No free-agent position player of Michael Bourn’s caliber has ever taken this long to find a new team. Not when fully healthy. Not in a true open market.
In 2005, outfielder Magglio Ordonez needed until Feb. 7 to sign with the Detroit Tigers, but only because the two sides had to work out complex language due to a pre-existing condition in Ordonez’s left knee.
In 1987, victims of collusion such as Andre Dawson and Tim Raines did not sign until after the start of spring training, and in some cases after Opening Day. But that market was rigged, and hardly comparable to what Bourn, 30, is facing.
Though the odds seem increasingly slim, I’m not ruling out that Bourn will land a big deal, perhaps even beating B.J. Upton’s five-year, $75.25 million free-agent contract with the Atlanta Braves. By now, all of us should know better than to doubt Bourn’s agent, Scott Boras.
Then again, what is Bourn’s true value?
It’s still unclear.
The Braves, unwilling to meet Boras’ expectations, never made an actual offer to retain Bourn, according to major league sources. Braves officials believed that Bourn merited no more than a four-year contract for $10 million to $12 million per season, one source said.
The New York Mets, Bourn’s most aggressive public suitor, have discussed a three-year deal with Boras, according to another source. But the Mets, too, are not willing to pay Bourn anywhere close to $15 million per season, the source said.
Such talk could mean little — the Mets and other clubs might be telling Boras that they are willing to give Bourn five years at bigger dollars, but won’t formally offer it until the player signals that he is willing to enter into serious discussions.
The Seattle Mariners also have shown interest in Bourn, and teams such as the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs still could get more active at a price they deem to be a bargain.
The perception among some clubs is that Boras lacks leverage with both Bourn and his other top remaining free agent, right-hander Kyle Lohse.
Boras says otherwise.
“Bourn and Lohse have very viable markets and we’re negotiating with the clubs currently,” the agent said Tuesday night.
The expected loss of St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter for all of 2013 could create an opportunity for Lohse to rejoin his previous club. With Bourn, the plot is thick, and could get thicker still.
The Mets say they will sign Bourn only if they can retain the 11th pick in the amateur draft; Bourn, who received a qualifying offer from the Braves, is subject to draft-pick compensation.
Under the new collective-bargaining agreement, only the top-10 picks are “protected.” Teams holding those picks can sign a qualifying free agent such as Bourn without losing their first-round choice, and forfeit their second rounder instead.
The Mets had the 10th-worst record in the majors last season, and fell to the 11th spot only because the Pittsburgh Pirates did not sign their No. 1 pick, the eighth overall selection, Stanford right-hander — and Boras client — Mark Appel. As compensation, the Pirates will pick ninth this year.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson said earlier this week that according to “the spirit of the rule,” the teams with the worst 10 records should get the first 10 picks. The union agrees with Alderson, sources say, and likely would file a grievance on the matter, trying to ensure that the Mets would bid freely for Bourn.
I don’t see how baseball can justify changing a rule that it enacted only last year. But I do know this: If there is a draft loophole to be found, Boras will find it, just as he has done for his entire career.
I also know this: commissioner Bud Selig is close with Mets owner Fred Wilpon, and has supported him throughout his team’s financial crisis.
As if Selig doesn’t have enough problems with the latest PED eruptions, he now faces the prospect that Wilpon’s Mets will align with Boras, baseball’s least favorite agent, to dispute a provision of the CBA.
As one executive put it, “The commish can’t be happy that Wilpon’s club and (Selig’s) hand-picked GM (Alderson) would join Boras — sworn enemy of the state! — to challenge Bud legally.
“It takes some guts on the Mets’ part. I’m sure the union and Boras would handle the grievance independently, but the Mets obviously would be party to it.”
In other words, the fun might only be beginning.
I’m setting Feb. 20 as the over/under for a Bourn agreement.