The reasons are fairly obvious: The Nats have been searching for their long-term answer in center field, they could use speed and a stable presence at the top of the order (even though Jayson Werth is an option there), and Bourn’s agent happens to be Scott Boras, with whom Nats general manager Mike Rizzo has a good working relationship.
Now, with Bourn poised to hit the open market Saturday, the talk linking the center fielder to the Nats has resurfaced.
Last night, CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman cited baseball officials who see the Nationals as the “favorites” to land Bourn, who is considered the top center fielder on the free agent market.
That’s far from the only report of that nature. Other national reporters have mentioned the Nationals as the most likely team to end up signing Bourn dating back to earlier this summer.
Personally, I expect the Nationals to kick the tires on Bourn and be a part of the bidding to win his services. Depending on how the market plays out, the Nats could even end up being one of the hottest teams in pursuit.
But there are a few reasons why I’m hesitant to believe that the Nats will be willing to spend the $80-100 million it will likely cost to eventually sign Bourn.
First of all, while Bourn has put up pretty big numbers over his last four seasons, he’s now 30. It would likely take a five- or six-year deal to lock him up, and generally speaking, speedy outfielders haven’t been known to age too gracefully.
Bourn could always be the exception, of course. But it’d clearly be easier to justify giving $90 million to, say, a 30-year-old power-hitting corner outfielder than it would be to a 30-year-old who would be expected to track down balls in center and bat leadoff for the length of his contract.
Financially, while the Nationals certainly aren’t strapped entering this offseason, they’d need to be certain this is the guy they want to invest monster money in.
Unlike when the Nats signed Werth to that seven-year, $126 million contract two winters ago, the team now has a number of players who could be up for long-term extensions in the next couple years or already have hefty contracts on the books.
Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez got their big-money extensions, but Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond could be soon to follow. On top of that, the Nats need to look down the line and know their payroll will increase significantly as Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper (among others) go through the arbitration process.
Additionally, bringing in Bourn means the Nats would need to either trade Michael Morse or not re-sign Adam LaRoche. If Bourne becomes a National, he’d start in center, moving Harper to a corner outfield spot and making Morse either the starting first baseman in 2013 or a trade chip.
There’s also the matter of the talented center field prospects the Nats currently have within the organization, most notably 2011 first-round pick Brian Goodwin. The 22-year-old is currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League (he was named AFL Player of the Week last week) and appears on track to break into the big leagues at some point this season.
Why go get a talented, quick-footed center fielder when you have one who’s eight years younger and far less expensive already on board?
For years, the Nats have been talked about as a team that could use a guy like Bourn. Now that he’s available, it’s easy to consider the player and the team a perfect fit.
I’m not saying it won’t happen, but there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t start looking into personalized Michael Bourn Nationals jerseys just yet.
Update: There’s one other factor to consider here, one which slipped my mind when writing this post. Assuming the Braves make Bourn a qualifying offer by today’s deadline (a one-year deal which would be worth $13.3 million), and assuming Bourn declines it (which he would), then the team that signs Bourn will need to surrender its top 2013 draft pick, giving Atlanta a compensatory selection.
(If the team that signs Bourn holds a protected top-10 pick in the first round, that team would surrender its second-highest pick.)
In other words, if the Nats sign Bourn, they’ve be giving up not only tens of millions of dollars but also their top 2013 draft pick. It’s not a reason to avoid signing Bourn if they’re convinced he’s their guy, but it’s something else to consider.