In the past four years, Michael Bourn has been a very productive player. He had his best year yet in 2012, posting a 6.4 fWAR, and no doubt had visions of a lucrative free agent contract dancing in his head. Yet Bourn remains unsigned here in the second week of January. Earlier, Sandy Alderson indicated the Mets were not interested in losing their first-round pick. Since signing Bourn would necessitate forfeiting their pick, it would seemingly put them out of the running for adding the speedy center fielder.
Yet the longer Bourn stays on the market, the more the Mets will have to revisit the idea of hoarding their draft picks. Because at some point, the value of Bourn, even on a one-year deal, has to exceed the amount of expected value of the draft pick.
FanGraphs calculates Bourn’s 2012 season as being worth $28.9 million, as it equates 1 WAR being equal to about $4.5 million. As mentioned earlier, that was a career-year for Bourn yet his three previous seasons were worth $18.5, $18.8 and $21.9 million so he has an established level of performance not extremely far from what he did last year.
While Bourn’s season last year was a step up, he didn’t go crazy like, say, Brady Anderson back in 1996. You might recall that Anderson hit 50 HR that year (after hitting 16 the year before) and he went from three straight 3.3 fWAR seasons to a 7.3 fWAR year. Bourn didn’t double his fWAR output in 2012. Still, let’s rate Bourn on the average of his previous four years. That means we think he’s a 5.0 fWAR talent.
A typical forecast model for an established veteran on the wrong side of 30 is to subtract 0.5 WAR per season. So, if the Mets sign Bourn to a three-year deal, they might value him as a 12-WAR player over the life of the deal, with him posting a 4.5 fWAR in 2013, 4.0 in 2014 and 3.5 in 2015. At the valuation of fWAR at $4.5 million, they might expect him to be worth $54 million over his three-year deal.
It is rare for a player coming off a big year like Bourn to be happy with just a three-year deal. Also, we have to keep in mind that free agents are often overpaid relative to a forecast like the one from the previous paragraph. Finally, his agent is Scott Boras, a person not known for having his clients settle early for bargain-basement deals.
Earlier in the offseason, it was suggested that Bourn was looking for a $100 million contract. While that number was floated around, there were no details about how many years, but six seems like a reasonable guess.
It’s next to impossible to predict if teams objected more to the dollars or years involved. Either way, if Bourn hasn’t received a $100 million deal by now, he’s not going to receive one at all, especially once B.J. Upton inked a five-year $75.25 million deal with Bourn’s previous team, Atlanta.
So, in mid-January, what’s a reasonable contract for Bourn to sign? And at what point should the Mets seriously consider him?
A three-year deal would seem to benefit both parties. Teams would not have to risk the back end of a monster contract and Bourn would still be able to command a nice size deal hitting the free agent market in time for his age 33 season. But Bourn would be right to expect a greater payout than the $54 million speculated above.
Would some team pull the trigger for Bourn at 3/$60? Perhaps, but I would suggest that the Mets should not be that club.
Bourn brings a lot to the table but if the Mets are to sink $20 million per year on a player, they would probably prefer that person to be a legitimate power threat, which Bourn simply is not. Ideally, the power threat would hit from the right side and Bourn bats lefty.
My preference is that the Mets get involved only if Bourn gets to the point where he’s willing to sign a one-year deal. We have seen Boras have his clients ink these one-year deals previously, as just last season Edwin Jackson signed a one-year, $11 million contract after he was unsuccessful in obtaining a multi-year deal at the dollars he was looking to get.
Everyone is a bit skeptical of Bourn because of his career year in 2012. If he were to sign a one-year deal and put up a similar type of season, he would be viewed much more favorably as a free agent the following offseason.
But why on earth would the Mets sacrifice a draft pick for a one-year contract?
The Mets need to do something for the benefit of the 2013 team. While it’s clear that the overall focus is on future years, they still have *some* money to spend on the upcoming year and it would be nice to get someone to be productive in 2013 without clogging up future payroll.
Bourn is likely a 2.5 to 3.0 win upgrade over Kirk Nieuwenhuis as the team’s 2013 center fielder at his projected 4.5 fWAR level and it’s not out of the picture that he provides even more value next year. Compare that with some of the pitchers that the Mets are allegedly interested in acquiring. Jair Jurrjens is coming off a (-0.3) fWAR season in 2012 and combined for 2.9 fWAR the previous two years.
Shaun Marcum has never posted a 4.0 fWAR. He notched a 2.8 fWAR in 2011 and a 1.4 mark last year. If you go through the stats of every pitcher the Mets have been linked to, you will find similar stories. Plus, you have to factor in that these pitchers either come with injury questions or would require giving up something to get. Plus, they would have to give value above and beyond with a Jeremy Hefner might give in the same role. Last year in 93.2 IP, Hefner contributed 1.2 fWAR.
So, you might be convinced that it’s in the best interests of Bourn to sign a one-year deal. You might be on board that a one-year deal to a CF makes more sense than adding a pitcher. But you still might be opposed to signing Bourn due to the fact that he would cost the Mets their first-round pick. Let’s see why that might not be so disagreeable for the club, either.
The Mets have the 11th pick in the draft. To determine what type of value that pick should have, let’s examine all of the guys selected at a similar round in the 1980s. These are guys whose MLB careers are over, ones who we can determine how valuable they turned out to be. Here’s the list, starting in 1980:
That’s not very good. Mack is the star of the group and he went on to post back-to-back years that look like they would fit in nicely with what Bourn has done over the past four. So, we have a 1-in-10 chance to get someone who put up 21.3 fWAR in nine seasons in the majors.
Since the number 11 pick was such a bust in the 1980s, let’s look at what that slot produced in the 1990s. Hopefully some of these guys are still active but I think we owe it to ourselves to miss out on a player’s complete career to get a bigger sample. Here is the list, starting in 1990:
That group is an even bigger bust than the ones from the 80s. Estes had a career-year in 1997, when he put up a 3.5 fWAR but in 13 years in the majors he posted an 18.6 fWAR total. We have 20 years of picks from the #11 spot and not one player matched the 6.4 fWAR that Bourn posted in 2012. We only had Mack’s two years of 5.3 and 5.6 that come above the 4.5 that we project for Bourn in 2013.
If we extend our look at the #11 pick into this century, we finally see someone who would be a shame to miss out on but we still see quite a few misses. Here’s the list, starting in 2000:
That’s the last 33 players drafted in the #11 slot, with a grand total of one being an impact player. For every one that turned into useful players, like Mack, Estes and Walker, you can easily name four that were total busts. The jury is still out on a handful of the players drafted this century, yet I feel comfortable that McCutchen will be the only star on this list.
If Bourn gets to the point where he would sign a one-year deal, the Mets should grab him. He would be a huge upgrade from Nieuwenhuis in center field in 2013 and provide a bigger impact than any starting pitcher that they have been discussing. They should have the cash for a deal similar to one that a Boras client signed last year and a one-year deal would not hamper future payroll.
And the final advantage to signing Bourn to a one-year deal would be to turn around and make a qualifying offer. It’s unlikely that he would accept and the Mets would end up getting a supplemental pick at the end of the first round. While it would be much lower than the #11 pick they would forfeit in the 2013 draft, the combination of one year of Bourn + 2014 compensation pick is likely to be worth more than the #11 pick in 2013.