Is Mets' Interest in Michael Bourn all for show?

Kevin C. Cox

The Mets have come out of nowhere to jump in the lead in the bidding for Michael Bourn, but is their interest genuine or is it just for show?

The Mets have been connected to free agent center fielder Michael Bourn quite a bit this last week. They are hoping that they can skirt the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement and keep their first round draft pick despite owning an unprotected pick. Regardless of the draft-pick compensation issue, Jay Schreiber of the New York Times wonders-

Is it possible this whole flirtation with Bourn is at least partly designed to make it seem as if the Mets are trying to do something, even though they know the odds of anything really happening are pretty slim?

Given the current state of the Mets, it isn’t an unreasonable to question to ask.

As Schreiber acknowledges, the Mets are in need of a centerfielder. The team non-tendered Andres Torres this off-season and he has since signed with his old team, the San Francisco Giants. Kirk Nieuwenhuis is currently the projected starter, but the 25 year old struggled as a rookie last season, hitting .252 /.315/.376 while striking out over 30% of the time. His defense is still somewhat raw as well, though he does appear to be able to handle the position. Signing Bourn would certainly be a major upgrade on both offense and defense, but would still be a strange move for GM Sandy Alderson.

The Mets are not hiding the fact that they are rebuilding. They traded R.A. Dickey, the National League Cy Young award winner and a fan favorite, to serve the needs of the future. Aside from David Wright, the best players on the team are all young and largely unproven at this point. If everything was to break perfectly for rookie starter Matt Harvey, top prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler, and bounce-back candidates like Ike Davis and Dillon Gee, the Mets would still be a long shot for a wild card spot this season. Realistically, they are looking to contend in 2014 at the earliest and building for 2015 and beyond.

Michael Bourn is 30 years old coming off of his best season at the plate, but there are reasons to worry about his future performance. His strikeout rate crept up to a new high at 22% last season. He had no trouble balancing that out with a career high walk rate and his ever best home run rate, but it still may be a reason for concern.

Bourn has little home run power and even with the new closer fences at CitiField, it is hard to imagine him sustaining his 8% HR/FB from last season in that environment, especially since it is almost double his career rate. A 22% strikeout rate is high for a player with so little power and Bourn would have a difficult time being an above average hitter if he should slow down, even with his strong eye at the plate. As much as Bourn would be a huge improvement for the Mets in 2013, signing him to the multi-year contract he is seeking would be big risk for a team that has little to gain in the one or two years when Bourn is likely to be at his best.

Their concern with the compensation issue is certainly justifiable, but it also gives the impression that the team is looking for reasons not to make this deal. The R.A. Dickey trade was hard for many fans to swallow and the Mets are certainly in need of some better press right now. It may simply be that the Mets were waiting for the market on a top player like Bourn to shrink, but something about this change of course is difficult to understand apart from a public relations ploy.

Sandy Alderson may have changed his mind about Bourn, but there are enough reasons for the Mets to avoid signing the free agent center fielder to make this new interest a little bit suspicious.

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