Of all the players available this off-season the one most expect the Nationals to sign is Michael Bourn. It came out the other day that Bourn wants $100 million. A lot of people want a lot of things, but $100 million won’t be on the table for Bourn unless a GM completely loses their mind. the main reason for this is that Bourn isn’t a better player than Jose Reyes who signed a six year $102 million contract last off-season.
Bourn is the same age as Reyes which makes him one year older than Reyes at the time Reyes’ contract was signed. That is enough to drop a year off the contract and the fact that Reyes is a .291/.342/.440 hitter compared to the .272/.339/.365 career averages of Bourn should drop a couple million off the AAV. Bourn should get a contract in the five year $75 million range.
Trying to figure out what kind of contract Bourn is going to get or is worth is a bit of a fools errand as all it takes is one crazy GM to blow the entire market up. What can be deduced is what type of production to expect from Bourn. The real value of Michael Bourn is in his defense. He was off the charts good on defense in 2012 putting up a UZR/150 of 22.4 and his career value in centerfield is 10.7. If Michael Bourn is his career average self and Harper is only an average left fielder that is a 30 run swing in defense alone compared to the abysmal defense of Michael Morse.
Bourn as a hitter doesn’t provide everything a lead-off hitter should. His .339 career OBP is higher than the league average for a lead-off hitter of .324, but not by much and his career SLG of .365 is below the average of .391. The offensive value of Michael Bourn is tied to his speed, and despite the common perciption of players losing a step that is rarely the case when it comes to the stolen base as it is more of a mental game than a speed game.
The Washington Nationals in 2012 stole 105 bases and ended up tied with the Houston Astros for the 13th fewest in the majors. Their stolen base percent of 75% was 9th worst in baseball. Michael Bourn has a 162 average of 51 stolen bases with 12 caught stealing which is a 69% success rate. It is thought that in order for a stolen base to be truly valuable a player needs a success rate around 75%. With the Braves Bourn was a more careful runner and was successful in 76% of his attempts.
With Bourn in the lead-off position the Nationals would be able to move Jayson Werth back down to his customary fifth spot in the order where he can be more of a run producer than a table setter. The problem is Bourn doesn’t get on base nearly as much as Jayson Werth, and in order for Bourn’s stolen bases to have an impact he has to be able to get on base.
With Bourn entering his age 30 season in 2013 it can be expected that some signs of decline will start to show up in the later years of his contract. How much is uncertain, but defense will be one of the first areas to be impacted. With so much of his value tied to his defense it leaves a question as to how much is Bourn worth to the Nationals, are they comfortable paying mainly for a defensive upgrade, and is it worth it to block a prospect like Brian Goodwin with two large contracts and Bryce Harper in the outfield.
There is little question that Bourn’s speed and defense would help the 2013 Nats, but what would be the repercussions of such a contract. That is hard to say as it cannot be assumed that the financial situation of baseball or the Washington Nationals will be the same at the end of the contract as they are at the beginning. There are too many variables to say that Bourn will definitely start to decline rapidly after the age of 32 and that the economic environment of baseball will remain unaltered.
Michael Bourn will help the 2013, 2014, and possible 2015 Nats more than any prospects currently in the system. After the 2015 season is when the Nationals window starts to close with Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, and Tyler Clippard scheduled to be free agents. Worrying about much more down the road when it comes to free agents is not in the Nationals best interest. Putting the best team on the field for the next couple seasons is a more pressing matter.
If Bourn will come to the Nationals at what his value should be compared to the Reyes deal then it is a good signing. If it is much more than that it could be a bad signing. If the Nationals sign Michael Bourn and win a World Series no one will care that he is overpaid in 2016 or 2017. Bourn may not be the best option out there, but he is a good player and can help the Nationals win, and for where the Nationals are as an organization that is the most important concern.