Considered by many as the No. 2 free agent hitter available this winter, Michael Bourn has now gone three months with seemingly no market developing for his services. The Braves struck early to sign B.J. Upton to replace him. The Phillies also targeted Upton and then traded for Ben Revere after coming up short. The Nationals traded for Denard Span. The Giants re-signed Angel Pagan. And it’s unclear if Bourn has even one offer on the table at this point.
Let’s explore all of the possible suitors as of Jan. 20, going from most likely to least likely.
– Rangers – The most obvious destination; the Rangers have no clear starting center fielder and they possess as much payroll flexibility as any AL team. Still, one gets the idea that if they were truly high on Bourn, something would have gotten done already. Perhaps they’ll be more interested if he proves willing to accept a three-year deal.
– Mariners – Management knows changes are on the horizon if the Mariners fail to take a clear step forward in 2013. Bringing in Bourn to play center fielder over the injury-prone Franklin Gutierrez would likely result in at least a couple of more wins. However, the team has been focused on adding power at the expense of speed and defense this winter.
– Braves – Bourn is open to returning, even after the Braves initially shoved him aside to bring in Upton, and Atlanta still needs an outfielder and a leadoff hitter. If the Braves could come up with the cash to make it happen, they’d have a much better chance of hanging with the Nationals all season.
– Cubs – The Cubs had no plans to splurge on a hitter this winter, but if Bourn’s price tag falls, they could find room in their plans for him. They’ve already upgraded their pitching staff enough to entertain dreams of sneaking up on teams in the NL Central.
– Rays – He’d be a terrific fit if they could come up with the money. The Rays seem to prefer keeping Desmond Jennings in left field, and Bourn would be an upgrade in the leadoff spot, with Jennings hitting sixth or lower. Still, it’s hard to see them making the salary work.
– Dodgers – They’re here simply because they do have the budget room for Bourn. However, any chance of them trading Andre Ethier and signing an outfielder seems to have passed.
– Astros – If the Astros thought bringing back Bourn would excite the fans, then maybe they’d make a run. They certainly have room for him in their outfield. Unfortunately, they’re so far from contention that it makes little on-field sense to sign him.
– White Sox – What would the winter be without a big surprise move from Ken Williams and Rick Hahn? Center field isn’t a need, but Bourn would be an upgrade over Alejandro De Aza in the leadoff spot.
– Tigers – The team signed Prince Fielder last winter despite already having Miguel Cabrera at first base. However, with Austin Jackson in center, the upgrade from Andy Dirks to Bourn isn’t nearly worth Bourn’s asking price.
– Yankees – There’s been some talk about a Curtis Granderson trade, but since he’s a free agent after 2013 and the Yankees are trying to cut payroll for 2014, Granderson is still a really good fit in New York. Plus, a Brett Gardner-Bourn-Ichiro Suzuki outfield, while ridiculously awesome defensively, just wouldn’t be very practical.
– Blue Jays – They’re capped out as is, so they’d have to beg ownership for the money. Besides, they’re not too badly off with Colby Rasmus in center and Jose Reyes batting leadoff.
– Red Sox – Would have to trade Jacoby Ellsbury and still might not be interested then.
– Mets – Bourn would be a huge upgrade for the game’s second worst outfield (ahead of only Houston’s), but the Mets don’t have the money right now.
In my estimation, that’s three realistic possibilities (Rangers, Mariners and Braves) with maybe the Cubs as a sleeper if this drags on a few more weeks. My guess is that we’ll finally see some real Bourn talk this week, and he’s still going to get his $15 million per year in the end, even if some of that ends up being deferred (see Soriano, Rafael).