COMMENTARY | Despite the fact that the New York Mets haven't aggressively pursued free agents this winter, the offseason hasn't been as disappointing as some have portrayed it to be.
The Mets took care of important business when they signed third baseman David Wright to an eight-year contract. And though they traded one of their most popular players, the knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the Mets received promising prospects in return.
Aside from those two moves, the Mets have been pretty quiet. But when you're a team building for 2014 and beyond, that's a good thing. Signing Nick Swisher for $14 million a year or Shane Victorino for $13 million a year would not have been smart decisions. Nor would it have been prudent to break the bank for Josh Hamilton.
And while I've said all along that the Mets have been wise to stay out of the free agent market -- a decision, by the way, that they mostly get criticized for -- I admit that there is one intriguing player out there. And he gets more intriguing by the day.
Michael Bourn is a 30-year-old outfielder whose greatest asset is his speed. He stole 42 bases for the Atlanta Braves last season and he has 276 career stolen bases. Bourn is an excellent center fielder, and the Mets could use both his bat and glove considering the current state of their outfield.
The fact that Bourn's game is predicated on his speed obviously has teams concerned. Prior to the 2011 season, Carl Crawford, another player with speed, signed a seven-year contract worth $142 million with the Boston Red Sox at the age of 29. Since signing that deal, Crawford hasn't been the same player, and last summer the Red Sox traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. So teams are understandably skeptical about a guy like Bourn.
The fact that Bourn is represented by Scott Boras, who isn't known for giving discounts, and the idea that they've been looking for a deal in the neighborhood of $100 million, are other reasons why Bourn, just a few weeks away from spring training, has yet to find a home.
The Mets are now among the teams mentioned as having interest in Bourn, and they may actually be the most desperate of them all. After all, the Mets, as presently constructed, have one of the worst outfields in Major League Baseball.
Bourn would obviously be a huge upgrade over what the Mets have now. His speed at the top of the order would totally change the Mets' lineup. Defensively, he would be a good fit in a spacious Citi Field. But one must acknowledge the downside. Besides his age, Bourn has very little power and he strikes out a lot. He stole 19 fewer bases last year than he did the year before. The Mets would also have to give up the 11th overall pick in the draft as compensation.
Still, pursuing Bourn makes sense, assuming the Mets do it on their terms.
While I would not sign Bourn to a contract like the one Crawford received, if the Mets could somehow sign him to a deal for three years at about $15 million per season, I don't think there would be too much risk involved in that. If he starts to wear down (remember, he's only 30), the Mets would only be on the hook through 2015. If he's as productive as he's been, the Mets add one of the game's best leadoff hitters who would make their outfield a whole lot better. As we get closer and closer to spring training, a one-year deal may even be a possibility, with Bourn then playing out the 2013 season and hitting the market again a year from now.
At six years and $100 million, the Mets should stay away. But cut those numbers in half and the Mets have to at least consider making a move.
The Mets have signed players to bad contracts in the past (Jason Bay, Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez), but Bourn would appear to be a good fit at the right price.
After almost two months on the market, Bourn's camp may have to come down a bit from their demands. Time for the Mets to step up.
Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
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