Free-agent matchmaker: Michael Bourn

Scott Cunningham

Who is likely to sign the speedy center fielder? Who should sign him?

There was a time when Marvin Benard's contract was constantly on my mind. The Giants signed the center fielder to an ill-advised extension in 1999, and for the next three years, whenever the business of offseason roster-building came up, there was that ugly contract, staring us all right in the face. Oh, man, what a debacle. How could you, Giants? How could you?

He signed for three years and $11.1 million.

Granted, the entire Giants payroll was around $45 million back then, so it's not completely analogous to today's money. But in retrospect, it was more than a little silly to get worked up about that deal.

This is all a way to introduce Michael Bourn. Because maybe there's a chance this won't seem so crazy with the benefit of hindsight:

Bourn, whose agent, Scott Boras, will be seeking more than $100 million for the speedy outfielder, may not be an obvious fit for the rebuilding Cubs, but they would be looking at him much the same way the Washington Nationals viewed Jayson Werth.

Baseball is flush with cash right now. I get that. But a nine-figure deal to Michael Bourn … that seems like the tipping point of something. Like, we'll look back and realize that was the Winter Meetings equivalent to hiring the Hell's Angels as security for your concert. It will be the end of an era, the days when baseball had more money than they know what to do with.

Or it will make sense in a short amount of time. Heck, I thought the Matt Holliday deal was nuts when it was signed, but teams would be tripping over themselves to get him signed to the four years and $68 million he has left on his contract.

Still, we're discussing a $100 million contract for a guy who a) will turn 30 before the new year, and b) is a career .272/.339/.365 hitter. There's no way that isn't going to seem off. I get that Bourn is a fantastic player whose contributions come from his legs and glove. Seems expensive, though.

Really, while every other newspaper columnist was busy making fun of WAR and its acronymic bedfellows, Bourn is proof that teams and agents are quite okay with the general idea behind those stats. He wouldn't get a two-year deal if he ran the bases and fielded like Miguel Cabrera. The idea that speed and defense are worth a lot isn't just something nerds made up during last year's Winter Meetings, and Michael Bourn's gold-plated house will be a monument to that.

I'll still assume Boras is swingin' for the fences on this one, and that the actual contract will come in a bit lower.

But which team is likely to nab the speedy center fielder? And which team should sign him? Our latest entry of free-agent matchmaker explores the questions you were too scared to ask. Or too lazy. Possibly indifferent. Here we go.

The likely

The game of center-fielder musical chairs has a twist. Of all the teams losing center fielders, two of them have no interest in getting a new one on the free-agent market. The Dodgers and Rays are losing Shane Victorino and B.J. Upton, respectively, but they aren't in the market to acquire one of the multi-year replacements. And one of the teams that might have been in the market, the Nationals, filled their hole with a trade. By my count, there are eight teams in baseball who don't have a good center-field candidate already -- and that includes teams like the Astros, Mets, and Marlins who are unlikely to make Bourn the face of their franchise with a huge deal. So I'm not sure where the bidding war will come from.

Of those teams, the Rangers seem like the obvious fit. They're likely to lose Josh Hamilton, and what they'll miss offensively, they would make up defensively and on the bases with Bourn; over the last five years, Hamilton has been worth just two more wins than Bourn if you use Baseball-Reference's wins above replacement. They're also going to be without Mike Napoli, so they'll have a little money to spend. They make more sense than a team like the Phillies, who might not be broke, but who probably aren't excited to take on another five-year deal.

The ideal

There are a few teams who could use a center fielder -- the Giants, Brewers, and Rangers come to mind -- which makes me think the winning bid will come from a team that doesn't have an apparent need. That's usually how these things work, if only to mess with us. The Seattle Mariners have two players who can play center, Michael Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez, but it would seem so Mariners for them to double down on their defenseophilic ways. Baseball was wrong the first time, not the Mariners.

A Saunders-Bourn-Gutierrez outfield would be one of the more impressive collections of defensive talent roaming any outfield. And have you seen the Mariners' contract situation? Oliver Perez is literally the fourth-biggest guaranteed contract on the books, and he's making $1.5 million next year. The Mariners should have some of that sweet, sweet Wii U money to blow through, and Bourn seems like a logical fit.

Begrudging prediction

Rangers. Five years. $95 million. It's hard to think he'll get that much, but I said the same thing about B.J. Upton, and I was dead wrong. Jim Bowden has him pegged at five years, $75 million, which seems more realistic. But consider that the Braves spent that much on Upton specifically because they were scared of getting outbid on Bourn.

And if there's someone I trust more than Bowden when it comes to free-agent valuation, it's Scott Boras. Yep. Bourn's a-gonna get paid.

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