Should the Cubs go after Michael Bourn

michaelbournMichael Bourn rumors have been flying around all offseason, but he is still sitting there without a job for 2013. We were told how he'd be one of the most highly sought after free agents this offseason, but perhaps those people who said that need to rethink it. Bourn has had plenty of suitors, but talks with him have not even progressed to the stages where we were hearing constant rumors of a signing being near. It's early February, less than ten days before pitchers and catchers report to spring training and he's without work.

There are reasons that Michael Bourn is still without a job. He's coming off his best season and he's seeking a lot of money. Additionally, only the top 10 picks in the draft are protected so most teams who sign him would be giving up their first round pick. The Cubs pick second so that pick is secure, but if they signed Bourn or any other player who was presented a qualifying offer, they would give up their 2nd round pick.

In a perfect world the Cubs would like to keep that pick, along with all of them, but is MIchael Bourn good enough to give up that pick? The Cubs need a long-term solution in the outfield. Even if the Cubs are confident that Brett Jackson can stop striking out so much, there are 3 outfield positions and the Cubs lack prospects in the high minors that could help out.

Alfonso Soriano enjoyed a resurgent 2012 season, but his contract is up in two years and the Cubs have been trying to trade him every day for the last 18 months. Or longer. David DeJesus has one guaranteed year left and a team option for a third at $6.5 million. Nate Schierholtz isn't very good.

As for prospects, Jorge Soler is still in the low minors and Albert Almora has barely started his professional career. The Cubs could certainly use Michael Bourn. They could also use all their draft picks, but at times you've got to make a trade. Michael Bourn is a good ballplayer, though not as good as he was last season.

2008 .229 .288 .300 3.0 1.0 4.2 0.2 -0.7 -1.1 -0.5
2009 .285 .354 .384 9.9 11.0 12.0 4.9 4.7 3.9 4.5
2010 .265 .341 .346 19.4 30.0 8.8 4.7 5.3 3.4 4.5
2011 .294 .349 .386 -6.4 -3.0 13.1 4.1 3.0 1.8 3.0
2012 .274 .348 .391 22.4 24.0 6.6 6.4 6.0 3.7 5.4

Bourn has been very consistent over the last four seasons. So consistent that his OBP has only ranged from .341 to .354. Since 2009, only one season has a slugging below .380 and none are higher than .391.

As you can see from the table, he derives a lot of his value from defense and he'll be 30 years old. At the end of a 5-year contract it's safe to say that much or all of his defensive value will be gone and the same is quite probably true of his baserunning value. There's a reason teams are balking at a lot of money over 5 years for a guy like Bourn. He makes his living on young player skills and he's wanting to be paid through what is an advanced age for baseball players.

Bourn doesn't offer much at the plate. He'll be consistently OK. He's ranged from below average to slightly better than average over the last four seasons and his offense will also deteriorate even further.

Despite that, he has value right now and is a good bet to retain much of that value in the next 2-3 years. After that, I wouldn't put much faith in being of much value, but long-term contracts are usually structured in a way that teams underpay at the front and overpay at the end. It's the cost of free agency and if the Cubs are ever to be active in that front, it's a cost they'll have to be willing to pay for.

81.3 million dollar man

CAIRO is projecting 2.5 offensive WAR and +7 on defense, which gives him a 3.2 WAR projection for 2013. Let's be generous and up that to 3.5 just because I'm an optimistic guy. We'd get something like this over the next few years:

  • 2013: 3.5 WAR
  • 2014: 3.0
  • 2015: 2.5
  • 2016: 2.0
  • 2017: 1.5

He'd be worth about 12.5 WAR over 5 seasons. If the win value starts at $5.5 million, that's roughly an average win value of $6.5 million over the life of the contract.

I haven't paid a ton of attention to the Bourn rumors this offseason, but I seem to recall him looking for a 5-year deal in the $75 million neighborhood. According to my optimistic-updated CAIRO projections, he'd worth approximately $81 million. However, players who sign multi-year contracts give the team a discount due to the uncertainty of the years ahead. That discount is roughly 10%. So a reasonable contract for Bourn comes out to $72-73 million over 5 years.

Since teams would be giving up a draft pick, that value is even less, which is why he's still on the market. He'd be a solid addition to the Cubs now and in the future so why not offer him $65 million and see if that gets him to sign?

If the Cubs are reluctant to spend that much, how about a shorter contract for a little bit more per year? Tangotiger came up with a quick and easy tool once that showed the approximate value of a contract over a different number of years. For example, a player who is worth $10 million over 5 years would be worth $11 million over 4 years or $9 million over 6 years. Over 3 years Bourn might be worth a total of $50 million.

I'm doubtful he gets that much. I'd assume if he was worth as much as the projections suggest that he'd already be off the market, but I don't really know. I can only estimate his value and considering he's still available.

Should the Cubs even bother to get involved at this point?