I hope everyone had a nice holiday. As for me, we had a fun but casual night at a new place in Forest Park called Piggyback Tavern. Great BBQ and a lounge downstairs with local, small-batch whiskey and comfy couches. That's a pretty good combo if you ask me.
Anyway, after a bit of a break for both me and the Cubs this holiday season, it's back to work for everyone. I haven't yet decided whether I will write a similar breakdown of pitchers, but I did write something similar back when I did my scouting reports on #1 pitchers and closers.
The biggest need right now is CF and there is one free agent that still stands out at that position -- Michael Bourn. In some ways he's a great fit but in other ways, it's a big gamble for a rebuilding team. After Theo Epstein's ill-fated gamble on Carl Crawford in Boston, perhaps he's a little hesitant to pull the trigger on Bourn. More likely, he doesn't view the potential signing of Bourn as a clear long term win for the Cubs.
Here are some of the pros and cons of signing Bourn...
Pros: CF defense, OBP, Speed
- Bourn adds elite CF defense to a team that's looking to win with pitching and defense this year. He has a career UZR/150 of 10.7 in CF and has had a 20+ UZR/150 in 2 of the last 3 years, including a career high 22.5 mark last season.
- Bourn has solid OBP skills and while his career .343 mark isn't overwhelming, it would rate very well on a team that struggles getting on base. His career walk rate of 8.8% is above the MLB average.
- Bourn not only steals bases, he steals them efficiently. He has swiped bags at a rate of 81% in his career and has averaged 51 SBs over the past 5 years. He hasn't slipped much recently. Last year he stole 42 bases at a 76% rate of success.
Con: The regression of a player who is already considered just average overall on offense
- Despite a solid OBP and prolific base stealing ability, Bourn is just average on offense overall. In his last 3 seasons, he has put up wOBAs of .308, .325, and .326 -- the latter two years being around the league average. Some of that is due to a lack of power. Last year Bourn had career highs of 9 HRs and a .117 ISO,but both marks are outliers. Bourn had hit 7 total HRs in the 3 years prior and his previous career high was 5. His ISO is a below average .090 for his career.
- As an age 30 player, Bourn is past his peak years and we should start to see some regression in his offense. Although it isn't likely to be a big drop, Bourn is already an average offensive player overall. Bill James projects him at a .313 OBA in 2013, which is below league average.
Gaining Long term value
Pros: Flipping Bourn for prospect(s), the improved defense reflects on pitcher results
- If the Cubs don't contend in 2013 as expected, they'll have the opportunity to flip Michael Bourn for a prospect or two at the deadline. We've seen the Twins bring back nice hauls for similar players in Denard Span (Alex Meyer) and Ben Revere (Vince Worley, Trevor May). It should be noted, however, that Span is on a team friendly contract through 2014 with a 2015 team option. He'll average just over $5M/yr the next two years while Bourn is said to be looking for almost 3x that amount. Ben Revere is cost-controlled until 2018.
- It's one thing to try and pick up value with pitchers with low FIPS, but you need to put a good defense behind them for those results (ERA) to match or outperform those low FIPs. The Cubs biggest defensive weakness at this point is in CF and Bourn would shore that up. It should have a ripple effect on pitcher's performance and thus, their potential trade value as well.
Con: Draft pick compensation
- While we can't expect the Cubs to receive a haul similar to what the Twins did, in order for this to pay off long term, the Cubs return on a trade must exceed the value of a draft pick in the 35-40 range. Jason McLeod is said to value this pick highly, indicating that there are a few prospects they like in what is otherwise considered a weak draft. There should be a good college or high school pitcher available then. High school catching is also deep. Those two positions coincide with what are perhaps the Cubs biggest organizational needs.
- I don't expect the Cubs to recoup that draft pick through their own qualifying offer. Much like agent Scott Boras did with Edwin Jackson last season, I expect Bourn will either sign the mult-year deal he wants, after which he isn't likely to be worth that sort of qualifying offer, or he he will sign a one year deal with a team that involves an implicit promise not to make that offer, so as to eliminate that drag on his marketability in next year's offseason.
- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs wrote an interesting article on how all teams value those draft picks more because of the new CBA. Four of the eight free agents who received qualifying offers remain unsigned. In the past, teams could make up for a lost pick with a well above slot signing in the later rounds, but the new agreement makes it very difficult to do that now. The result is that the first couple of rounds in the draft have much higher value than they've had in past seasons. For a rebuilding club, they are perhaps even more important.
One year contract
Pros: Avoids blocking prospects/regression
- A one year deal is nice because the Cubs can avoid any potential entanglements with prospect Brett Jackson. Jackson is a question mark going into 2013 but if he's ready by midseason or earlier, the Cubs could come to regret blocking his path with Bourn. He could temporarily move to the corners until 2014 if the Cubs need to find a place for him. Even at worst, the Cubs would only be delaying Jackson's arrival by a couple of months.
- While Bourn is expected to regress, that isn't likely to have a huge impact on 2013, so the regression will be minimal.
Cons: Getting value back on rental, team not expected to contend in 2013
- The problem with a one year deal is that the Cubs would have to sell Bourn on a rental with no expectation of a draft pick to mitigate a potential trading partner's risk. That would lower his value even in a good season. The value you gain in a best case scenario is the value of a good prospect(s) minus the value of a top 40-ish draft pick. If he has a mediocre season or gets hurt, the Cubs may not even recoup the value of that lost draft pick.
- While the team should always try to improve, reality says it's a long shot that the Cubs will contend, so you have to question the wisdom of getting a one year deal on a player when you are likely to be under .500 for the season. The short term gain is minimal and the long term value in trade, as noted above, entails a lot of risk. It's debatable whether even the potential best case scenario reward justifies that risk.
Pros: Team would have a plus CF'er as they enter competitive years, more cost control
- Signing Bourn to a multi-year deal increases the probability of gaining a short term reward. I don't believe Bourn will accept a 2 year deal. It's either going to be a one year deal or at least 3 years. It's not out of the question that the Cubs could contend in the latter years of a multi-year deal. Bourn should still be able to provide plus defense and speed at that point.
- It may be easier to trade Bourn knowing that you can keep him for at least 2 more years. While Bourn would be expensive, the Cubs could increase his value by paying off some of the contract in exchange for getting better prospect value.
Cons: Regression, may block prospects
- Depending on how long the contract is, the Cubs should start seeing a steeper regression by the tail end of the deal. Even if the Cubs pay a significant portion of the deal, teams may fear giving up top prospects simply because they don't believe Bourn will be worth that price over the long haul. As we mentioned above, he's projected to be a below average offensive player as soon as next year and we should expect it to to continue to decline.
- Depending on the length of the deal, the Cubs could end up blocking other prospects such as Matt Szczur, who may be ready by 2014 or Albert Almora, who is expected to move quickly and could conceivably be ready by sometime in 2015.
As a straight out signing, I don't think the short term gain is worth the risk of potential long term loss, but the Cubs could make it more palatable if the deal itself has a domino effect where the Cubs open up OF spots by trading other veterans (i.e. Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus) for prospects and/or young players. The net gain of prospects for Soriano, DeJesus, and Bourn is more likely to offset the loss of that draft pick. Soriano, though, is likely to be traded (or at least the Cubs will try) regardless of what they decide on Bourn. The real gain may be what the Cubs could pick up for DeJesus, who becomes expendable with the addition of Shierholtz in RF if the Cubs also sign Bourn to play CF. If the Cubs feel they could recoup the value of their lost draft pick by flipping Bourn and trading the suddenly more expendable DeJesus, then it becomes a lot easier for me to swallow.
Overall, however, that's a lot of work that is partially contingent on other teams willingness to make a deal which would be acceptable for all sides. In the end, I think there are too many variables and moving parts for this to work in the Cubs favor. It's not impossible but, even with a dwindling market or Bourn, a lot of things have to fall in place for the Cubs to sign him and still make sure they don't hurt themselves long term.
What are your thoughts?