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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Bourn may be next free agent to land surprising deal

Justice: Bourn still a fine prize, but market blurry

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Bourn may be next free agent to land surprising deal

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

If it can happen for Josh Hamilton, then maybe it can happen for Michael Bourn. That's how free agency works.

Sometimes, just when a player starts thinking his options have dwindled, something unexpected happens.

Remember Prince Fielder?

Plenty of us thought he'd overplayed his hand last offseason. And then we discovered the Tigers had an extra $214 million lying around.

In fact, it was unclear what the market was for Albert Pujols until the Angels got involved. He ended up doing just fine.

Still, we're reaching that point in our program where the top free agents probably are getting anxious about where they'll be playing in 2013.

When this offseason began, the market for Bourn seemed fairly simple to figure out. The Nationals and Phillies both needed center fielders, and both seemed willing to spend money.

Whether they didn't like the asking price for Bourn or simply found better options may never be known. All that's known is that rather than throw millions at a free agent, both clubs made trades for center fielders.

The Nats traded their best young arm in their farm system, Alex Meyer, to get Denard Span from the Twins.

Instead of paying Bourn's asking price of $12 million to 15 million a year in a deal that likely would have run at least five years, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo got a player who essentially is going to make around $21 million the next three seasons.

The Phils looked elsewhere, too, sending two young pitchers to the Twins for center fielder Ben Revere.

Money could have been issues in this deal too. Revere, 25, is four years younger than Bourn, 29, and six years from free agency.

The Reds made it three teams who went to the trade route to upgrade their outfield, as they netted Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians to replace Drew Stubbs in center. The Giants were also in the market for a center fielder, but re-signed their own Angel Pagan.

The Yankees need outfield help, but they are close to a deal with Ichiro Suzuki, according to reports. The Red Sox went for Shane Victorino. It's interesting to note Ichiro will get two years, and Victorino will get three.

So with the obvious choices off the board and with the Red Sox and Yankees staying away from big-ticket free agents, Bourn's market is blurry.

The Rangers have money to spend after missing out on Zack Greinke and Hamilton, and Bourn fills their need for a left-handed hitter.

But Texas has a solid center fielder in Craig Gentry and needs home runs more than it needs speed and stolen bases.

First baseman Adam LaRoche or outfielder Nick Swisher (or both) would appear to be better fits for the Rangers.

The Mariners wanted Hamilton, too, and could make a run at Bourn as well. And there's always the mystery team.

Even with Revere, the Phillies are still shopping for an outfielder. But their preference is someone to play the corner, preferably someone with power. Bourn doesn't appear to be in the mix, but things can change quickly in free agency.

If there really is a slower market for Bourn, this is no knock on him. He's a terrific defensive center fielder and has led the National League in stolen bases three times.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Bourn's Wins Above Replacement number was 6.0, tied with Chase Headley for 11th-best in the Major Leagues. By comparison, Hamilton was 53rd with a 3.4.

Offensively, though, there's no comparison. Hamilton's .930 on-base-plus-slugging percentage was eighth best in the majors. Bourn was 100th at .739.

And the Rangers don't need Bourn's glove. They need power from a corner outfielder or a first baseman.

It's impossible to know where he might land, just as it was impossible to know the Tigers would step up for Fielder a year ago.

Bourn is good enough to win games with his glove or his legs or his bat. He doesn't dazzle the way Hamilton does, but the team that signs him will be plenty happy it did.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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