(Michael Bourn scores a run in a September game against the Nationals. Photo by Associated Press).
Each time a new name is linked to the Mariners — and I think they are meeting next in Nashville with the agent for Reggie Jackson — it’s only natural to roll it around in your brain and decide whether if you like it or not.
I’m sure many of you are doing that with Michael Bourn, the latest offensive player with whom the Mariners are reportedly playing footsies. Danny Knobler of CBS tweeted recently that they are meeting with Bourn’s agent, who happens to be, gulp, Scott Boras.
There are so many moving parts involving the Mariners right now that no one — probably not even Jack Zduriencik — can accurately predict which player, or players, they are going to end up with (though I’ll concede that Zduriencik’s guess is better than anyone else’s). Bourn is a very interesting name, but I’m guessing that there’s some reticence on the part of many of you when it is brought up. There is for me, too, though I like Bourn a lot. One big reason for the hesitation, I’d suspect, is that I’ve been fixated for so long on them getting a slugger, a middle of the order guy who can blast the ball out of the ballpark. Bourn isn’t that guy. Hey, he did hit 22 homers — in his career. That’s one every 153 plate appearances, not exactly Ruthian. But what Bourn does give you is a leadoff man who can get on base fairly well (.348 OBP last year, and .339 in his career — not Rickey Hendersonesque, but significantly better than the .281 OBP the Mariners got from their leadoff men in 2012), who can be a weapon on the bases (42 steals last year for Atlanta, with a career high of 61, though he did lead the league with 13 caught stealings last year) and plays a superb center field. Bourn ranks very high on every defensive metric you can find. I love this quote from his GM in Houston, Ed Wade:
“To have a guy like Michael out there, he makes so many outfields look small,” Wade said. “You just have to wait to see someone go out there who isn’t as good as he is, and I think you have a greater appreciation for what he does. Forget about Carlos (Lee’s) range and any of that kind of stuff, just how he takes the geography of center field and shrinks it down.
“He takes China and shrinks it to Luxembourg.”
Put the package together, and you get a guy whose Fangraph’s WAR of 6.4 last year ranked 13th among all position players in the majors — ahead of the likes of Alex Gordon, Joe Mauer, Adam Jones and Prince Fielder. Of course, much of that was built upon him being, in their calculations, the best defensive player in all of baseball. Baseball Reference gave Bourn a 6.0 WAR, which ranks him sixth among all position players in the National League — tied with Chase Headley of the Padres, and ahead of Joey Votto, Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton. That shows, again, the power of defense (or more accurately, defensive measurements). One more stat to give some pause. however, is the fact that Bourn before the All-Star break went .311/.366/.451 (.817 OPS), then slumped in the second half to .225/.325/.311 (.636 OPS).
Now, let’s do a little exercise. Here is a season from Player A:
158 games, 729 plate appearances, 615 at-bats, 114 runs, 183 hits, 30 doubles, 7 triples, 5 homers, 54 RBIs, 42 stolen bases, 17 caught stealing, 101 walks, 114 strikeouts, .298 batting average, .395 on-base percentage, .393 slugging, .789 OPS.
And here is a season from Player B:
155 games, 703 plate appearances, 624 at-bats, 96 runs, 171 hits, 26 doubles, 10 triples, nine homers, 57 RBIs, 42 steals, 13 caught stealing, 70 walks, 155 strikeouts, .274 batting average, .348 on-base percentage, .391 slugging, .739 OPS.
As you may have guessed, Player A is Chone Figgins’ final season with the Angels, before the Mariners gave him a four-year, $36-million contract to (ostensibly) ignite them at the top of the order. And Player B is Bourn last season with the Braves. By all accounts, Bourn will command as much, and probably more, than B.J. Upton, who got five years and $75 million from the Braves to replace Bourn. It’s an investment that would give the Mariners pause, no doubt. But if other avenues for improvement start to dry up, they may feel compelled to look seriously at Bourn.
Of course, it’s silly to equate Bourn with Figgins. They are two separate players with separate skill sets — and Bourn, who turns 30 later this month, is two years younger than Figgins was when the Mariners signed him. But it’s a cautionary tale. Then again, every free agent comes with an implied cautionary tale. At some point, you have to take the plunge with someone. Bourn would give the Mariners a potentially impenetrable outfield — Luxembourg from foul pole to foul pole — with him in center. and Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders on the corners. Or they could still go out and trade for a slugging corner outfielder like Justin Upton or Jason Kubel or whichever is the latest name being linked to them. Or they could still trade for the slugging DH/1B type to which they are also being widely linked, the likes of Billy Butler/Garrett Jones/Adam LaRoche et al.
I’ll admit the idea of Michael Bourn sounds a lot more appealing to me if it comes in tandem with a guy with bonafide pop.