Why the Phillies Should Not Sign Michael Bourn


Michael Bourn is the last great Phillies position player to be drafted and developed by the Phils’ farm system.

Unfortunately, he’s played almost none of his games as a Phillie.

Since Bourn’s departure in an offseason trade with the Houston Astros before the 2008 season, the Phillies have not had a single position player worth a darn hit the big leagues. Domonic Brown was supposed to be next in line, but for all the reasons that have been chronicled ad nauseum over the last few years, Brown is just now starting to get a real legitimate shot at the big leagues.

One of the reasons Bourn was traded was because the Phils already had a center fielder in Shane Victorino. So, Pat Gillick used Bourn as a trade chip to land Brad Lidge. And I think everyone would agree that trade worked out pretty well for the Phillies.

But now, there is an opportunity for Michael Bourn to come home. He will be a free agent after this season, a season in which he is hitting .286/.343/.413 with an OPS of .757, the second-best mark of his career. He is a lead-off hitter and center fielder, something the Phillies desperately need. And, he’s entering the prime of his career.

What’s that, you say? Jimmy Rollins is the Phils’ lead-off hitter? Tee hee hee! You’re funny.

And even though Bourn would seem to be a great fit for this team, there are some compelling reasons why Amaro’s magical wallet should stay away from him this offseason.

Bourn Turns 30 in 2013

The Phillies have had a habit of signing players in their early-to-mid-to-late-30s to multi-year deals, usually with harmful consequences. First, there was Raul Ibanez, then Placido Polanco, then Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. The Phils signed Ryan Howard to an extension that wasn’t set to start until well into his 30s, and Jimmy Rollins is here through his 36th birthday.

While the Halladay and Lee deals appear to be OK for now (Halladay’s health is of chief concern), the rest of those contracts were either not-too-great or downright terrible. Signing players in their 30s to huge multi-year contracts usually leads to a lot of pain on the back side. The player almost never lives up to the contract he signed.

While Bourn is still playing at a high level, a player so dependent on speed playing into their mid-30s is a recipe for a severe drop-off. Bourn relies on his legs more than any other asset, and one can only assume that speed will diminish as he gets older.

Bourn Doesn’t Walk Enough

The most walks Bourn has ever drawn in a single season is 63, back in 2009. Since then, he’s drawn 59, 53 and has 41 so far this year. His career on-base-percentage is .337, although it has gotten better as he has hit his peak years, with an OBP this year of .343.

That’s not terrible, but it’s not the kind of number you’re looking for from a lead-off hitter. By comparison, Rollins’ career OBP is .328. It’s not as good as Bourn’s, and certainly Bourn is a MUCH better lead-off hitter than Rollins at this stage of their careers, but it’s comparable and not the kind of number you’d want for your lead-off man to have.

Bourn Strikes Out Too Much

For a lead-off hitter that predicates his success on making contact, Bourn strikes out a ton. He’s surpassed 100 strikeouts five times already in his career, with career highs of 140 Ks in 2009 and 2011. So far this year, he already has 109 strikeouts.

To be fair, Bourn also leads the league in plate appearances, which he also done in the past. So, he gets up to the plate a lot, meaning more opportunities for strikeouts than most other players. But most lead-off hitters get up to the plate a lot. The good ones work the count and don’t strike out. Bourn isn’t one of those guys.

Bourn Is Going to Cost Too Much

ESPN’s Buster Olney blogged on Wednesday morning (ESPN Insider required) that the two top suitors for Bourn’s services will likely be the Phillies and Nationals. Frankly, the Nats seem like a foregone conclusion. First, they have way more payroll flexibility than the Phils. Second, they have coveted Bourn for a long time, seemingly waiting for him to come on the market for the last year and a half. Third, they desperately need a center fielder and lead-off hitter, probably more than the Phillies do. Fourth, Scott Boras is Bourn’s agent, which automatically gives the Nats the leg up in any negotiations, given the close working relationship between Nats GM Mike Rizzo.

How much is Bourn set to make? Olney thinks he could get somewhere in the $16-22 million a year range on a multi-year deal. That is incredibly rich. He’ll probably get a five or six-year deal, meaning he’ll be 35 or 36 by the end of the contract.

Haven’t the Phillies traveled down that road before?

Besides, the Phillies aren’t just stuck in center field. They need a third baseman more than a center fielder, and will also need a starting pitcher and a slew of bullpen arms. The Phils can go cheap on bullpen arms and can probably pick up a #4 starter on the relative cheap too. But getting a third baseman is their top priority, and even though there aren’t any free agents worth a darn, perhaps Amaro can swing a trade.

However, the Phillies can’t afford to sign Bourn to a five-year, $80-95 million contract.

If Bourn was willing to accept a four-year, $40-44 million deal, I’d say that was worth it. But nothing more than that. No vesting options, either. Four years. That’s it. And that likely won’t be enough to get it done.

Perhaps what the Phillies could do is try Domonic Brown as a lead-off hitter next year, and sign someone cheaper, like B.J. Upton, to play center. Aside from Utley and Carlos Ruiz, Brown works the count better than anyone on the Phils. Hopefully, Dom’s two-month stint in the everyday lineup in 2012 will get him comfortable enough to take on the lead-off role. Or, the Phillies can continue to live with Rollins in the lead-off spot. It wouldn’t be my favorite plan, but it would be better then spending $95 million on a new one.

Bourn has many wonderful qualities and would be a valuable addition if the Phillies were to sign him. He plays tremendous defense, is a pretty good hitter, and from all accounts, plays the game hard every single night. Had he been on the Phillies from the start of his career, we’d likely be talking about him as the second-greatest center fielder in Phils history (behing Whitey, of course).

But at this stage of his career, Bourn isn’t worth the money it would take to get him. Not with all the other holes the Phillies need to fill.