Lately we’ve heard a lot about negotiations between the New York Mets and free agent outfielder Michael Bourn. Nothing is imminent at all right now. The Mets are appealing to Major League Baseball to be able to sign Bourn, a free agent tied to draft pick compensation, without surrendering their first round draft pick, with the logic being that even though they pick 11th in the 2013 MLB Draft with only the top 10 picks being protected, they were among the worst 10 records in baseball from 2012. But before that happens, the Mets need to get Bourn and agent Scott Boras to agree to a contract they deem reasonable in order to make a deal happen. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that Scott Boras has told the Mets that Bourn has “attractive offers elsewhere,” and the Mets have challenged him to prove that those offers actually exist. Who could possibly be the teams that Boras is referencing? There can’t be too many teams interested in Bourn at this point. The Texas Rangers have been mentioned repeatedly as a possible suitor for him, but they appear to be ready to let a group led by Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin compete for starting roles (or we might see Jurickson Profar seize a starting role out of spring training with others moving around to accommodate him). The Indians reportedly have interest, but only if Bourn’s price goes down significantly. Who else is there?
One team that has been discussed as a possible sleeper suitor for Bourn has been the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays would seem like an illogical fit for Bourn on several different levels. The first factor is obviously the money- the Rays have never been a team known to give lucrative long-term deals to anyone not named Evan Longoria– and then there’s the fact that the Rays place a premium on the draft and player development and it’s hard to see them give up a first round pick to sign a free agent. Aside from all of that, the Rays appear to have a full outfield now with Desmond Jennings and Matthew Joyce manning two spots and either Ben Zobrist or Kelly Johnson occupying the third- and that goes without saying that top prospect Wil Myers should arrive in the major leagues at some point during the season. But if the right opportunity arises, the Rays might sign Bourn despite all those factors. The Rays are not the team that is going to give Bourn a big multi-year deal. But what if they offered him something like a 1-year, 12 million dollar contract to reestablish his value and go back on the market next year? Bourn would cost them a draft pick, but they have two first rounders this year thanks to B.J. Upton replacing Bourn in Atlanta, and if the opportunity arose to sign a player the caliber of Bourn at the right price, it’s hard to believe that the Rays would use players like Kelly Johnson and James Loney as excuses not to sign him. In Bourn’s eyes, they certainly will not be giving him the contract he deserves, but he would be signing with the organization that values his talents- speed and defense- most highly, will guarantee him their leadoff spot, and although Tropicana Field is certainly not a hitter’s haven, it’s a ballpark that fits for Bourn’s abilities as he’ll be able to rack up plenty of triples. Would Boras and Bourn be willing to settle for the Rays? Signing a 1-year, $12MM contract would probably be like pulling teeth for them, but if no other options present themselves, it may be something that they would take.
Even if the Rays have offered Bourn the best 1-year deal they could offer, maybe its only purpose will be as leverage against teams like the Mets and Rangers. But with so few options available and Boras pursuing every avenue to find a suitor for Bourn, the Rays are emerging as a real option, and if there’s a dark horse in the discussions for Bourn, it is clearly them.