The free agency of outfielder Michael Bourn has turned into a high-stakes card game between the New York Mets and Bourn’s agent, Scott Boras, in which both sides appear to be bluffing.
On the one hand, there’s Boras, who has repeatedly claimed his clients have offers beyond those rumored in the press. But as Joel Sherman outlines, the reason not to assume Boras is simply saying so to artificially drive up the price of his clients is that, time after time, he finds those deals for his players.
Sherman writes: “After the 2008 season, the Mets offered three years for Derek Lowe, Boras said he could get four, the Mets said prove it and Lowe signed for four years and $60 million with the Braves. The following offseason, the Mets proposed five years for Matt Holliday, Boras said he could get more, the Mets dared him to and Holliday received a seven-year, $120 million pact from the Cardinals.”
It is worth noting, however, that both Lowe and Holliday signed far earlier in the offseason than Bourn will. It is February 6, just a few days until pitchers and catchers report. The Mets will play their first spring training game in just 17 days.
Lowe, by contrast, signed on January 13; Holliday even earlier, on January 5. So Boras is running out of time to place his client, a further pressure on him to find the best offer.
As for the Mets, exactly how genuine their interest is remains to be seen as well, even with an outfield in need of even one major league outfielder, let alone an elite defensive center fielder like Bourn.
And the Mets are in no hurry. They’ve made it clear they will go to spring training with their sub-replacement outfield if Bourn isn’t available to come aboard. In this way, the team’s willingness to eschew even basic roster upgrades that cost any money for years now works to Sandy Alderson’s advantage, if he is bluffing.
Even if the Mets manage to sign Bourn for a highly-discounted $30 million over three years, which nobody thinks is enough to get it done, that would represent by far the most money the Mets have given to a free agent since their ill-fated four-year, $66 million deal with Jason Bay. In Sandy Alderson’s tenure, only Frank Francisco has managed to get two years, $12 million in free agency. And with ownership still in massive financial peril, whether the Mets have either the ability or willingness to meet Bourn’s price remains in doubt.
Alderson has repeatedly said he is unwilling to give up the first-round draft pick (and with it, a significant amount of alloted money to sign all their draft picks) in the 2013 draft. Under Major League Baseball rules, though, Bourn would cost the Mets that pick and alloted money; the Mets are trying to fight the rule, with observers mixed about whether they can prevail in such a fight.
But no one seems to think M.L.B. will rule on it until they have to; that is, until the Mets and Bourn actually have a deal.
So with time to kill until spring training, Mets fans are hoping Boras’ recent track record of getting his clients well-paid, and the Mets’ recent track record of not paying anyone if they can avoid it, are both due for course corrections.
Until it happens, though, there aren’t likely to be a lot of believers. The Mets are talking plenty about Bourn; but we all know what they say about talk.