Michael Bourn

History suggests that Michael Bourn is likely to be a bust

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Center field is the one strong position in free agency this winter, and many teams appear to see view Michael Bourn as the head of a class that also includes B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino.

I do no share that view.

Bourn turns 30 next month. He was one of the NL’s better players last season, but a large part of that was his defense. He hit .274/.348/.391 for the year. It’s the fourth straight year in which he’s finished with with an OBP close to .350. He’s slugged right around .390 in three of those years, though he came in at .346 in 2010.

The big problem with Bourn is that he strikes out a great deal for the hitter he is. In fact, he’s struck out in 20.2 percent of his plate appearances through his seven seasons, all while hitting just 22 homers.

Bourn is one of 12 hitters in big-league history to hit fewer than 50 homers and strike out at least 18 percent of the time in their first seven seasons. Three of those 12 active (Dexter Fowler, Ronny Cedeno and Carlos Gomez) and younger than Bourn, so they can’t count here. Here is how the other eight fared after age 30:

Leroy Stanton: .227/.300/.377 in 987 at-bats (111 OPS+ in 1,588 AB through 29)
Gary Pettis: .229/.332/.300 in 1,766 at-bats (80 OPS+ in 1,863 AB through 29)
Felix Jose: .229/.319/.375 in 96 at-bats (104 OPS+ in 2,431 AB through 29)
Greg Gagne: .258/.310/.373 in 2,726 at-bats (85 OPS+ in 2,947 AB through 29)
Darren Bragg: .239/.311/.352 in 685 at-bats (91 OPS+ in 1,1776 AB through 29)
Rich Becker: Out of baseball
Andujar Cedeno: Out of baseball
Jose Castillo: Out of baseball

Now, of course, you’re saying none of those guys is as good as Bourn. And maybe they’re not. But Bourn hasn’t been very good offensively, either. While OPS+ isn’t the most suitable method for measuring his value, it says something that he comes in at 90. He’s not in the same class as guys like Kenny Lofton, Willie Wilson and some of the other speedy center fielders in the past. Exactly 100 major leaguers since 1901 have stolen 200 bases through age 29. Bourn’s OPS+ ranks 85th of the group. Here are some notables:

Rickey Henderson: 134
Tim Raines: 133
Cesar Cedeno: 130
Roberto Alomar: 119
Lenny Dykstra: 118
Kenny Lofton: 115
Chuck Knoblauch: 112
Lou Brock: 112
Mickey Rivers: 109
B.J. Upton: 105
Carl Crawford: 105
Willie McGee: 103
Willie Wilson: 102
Marquis Grissom: 100
Chone Figgins: 99
Delino DeShields: 99
Brett Butler: 99
Luis Castillo: 94
Bourn: 90
Roger Cedeno: 90
Juan Pierre: 85
Vince Coleman: 85
Tom Goodwin: 76

There are plenty of guys on the list who had as little power as Bourn, but most of them struck out less and hit for higher averages.

Of the 00 players, only eight struck out in at least 18 percent of their plate appearances (remember, Bourn is at 20.2). The other seven (Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis, Bobby Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Brock, Upton and Juan Samuel) had all hit at least 90 homers and slugged .422 or better through age 29. Bourn has 22 homers and has slugged .365.

Finally, one more list. Here are the 10 players most similar to Bourn through age 29, according to Baseball Reference.

1. Max Flack
2. Brett Butler
3. Dave Collins
4. Roger Cedeno
5. Brian Hunter
6. Albie Peterson
7. Solly Hofman
8. Johnny Bates
9. Bob Beschler
10. Rudy Law

Only one of those players proved very valuable after age 30, and that’s Butler, who actually had all of his best seasons after turning 30 (he received MVP votes six times, all from ages 31-37). Collins had one good season at 31 and was done as a useful regular afterwards. Flack, who played from 1914-25, faded gradually after 30 and had his last year as a regular at 33.

Of course, Bourn could always defy the odds. It’s not as though he’s likely to suddenly collapse at age 30, and even if he ceases being much of a hitter, he’ll still have value with his defense. However, he’s a pretty awful bet at what figures to be a four- or five-year deal worth $14 million-$16 million per year.

Diamondbacks sign Jorge De La Rosa to minor league deal

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 10:  Jorge De La Rosa #29 of the Colorado Rockies throws against the Texas Rangers in the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 10, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Diamondbacks have signed free agent left-hander Jorge De La Rosa to a minor league deal, per a team announcement on Sunday. The contract includes an invitation to spring training. Nick Piecoro of AZCentral.com adds that De La Rosa stands to make $2.25 million if he secures a spot on the major league roster, with up to $600,000 in incentives if he pitches out of the bullpen and up to $1 million in incentives if he pitches out of the starting rotation.

The 35-year-old is expected to compete for a bullpen role after spending the better part of a decade in the Rockies’ rotation. He capped a nine-year run with Colorado in 2016, finishing the year with a 5.51 ERA, 4.2 BB/9 and 7.3 SO/9 over 134 innings. Despite his struggles out of the rotation, he found limited success in a three-game stint in the bullpen, striking out 10 of 26 batters and holding the opposition to just three hits and one earned run in eight innings.

The veteran lefty is set to join a bullpen comprised of right-handers Randall Delgado, Jake Barrett and Fernando Rodney, along with a number of unproven candidates on similar minor league contracts. His age and command issues may be off-putting, but the promise he showed as a reliever should give the Diamondbacks some upside as they attempt to redeem a league-worst bullpen in 2017.

Josh Donaldson out 2-3 weeks with calf injury

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on from the top step of the dugout as he sits out his second straight game during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 13, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Blue Jays’ third baseman Josh Donaldson is expected to miss up to three weeks with a right calf strain, reports John Lott. Donaldson reportedly felt some discomfort in his calf during sprinting drills on Friday and was diagnosed with what looked like a mild strain after undergoing an MRI on Saturday. According to Lott, the 31-year-old is on crutches for the next few days and will likely miss 2-3 weeks of spring training.

Donaldson had a similar scare at the start of the 2016 season, when he limped out of the batter’s box during the Blue Jays’ first regular season road trip with a right calf strain. He returned to DH two days later, however, and was back on the field in less than a week’s time. Blue Jays’ GM Ross Atkins told MLB.com’s Corey Long that the two calf injuries are unrelated, and expects that Donaldson will recover in similar fashion this spring — well before Opening Day comes around.