Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Michael Bourn is one of the most talented outfielders to hit the free agent market this winter, but will likely command a king's ransom for his services in 2013 and the foreseeable future.
See, isn't this fun? After looking at one of the more reasonable outfield free agent options on the market a couple days ago, we're back to fantasy land today with Atlanta Braves outfielder Michael Bourn.
Who is he?
"A left-handed* Austin Jackson" wouldn't be a bad comparison, but there are a few differences. Jackson has more power, but Bourn steals more bases... a lot more. Jackson's 61 career steals match Bourn's career-high for a single season. Both strike out in over 20% of their plate appearances and eclipsed a 10% walk rate for the first time in 2012. Bourn is hitting free agency for the first time in his career after making $6.845 million with the Braves last season.
*Bourn throws right-handed, but that's not the point.
Why should we care?
For college football fans, the term "SEC speed" comes to mind. As mentioned above, Bourn has stolen a blistering 276 bases in 871 career games at an 81.2% success rate. He "only" stole 42 bases in 2012 after matching his career high of 61 steals in 2011, but still scored more runs (96 in 2012 to 94 in 2011). Bourn is also one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, falling victim to the better offensive numbers of Andrew McCutchen in this year's Gold Glove race.
Why should we stay away?
The easy answer? Bourn is a Scott Boras client. With him hitting the free agent market in the prime of his career, Bourn will command top dollar for his services. Bourn's game is more multi-faceted than Carl Crawford's -- not to mention he is also without the astro turf wear and tear that Crawford had -- but the two are comparable. I wouldn't be surprised to see Bourn land a Crawford-esque contract at all, especially since he wants one.
Additionally, Bourn "only" provides an upgrade over what the Tigers currently have in their outfield. Namely, he's a left-handed hitter with better speed and plate discipline than Andy Dirks, and a better hitter (for both average and power) than Quintin Berry. Defensively, he would provide a massive upgrade over anyone on the roster not named Austin Jackson. Where am I going with this? Bourn's poor splits against left-handed pitchers don't really fix one of the major problems that plagued the Tigers this season, and is it really worth it to pay through the nose for a guy that doesn't shore up a major deficiency? I don't think so.
Also, it's worth mentioning that because Bourn plays excellent defense in center field, teams will be willing to pay him like an excellent center fielder. The Tigers don't need him for that. Bourn's arm isn't great, which wouldn't translate well to the expansive outfield in Comerica Park despite his blazing speed.
Will he end up in Detroit?
I doubt it. With the organization apparently impressed with the development of both Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos, I can't imagine the Tigers bringing in a guy like Bourn for that kind of money when other stopgaps are available. There's a good chance that the Braves extend Bourn a qualifying offer, which he will most likely decline, meaning that Bourn will also cost the Tigers a first-round draft pick if he signs with them. Also, Bourn's style of play doesn't fit the mold of typical Dave Dombrowski targets, and it's tough to see them making such a drastic (and expensive) change on the fly.