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Mike Bauman

Bourn's free agency a case of bad timing

Despite his value, speedy center fielder has been hurt on market by external forces

Bourn's free agency a case of bad timing

It was widely agreed going into this winter that one of the most valuable free agents on the market was Michael Bourn.

Speedy, healthy, a genuine center fielder and leadoff hitter, a solid citizen -- what was there not to like? If his desired contract, reported to be roughly five years and $75 million, seemed a tad ambitious, well, his agent is Scott Boras, who has made a career out of turning truly lofty contract requests into reality for his clients.

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So it seemed that Bourn was in for a career payday, the only questions being with whom, for how much and for how long? But here we are in February, and Bourn remains a free agent, unemployed as Spring Training draws near.

There weren't any dramatic turns in the road on this particular chapter of free agency. There were merely some clubs, which looked like very likely landing spots for Bourn and his talents, choosing to go in different directions.

The Atlanta Braves, his most recent employer, were happy with his play, but they decided to obtain every available Upton instead. No sale there.

There were other clubs that looked like they fit the profile, needing a center fielder/leadoff type and conveniently being contenders with enough money to pay handsomely for this skill set.

But the Nationals got Denard Span from Minnesota and the Phillies got Ben Revere from Minnesota. These are both slightly lower-profile players, but still reasonable alternatives -- not to mention more inexpensive alternatives. There is no villain in this piece, but the Twins didn't do Bourn any favors by placing two less expensive versions of him on the market.

Bourn is persistently named as a possible addition for the Rangers, but the Texas organization just as persistently keeps saying no. The Mariners receive numerous mentions as a potential Bourn employer, but this may be largely a function of the widely held assumption that the M's need further offensive upgrades.

Bourn and Boras recently met with representatives of the Mets. The Mets don't fit the profile of an immediate contender, or a team that has been spending like an immediate contender. The Mets, in this case, appear to be closer to the profile of any port in a storm.

Perhaps a series of unfortunate occurrences have prevented Bourn from cashing in the way it was widely anticipated he would/could/should. The game is moving away from artificial bulk into an earlier form of itself, but maybe the market for what would be primarily a speed-and-defense signing has not caught up with the game's fundamental alteration.

Maybe there is some reluctance to hand out a long-term contract to a 30-year-old player whose game is built around speed. Boston's larger deal with Carl Crawford, with very little return, could be seen as a cautionary tale in this instance.

And yet, why attribute somebody else's problems to Michael Bourn? He's been healthy, he's been reliable, he's been dependable, he's played for a team that qualified for the postseason. He has fulfilled his portion of the bargain, and now, typically, he would be in for the windfall.

But that windfall hasn't occurred, and the windfall window grows smaller by the day. Bourn may be another player whose marketability was reduced by the changes in compensation. The team that signs him will lose not only a first-round Draft choice, but also money from its Draft bonus pool, thus reducing its flexibility in dealing with other Draft choices.

The ultimate fallback position here -- the typical consolation prize -- is a one-year deal. In that scenario, Bourn would sign for a year, prove himself all over again, and hit the free-agent market after the season. This beats being on the dole, but it isn't a lucrative, long-term contract, and there are no guarantees of what would happen when Bourn would become a 31-year-old free-agent speedster.

There is no way to measure how many people have been subconsciously affected by the similarity in names between Michael Bourn and Jason Bourne, the lead character in the Robert Ludlum books and the subsequent, ubiquitous movies.

You may have seen "The Bourne Ultimatum." Right now, what is needed is "The Bourn Ultimatum," as in: C'mon, somebody give this man a multiyear deal.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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