Though there is nothing concrete linking free agent center fielder Michael Bourn to the Rays, the idea of a pairing between the two paries has been mentioned over the past few weeks. Bourn was pretty much a consensus top-five free agent heading into the offseason; yet he remains unsigned as we near February with no clear landing spot in place.
It is that uncertainty that has some thinking Tampa Bay could perhaps serve as a one-year haven for Bourn, allowing him to go through the free agent process again next winter. Meanwhile, Bourn’s agent, Scott Boras, has a knack for getting his clients what they want even as spring training approaches. And what Bourn wants is multiple years and multiple millions. A partnership seems unlikely; however, Bourn, the player, would fit in with the Rays, even if Bourn’s contract desires do not.
Michael Bourn does a lot of things the “Rays’ way.” He can hit a bit, has some on-base chops, has speed to burn when he gets on base, and plays outstanding defense in center field. Regardless of how you align them, a starting outfield comprised of Bourn, Jennings, and Joyce would maintain the high level of outfield defense we have become accustomed to, if not improve it.
Though neither fit the true profile of a leadoff hitter in terms of contact rates and strikeouts, a top-of-the-order that includes Jennings and Bourn would allow opportunies for Joe Maddon to get creative in setting up run-producing opportunities for Evan Longoria, Joyce and others.
The signing of Luke Scott to be the team’s primary designated hitter does not necessarily impact potential interest in Bourn. As it stands, the Rays are set to use some combination of Sam Fuld and a player to be determined in one of the outfield spots. Bourn would push Fuld to his best position—fourth outfielder—while allowing for Brandon Guyer and Wil Myers to work the kinks out in Durham without the pressure of needing to add one or both to the roster prematurely.
In addition to budget concerns in regards to signing Bourn, there is also the issue of draft pick compensation. Bourn received and declined a qualifying offer from the Braves, meaning his new team must surrender a draft pick when he signs. For the Rays, this means the 23rd pick in the 2013 draft. The amateur draft is the lifeblood of the organization, so surrendering a pick—especially for what would likely be a one-year rental—seems out of character.
Meanwhile, the 2013 draft class is considered to be rather weak. The odds of landing a impact player are already reduced when you are picking in the 20s, but in a feeble class it is even lower. Also consider, the Rays hold the 29th pick in the draft (compensation for Upton) and the talent gap between pick 23 and 29 will not be great. Going further, should Bourn sign with Tampa Bay and complete the season with the team, the club can extend a qualifying offer next winter and perhaps recoup the lost pick if he signs a deal elsewhere.
In summation, Bourn to the Rays is doubtful several reasons. First, there is the contract. I’m assuming Bourn to be open to the one-year “pillow contract” but that may not be something he or his agent are considering. Concurrently, if he were open to such a deal, we do not know if the Rays are willing to meet his salary expectations which would probably creep toward or above eight figures. Complicating the matters even more is the draft pick compensation; however, that concern may be overstated considering the talent pool in the draft class. At the same time, the Rays are in position – from a competitive standpoint – to pay a bit more for marginal wins than other clubs are. Signing Bourn should add a few wins to the projected total which could mean the difference between preparing for the post-season or the off-season.
On multiple occasions, Scott Boras has said “talent has no wristwatch.” I would add that the “Process” works on a similar schedule. Perhaps in this case the talent and the process can find time for each other.