ATLANTA -- If outfielder Michael Bourn doesn't return to the Braves next season, the club will be compensated with a selection in next year's Draft. The Braves made themselves eligible for this potential compensation when they made Bourn a qualifying offer before Friday's deadline. This offer is a product of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. This new agreement has eliminated the process that rated free agents as Type A or Type B to determine the level of compensation a club would receive if it lost one of its rated free agents after offering arbitration.
Now to receive compensation, a team must make a free agent a qualifying offer -- a one-year contract with a salary value that equals the average of the top 125 salaries from the year before. This offseason, those offers will be a $13.3 million salary for 2013. Players must accept this offer within seven days, so they cannot use it as a fallback option while they search for a better deal all offseason. Conventional thinking says its highly unlikely that Bourn or any other free agent in line for a lucrative multiyear deal would choose to pull himself off the free-agent market as early as next weekend. If the player declines this offer and then signs with another club, the team that signs him will forfeit a Draft pick. The loss would be a first-round pick unless that team has one of the Draft's first 10 selections. In that case, the signing club would lose a second-round pick. The club that lost the free agent will not receive the signing club's Draft pick. Instead, it receives a selection during the compensation round, which separates the first and second rounds of the Draft. It was not surprising that David Ross, Peter Moylan, Reed Johnson and Chad Durbin did not receive a qualifying offer from the Braves. While there is a chance that each of these players could return to Atlanta, none of them will receive a salary close to the $13.3 million figure this offer would provide. Beginning Saturday, Major League clubs will be permitted to begin negotiating with all free agents. Over the course of the days and weeks that follow, the Braves will get a better sense of how much it will cost to re-sign Bourn. With the Nationals, Phillies and Reds recognized as potential suitors for the speedy center fielder, industry sources have suggested that Bourn could receive a five-year contract with an average annual salary of at least $15 million. If the cost indeed proves to be this high, there is a good chance the Braves will look elsewhere to fill their needs for a center fielder and leadoff hitter. Bourn hit .274 with a career-high nine home runs, 42 stolen bases and a .739 OPS this past season. On the downside, he batted .225 with a .335 on-base percentage after the All-Star break and struck out 155 times as a leadoff hitter. To put that in perspective, Dan Uggla set the Braves franchise record with 156 strikeouts in 2011 and then broke his own record with 168 strikeouts this past season. Bourn has recorded at least 40 stolen bases each of the past five seasons and he led all Major League outfielders with a 22.5 UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 games) this year. There is no doubt that Bourn's speed has put him in position for a significant payday. But given the fact that he will turn 30 in December, there could be some concern about the value his legs will provide near the latter portion of a five-year deal.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.