crying all the way to the bank.
The new draft pick compensation scheme agreed upon by the owners and players’ association looks like a win for the owners. The Mets almost certainly would have given Bourn more than what the Indians won with, but they were concerned about losing a first round draft pick (and the signing bonus pool money) despite finishing with the tenth worst record in MLB last season, thanks to the Pirates’ failure to sign Mark Appel, another Boras client, with the eighth pick of last year’s draft.
While the owners probably would have struck a deal to let the Mets keep their 2013 first round pick, even reaching that stage required the players’ association to file a grievance after the Mets signed Bourn (you can’t file a grievance or any other legal claim for a hypothetical injury), and this fact likely impacted the contract the Mets were willing to offer Bourn.
2013 should be an interesting season for the Indians. Even with the additions of Brett Myers, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Trevor Bauer, their pitching still looks pretty weak, although Bourn in center should help a lot in that regard.
At a minimum, Ubaldo Jimenez will have to bounce back to the pitcher he was in 2009 and 2010, Justin Masterson will have to return to 2011 form, and Zach McAllister has to improve on his fine 2012 rookie season for the Tribe to be successful in 2013. Seems like a tall order.
As a final and largely unrelated note, the Felix Hernandez contract extension seemed like a good move for both sides, at least until medical tests suggested a problem with King Felix’s pitching elbow. Despite all the talk of record-setting contracts, the extension really only promised Hernandez $139.5 million in new money, while giving him the ego bump of a record-setting contract and allowing the Mariners to control him through age 33, which is just about ideal for a pitcher of his caliber.
My biggest concern with a long-term extension for Hernandez was all the innings he’s pitched before age 25. Needless to say, it’s not particularly surprising that his elbow is showing wear after all the innings he’s pitched in his career to date.