Thursday, February 7, 2013

Who Get's The Big Fish?

Prince Fielder
Baseball fans rejoice. We've almost made of through the long, difficult, and trying winter with little to no live Baseball to watch. Free agency merely gives the most dedicated and starving Baseball fan a bit of respite, but it only satisfies us enough to bridge the gap of the offseason until Spring Training facilities open and Baseball is officially deemed "open for business". 4 days remain until pitchers and catcher's report to either Florida or Arizona, and another few weeks until their teammates join them. While most players have had their plane reservations booked for weeks, some players' destinations continue to remain unknown. Free agency doesn't stop just because Baseball fans, players, coaches, and executives can see the Promised Land from across the Jordan River. No, instead agents, front offices, and owners work diligently to find the last missing piece to the puzzle.

Recently the Oakland Athletics deal Chris Carter, Brad Peacock, and Max Stassi to the Astros in exchange for Jed Lowrie an a bullpen pitcher. So, not only does Free Agency continue up to the start of the season, but team's will always be looking to improve by exchange. While predicting a trade is virtually impossible without, and sometimes even with inside information, speculating on the possible destinations for the remaining free agents becomes more and more fascinating every minute we move closer and closer to the promised land that is Opening Day.

Michael Bourn:
Michael Bourn
Since the October, numerous pundits have predicted that Bourn would be the Prince Fielder of the 2013 offseason. Last year, Fielder, one of the top 3 free agents of 2012, remained unsigned until January 26th, when the Detroit Tigers and Dave Dombrowski moved their chips, $214 million worth to be exact, into the pot. The Tigers landed Fielder, which not only helped Miguel Cabrera become the first player to win the Triple Crown since 1967, but made Detroit a power house team. The Tigers reached the World Series, and while they lost, few Baseball people would bash that massive contract due to Fielder's predicted value, current value, and the huge push he gave the franchise as a whole.

Is Michael Bourn Prince Fielder? No, I think we can all categorically say the two are quite different. Fielder is a bull of a man with incredible power to all fields while Bourn is a small scrappy contact hitter with lightning fast speed. Power doesn't diminish into a player's 30's as quickly as speed does, making teams even more wary in the face of a long-term high price tag deal with Bourn. In addition, the market this offseason was stocked with talented outfielders making negotiations for a contract difficult, and causing teams to use prospect instead of cash to attain outfield help. The Nationals traded for Denard Span, the Phillies for Ben Revere, and the Braves for Justin Upton. So, where does that leave Michael Bourn? Bourn is a player completely built around his speed and ability to get on base. In addition he brings superb defense in the outfield, closing on balls with great speed, combined with a very good first step, solid leaping ability, and an above average arm.

2009 0.354 61 83.5% 11 9.9
2010 0.341 52 81.3% 30 19.4
2011 0.349 61 81.3% -3 -6.4
2012 0.348 42 76.4% 24 22.4

As you can see from this chart, Bourn gets on base with regularity, consistently putting up numbers above the league average (.315 in 2012). Bourn recently turned 30 years old, generally a harbinger of an attrition of production, which accelerates if built on speed rather than power.

It's possible that Bourn could still attain the type of contract that he and mega agent Scott Boras wanted in November, something in the neighborhood of 5+ seasons and $100 million, that possibility dwindles every second we get closer to Spring Training. More reasonable figures being reported recently have put Bourn in a 3-year deal with an AAV of $15 million or so. Most sabermetricians and pundits would tell you that, for example, a contract of 3-years $46 million with a vesting option for a 4th year that would be worth $16 Million, and a buyout of $3 million would be reasonable to acquire Michael Bourn. So, in essence, the player, in this case Bourn, overvalued himself in a saturated market, and now that there is a definite time frame established, the player is adapting to the market in order to come to a conclusion. This is market economics, it's one reason of having no salary cap enhances Baseball's image as opposed to making the players look greedy and overpaid. Bourn turned down the Braves' qualifying offer in November, making him less appealing to teams that would be forced to lose a draft pick as part of acquiring the speedy outfielder. It also makes teams more likely to want to negotiate a multi-year deal with Bourn, so as to get more out of him, making up for the future of a lost 1st-round draft pick. So, while some reports have team's looking to sign Bourn to a 1-year deal, I don't see it as likely unless said team wouldn't be forced to give up a draft pick.

Team's that could still be fits for Bourn include the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, and Seattle Mariners. The Mets have no legitimate outfielders currently on the roster. While the team has worked hard to build up depth in the infield and starting rotation, the outfield has been untended to, unless you count Jason Bay, but that attempt officially failed when the Mets dropped Bay from their roster. While Bourn fits a big need for the Mets, he would likely not boost them into a playoff spot, so spending a high AAV even for 2-3 seasons may not be worth it for Sandy Alderson and his bunch. There is still a slight possibility the Mets will be allowed to retain their first round pick even if they were to ink Bourn to a deal, but MLB has yet to rule on the situation. Most likely, the Mets would have to forfeit that pick, making them even less likely to go after Bourn.

 The Phillies have many more reasons to like Bourn. Ruben Amaro finds himself with a high payroll, older team, and 2 platoons at the corner outfield spot. He also sees a division that just got tougher, due to recent acquisitions made by the Nationals and Braves, and a team on the cusp of the playoffs in the Phillies. The Phillies already have a leadoff type hitter in Ben Revere, as well as an aging but still viable Jimmy Rollins, so, you might be asking yourself, why the Phillies would want another speedy player. Adding Bourn would give the Phillies the "2003 Juan Pierre/Luis Castillo" look at the top of their lineup, essentially providing the muscle in the lineup with more and more opportunities to hit with runners on base and in scoring position. In addition, Bourn's defense would make playing inept defenders like Delmon Young and Darin Ruf in the outfield. Bourn came up with the Phillies, knows the organization well and would be a valuable asset to the Phillies. The question all comes down to money. If Ruben Amaro is willing to pay a higher AAV in order to get Bourn to agree to a shorter deal, it would be worth signing him, giving up their first round pick, but if Bourn demands more than 3 years, the Phillies should continue to use restraint.

The Rangers lost Josh Hamilton this offseason to rival LA. Hamilton may not have played much longer in centerfield had he stayed in Texas, meaning that the team was always willing to go with the combination of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin in centerfield. If Jon Daniels signed Bourn, he would most likely play the majority in center field in 2013, and even 2014, but moved to a corner spot not long after the All-Star break in 2014. Bourn doesn't have power, so he won't benefit from Arlington's home run tendencies, but the combination of Bourn, Elvis Andrus and, eventually Jurickson Profar in the 9-1-2 spots would be incredibly difficult to stop, and would neutralize ground ball innings eaters like the ones recently signed by the Angels. The Rangers have money to spend, and given the state of their farm system, losing a draft pick wouldn't cause too much strife. In the end here, it comes down to the price tag. If Bourn is willing to lessen some standards the Rangers could be on board, but otherwise I wouldn't bet on Daniels blinking first.

The Orioles have the ability to benefit greatly from an acquisition involving Michael Bourn. While the Orioles already have a talented young center fielder in Adam Jones, Bourn would buttress Baltimore's defensive outfield by playing in right, moving Nick Markakis to platoon with Nolan Reimold in left field. For a team many think will regress in 2013, adding Bourn could keep them in contention for longer, possibly long enough to return to the playoffs. Fangraphs recently released the Steamer projections for 2013. An outfield with Bourn, Jones, and a platoon of Markakis and Reimold is project to look like this:
Bourn 6 35 0.309
Jones 28 9 0.347
Markakis 17 4 0.351
Reimold 16 6 0.332
Total 67 54 0.335
While the platoon in left would cause both Markakis' and Reimold's numbers to decrease a little due to less playing time, the DH spot allows for manager Buck Showalter to keep them in the lineup even if they don't have a spot in the field. The combination of a full year in the majors for Manny Machado, the prospect of Dylan Bundy coming up to the big club mid-season, and the addition of Bourn to the outfield would be the perfect counter punch to the Rays' trade for Will Myers, and Red Sox flurry of signings, and the Blue Jays Miami buying extravaganza.

The Mariners are a fit for Bourn because they are without a good lineup, and Bourn might put some more fans butts in seats. GM Jack Zduriencik had made some questionable decisions of recent, but no one would blame him for trying to sign Bourn. Seattle can spend some money, and Bourn might provide the young Mariners hitters with a runner on base more often when they hit. Bourn might only consider a long-term deal with the Mariners since so much of their success is tied up in their core young players. The Mariners aren't winning anything in 2013 with or without Bourn, so signing him all comes down to pressure from ownership, and to a much lesser extent to look active and not portray an air of dejection. 

Kyle Lohse:
Kyle Lohse
Then there's Kyle Lohse. Lohse is the best starting pitcher left on the market, but unlike Bourn, many predicted Lohse would have trouble finding a team. For more on why teams might be wary to sign Lohse read Glenn DuPaul's editorial on the issue here. Lohse looks to regress heavily in 2013, is asking for a hefty sized AAV, and will cost the team that signs him a draft pick having turned down the Cardinals qualifying offer. He's a solid pitcher, with a solid track record, but he's already undergone serious arm surgery in his career, is in his 30's, and doesn't have a power arm. Lohse constitutes the definition of a player who is the "last piece" to a team. Raphael Soriano, recently signed by the Nats constituted he same. Both are expensive cars that a guy would never buy until he's older, rich, and already enjoying life. He's the "cherry on top", not the foundational ice cream. So, where could he land? 

According to multiple projections systems, Lohse's 2013 numbers should look in the neighborhood of these numbers: 
2013 194 5.67 2.04 0.91 3.85 3.86

While those numbers may not be worth $10 million AAV and the loss of a draft pick, to a playoff team hoping to put themselves in the preseason conversation of World Series possibility, Lohse could very well be worth it. Teams like that include the Rangers and Cardinals with the Pirates and Brewers also in the conversation. 

The Rangers are a team that many thought would be active this offseason, but have continued to lie in wait until they pounce. Still, Lohse could make sense for the Rangers. Signing Lohse would allow the team to trade prospect Martin Perez, a player many teams would be interested in acquiring. If the Rangers could use Perez to get an outfielder like Dexter Fowler, or with a better set of prospects, Carlos Gonzalez, the Rangers could move back into a better position in the AL West. Lohse might not fair incredibly well in Arlington, but half a team's games are played on the road, and Lohse would be the 4th starter, a veteran presence, but not an ace. 

The Cardinals recently found out that they have lost Chris Carpenter for the season, and he still may retire. The cardinals have the best farm system in the Majors, and have no need to fill Carp's spot with a free agent. Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, and Lance Lynn would compete for the 4th and 5th spots with Carpenter gone. In addition, Jaime Garcia may not be ready for Opening Day, so those four pitchers could compete for 3 Opening Day rotation slots. The Cardinals have a lot of internal and cheap options, but re-signing Lohse could work for them. Lohse liked playing in St. Louis, which most consider to be a desirable place to play. The Cardinals don't need him, but adding Lohse could better their odds of winning the NL Central. 

The Pirates don't need Kyle Lohse, but his addition could prove fruitful. The Pirates have been on the cusp of making the playoffs for the last 2 seasons. They have the talent to play like a playoff team for 3/4 of the season, but not all of it, causing the Buccos to be on the outside looking in in October. With Gerrit Cole expected to make his debut this season, and the possible addition of Lohse, the Pirates could put themselves squarely ahead of the Brewers and right in the wheelhouse of the Reds/Cardinals for 2013 and more likely 2014. The Pirates probably don't want to increase payroll, especially after recently adding Francisco Liriano and Jonathan Sanchez, but If Neal Huntington wanted to take a risk it might be worth it here. I wouldn't count on this happening, but it is good to see the Buccos in a position to possibly win something.

The Brewers recently lost Cory Hart, due to injury, for the first part of the 2013 season. They have almost the least amount of pitching depth in the starting rotation of any NL team, and they have had a quiet offseason. In addition, the team is in danger of falling into 4th in the Central this season, and that is without the awful Astros to make them look better. Lohse would provide them with someone to go behind Yovani Gallardo, but it would be a patch up job with potential issues all over the place. Doug Melvin isn't a GM to sign a guy just to sign him; the Brewers only go after Lohse if they make an ancillary move. This team needs their 1st round draft pick too much to make a serious contract to Kyle Lohse. 

Both Bourn and Lohse come with more risk attached to them than any other free agent, making GM's circumspect when evaluating them as possible acquisitions. Boras found Prince Fielder $200+ million on January 26th, but neither Bourn nor Lohse have the value that Prince Fielder did. Given their lesser status, I predict Bourn to sign within the next next 2 weeks at 3-4 years and a contract between $50-65 million. Lohse a few days after Bourn for 3 years and $24 million. Recently I've been having an inner conflict between my hear and my brain concerning free agent signings, so to appease both body parts I'll report both outcomes. My brain says Bourn goes to Texas while my heart says he fits best in Baltimore. As for Mr. Lohse, my brain says the Cardinals re-sign him, but my heart thinks he fits best in Pittsburgh. These are the two top players left on the market, they represent the scraps of Baseball we continue to cling to until very soon, Baseball officially returns, and all Baseball fans can emerge from their torpor. Opening Day is coming; we just have to have a little more patience. 

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