While most eyes will be focused on where Josh Hamilton winds up this offseason, Michael Bourn may actually be the best outfielder on the 2012 free-agent market.
At just 29 years old, Bourn has slowly developed into one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. Initially an extremely raw prospect, he has become an increasingly smart hitter and a brilliant center fielder over the past few years.
Bourn had perhaps a career-best performance last season with the Atlanta Braves, hitting .274 with nine home runs, 57 RBI and 42 stolen bases while setting a career-high 6.0 WAR. Though the Braves gave their star outfielder a qualifying offer, nearly all signs point to Bourn signing elsewhere in the offseason.
The only question remains is where he will end up. With that in mind, here is a look at a few rumored destinations for Bourn, along with the likelihood that he winds up there.
Despite a season that saw the club finish with the second-best record in the majors, there are a few glaring holes the Cincinnati Reds must fix this offseason.
Of those deficiencies, leadoff hitting has to be at the top of the list. Last season saw the Reds have quite easily the worst leadoff men in baseball, as a rotation of hitters finished the season with a .254 on-base percentage.
On paper, that makes Bourn a perfect fit and is likely why the team has made him a target, according to CBS Sports' Danny Knobler.
Unfortunately for the Reds, that excellence is also what will almost certainly keep Bourn out of the club's price range. After breaking the bank to give first baseman Joey Votto a 10-year, $225 million contract in April, the team won't be able to afford another huge contract without sacrificing something else.
With a closer also on the wish list this offseason, Cincinnati will probably go with a cheaper free agent to fix its leadoff woes.
Verdict: Highly Unlikely
A midseason purge of contracts leaves the Philadelphia Phillies with some money to spend this offseason and Bourn could be one of their top targets.
ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the team "loves" the outfielder, but he also noted that general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. may be hesitant to pull the trigger on another huge deal. Despite the discarding of salaries, the Phillies are still obligated to first baseman Ryan Howard and their trio of aces in the rotation.
Still, if the price stays somewhere in the $15 million per season range, you cannot discount Philly from making a run. Bourn fills a deficiency in center field and would reinvigorate a lineup that was stagnant for much of 2012.
At the very least, Bourn would serve as a massive upgrade from Shane Victorino, who was one of the contracts purged during the season.
The Phillies aren't the favorites, but they are the most likely second option for Bourn at this point.
Verdict: In the Running
Fresh off bringing playoff baseball back to the nation's capital, the Washington Nationals seem destined to make at least one big splash this offseason.
The team will only have Davey Johnson for one more season and the team will do almost anything possible to have its manager leave the game on top.
Based on everything we have heard this offseason, the Nationals view Bourn as the missing piece for World Series glory. According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the team has had its eye on Bourn for a long time. What's more, all signs point to Washington being willing to spend the money necessary to make it happen.
Obviously, there is the Bryce Harper problem. The 19-year-old phenom was fantastic in center field last season, but most evaluators view him as a great corner outfielder in the future. Bringing in Bourn allows the Nationals to move Harper to a corner spot, all while giving them one of the best fielding outfields in baseball.
It also affords the team an opportunity to move Harper or Jayson Werth further down the lineup, where they would get more chances with runners in scoring position.
Barring a mystery team walking in and wowing Bourn, Washington feels like the most natural destination.
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