The Philadelphia Phillies are correct by not pursuing free agent Michael Bourn this offseason. By taking everything into account: Bourn’s contract demands, the compensatory pick the Phillies would lose, and the history of players who rely on speed underwhelming as they progress into their thirties, you can clearly see that Michael Bourn is not the right player for the Phillies.
But the longer he sits in free agency the more tempting he looks for many big league GMs.
30-year-old former Atlanta Braves center fielder Bourn hired mega agent Scott Boras. Boras has a history of getting players very long and lucrative contracts. Most notably when he got former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth a seven-year $140+ million contract with the Washington Nationals, a contract that perplexes many analysts (including me).
Bourn has always been a player that just tries to get on base. Once he’s safely reached first he tries to swipe a bag or two. With no power to speak of (21 HR in five seasons) this is obviously his best strategy, and has worked very well for him thus far in his career. Problem is that given time speed decreases.
Bourn will be 30 when the 2013 season begins. Signing a speedster to a four or more year contract is a risky move; history very clearly demonstrates that speed goes away on the wrong side of thirty. Objectively speaking, the best a team can hope for is that a player to not lose their step by 32, unless that he has another facet to his offensive game. In a five year deal you could see a player with Bourn’s skill level turn into Scott Podsednik, who stole 212 bases in four years before he turned 30, and 97 in the six seasons after. Bourn currently has 276.
It’s possible Bourn’s decline has already begun? Look at these numbers:
Year -PA – OBP – SB
2010 – 605 – .341 – 52
2011 – 722 – .349 – 61
2012 – 703 – .348 – 42
His steals dropped nearly 20, but he did not see any significant reduction in plate appearances or on base percentage. Sure that may be a statistical outlier, but there is one thing it surely is not: a good sign.
Remember that any team who signs Bourn (sans the worst 10 teams in 2012) will have to give up a first round draft pick. From a Phillies point of view that makes passing on Bourn a no brainer. Their roster is already visibly aging, and instead of bringing in a high tier prospect they would sign an aging speedster with no power and give that prospect to a younger and more talented division rival.
Rickey Henderson stole 50 bases or more in a season 13 times in his career. Only 4 of those were after he was 30. Rickey played until he was 45 and stole an historic 1406 bases. He stole 871 of those bases (62%) in the 11 seasons before he turned thirty. Point? Even if you’re the great you lose your best at 30.
Fast doesn’t get faster. By passing on Michael Bourn the Phillies save themselves a draft pick, stay under the luxury tax, and miss making a poor long-term investment to try and show the fans they can still “win” the offseason. Any contract past three years is wasting money on Bourn.