The New York Mets wanted him badly, but did not necessarily want to part with their first round pick.
The Chicago Cubs were in too, as their first round pick was protected, but they didn’t want to commit to a five-year deal.
Michael Bourn was a wanted man from the time he landed in the free-agent market this off-season, but a unique combination of circumstances saw his suitors become few, and one of baseball’s top free agents in the 2013 class remained unsigned with just a week to go before the start of Spring Training.
In the end, it was the mystery team, in this case the Cleveland Indians, that swooped in and took advantage of said circumstances to sign one of the best center fielders in the game today.
Protected pick? Check. The Indians only had to give up a sandwich pick between the second and third round to sign the 30-year old. Fifth year? Also check. They were also willing to add the extra commitment on a deal with Bourn, including a vesting option that would kick in if he receives at least 550 PA in the fourth season.
Simply put, the Indians were willing to go where Bourn’s other suitors balked. It was, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian puts it, a “perfect storm” that paved way for Indians GM Chris Antonetti to make his biggest off-season acquisition yet.
If the Indians’ divisional rivals haven’t noticed after the team added Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, and Trevor Bauer – well, this should get their attention that this is a Tribes team who are pretty serious about contending this season.
Whether the team was good enough that this move will be the one that puts them over is up for debate, but there’s no doubt that Bourn’s addition gives Cleveland a outfield that’s one of the league’s rangiest, considering the amount of ground that Brantley and Bourn will be able to cover.
Sure, Drew Stubbs may have provided that defense too, but he does not come close to matching Bourn’s skillset at the plate as a leadoff hitter for the Indians lineup. No player in the game has stolen more bases than Bourn’s 216 in the last four years combined, and that speed is going to have a significant impact atop the team’s lineup this season.
That said, perhaps what this deal will be mostly remembered for will be how quickly deals can come to fruition, and how even the lengthiest discussions can fall apart in a moment’s notice.
For the Mets, that they’ve lost out on their target of choice in the final stages of contract talks is disheartening, but as we’ve seen before, stalled negotiations often yields opportunities for unexpected parties to come pick up the pieces.
Antonetti kept his ears to the ground and did just that, when it seemed as though Bourn’s choices were dwindling down to a couple of teams. Score one more for the mystery team.