While the Mets have had a relatively quiet off season, baseball writers and team insiders have recently linked the team with free agent center fielder Michael Bourn.
On the surface, the two parties seem like a potential fit. The Mets are in desperate — and even that is a generous word — need for outfielders, and as the date for pitchers and catchers inches closer and closer, Bourn’s list of possible suitors continues to shrink.
Bourn is a legitimate leadoff threat, who swiped 42 bases last year and provided a spark atop the Atlanta Braves lineup. The Mets are currently looking at a platoon of two unproven center fielders – Kirk Niewenhuis and Collin Cowgill — meaning Bourn would provide an instant upgrade to the Mets, both offensively and defensively.
Despite this surface level connection, there is no reason for the Mets to seriously court the free agent outfielder.
The first and most glaring problem with signing Bourn is the draft pick compensation that would be rewarded to the Braves, should the Mets sign him. The Mets currently hold the No. 11 pick in the 2013 draft, and under the new collective bargaining agreement the Braves would receive that pick after Bourn declined their newly-installed ‘qualifying offer.’
However, there is more to the story: multiple news outlets have reported the Mets’ pleas with Major League Baseball to protect their pick in an effort to pursue Bourn. The team argues that their 74-88 record last season actually meant they had one of the 10 worst records in baseball last season and should receive a protected pick.
In fact, the only reason the Mets have the No. 11 pick is because the Pittsburgh Pirates were unable to sign their pick last season and are receiving a compensation pick.
Even if the MLB were to protect the Mets’ pick and allow them to pursue Bourn, the ends do not justify the means. Bourn is represented by notorious agent Scott Boras and will command a hefty salary for someone of Bourn’s stature. The Mets, who are financially strapped as it is, have reportedly discussed backloading a deal for Bourn – allowing them some flexibility in the immediate future.
Doesn’t the idea of the Mets giving a backloaded contract to an aging outfielder seem familiar (See: Jason Bay)? Especially when considering Bourn’s age (30), best and most defining tool (speed), and the reality that speedy players lose that ability as they age, the idea of the Mets signing him seems ludicrous – not to mention hypocritical.
Wasn’t it just last off season when the Mets’ front office explained their reasoning for not seriously considering fan-favorite Jose Reyes as part of their offseason plans? We were told investing long-term in a player whose main value is speed would be a bad baseball decision, and soon most sensible fans agreed.
So why would the Mets forgo that decision to sign a far less superior player like Bourn? It just doesn’t add up.
The more cynical fans might guess the Mets’ interest in Bourn is merely a ploy by the team to attract some semblance of relevance in an otherwise barren offseason, and the Mets’ endgame does not actually include Bourn at all.
Whatever the reasoning may be, it seems the Mets’ interest is legitimate — under the right circumstances. Even, if by some miracle, MLB grants the Mets protection from forfeiting their high draft pick to the now Upton-loaded Braves, the Mets should think before offering any long-term contract to Bourn.