Looking toward Bourn’s qualifying offer and an interesting offseason
Now that the Braves have exercised the contract options for Tim Hudson, Brian McCann and Paul Maholm, they will continue to progress through the early stages of the roster reconstruction process. This will include making Michael Bourn a qualifying offer before Friday’s deadline.
The qualifying offer is a product of the new collective bargaining agreement which altered the manner in which teams qualify to receive Draft pick compensation for losing a free agent. In the past, the level of compensation was based on whether the lost player had been rated as a Type A or Type B free agent. The new rules have eliminated this rating process.
Now to qualify for compensation, a club must make the free agent a qualifying offer — a one-year contract with a salary value the average of the top 125 salaries the year before. Like when clubs have offered free agents arbitration in the past, there is always a chance the player could accept this one year deal which will be worth $13.3 million for the 2013 season.
If the player declines this offer and signs elsewhere, 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. If so, 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 on the compensation round, which separates the first and second rounds of the Draft.
Bourn is the only member of this year’s free agent class who will receive a qualifying offer from the Braves. There is little reason to think he would accept this one-year offer that includes a salary lower than the average annual salary that he could receive on the free agent market.
Josh Hamilton might be the only position player who receives a larger contract than Bourn via free agency this year. With the Nationals, Phillies and Braves among the teams expected to show interest, some industry sources believe he could end up with a five-year contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million.
It still seems highly unlikely to think the Braves would be willing to provide this kind of contract to Bourn, who will turn 30 in December. There is reason to be concerned about the value that would be gained during the latter years of a multi-year contract given to a player who relies heavily on his speed.
Bourn hit .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 franchise record with 156 strikeouts in 2011 and then broke his own record with 168 strikeouts this past season.
Bourn’s speed helped him lead all Major League outfielders with a 22.4 UZR (ultimate zone rating) and 22.5 UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) this year. Oddly, he ranked among the league leaders in both of these categories in 2010 and then saw a steep decline in 2011, when he posted a -6.4 UZR and -6.42 UZR/150.
(NOTE: UZR stats provided by Fangraphs.com)
While it is certainly tough to find a legitimate leadoff hitter, there does not seem to be much reason to believe the Braves will get into a bidding war that could lead them to overpay for Bourn, who will definitely benefit from the fact that the NL East’s top three teams appear to be his most likely suitors.
If the Braves do not re-sign Bourn, they will still have the flexibility to make a significant acquisition via trade or free agency. It appears general manager Frank Wren will have anywhere between $25-30 million to spend. His primary needs are to determine who will play left field, center field and third base.
There is always a chance the Braves could land a third baseman via a trade. But at this time, it seems more likely that Martin Prado will end up at third base and Wren will end up acquiring two outfielders.
Over the next couple of weeks, you will hear and read about how the Braves have interest in Hamilton, Bourn, B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher and some of the other top outfielders available via free agency.
Like when they were pursuing A.J. Burnett, Jake Peavy and Derek Lowe four years ago, the Braves once again have the financial capability to be in the running for all of the top available players.
But with thoughts of Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami still fresh in their minds, some of the club’s top executives seem to believe it would be better to avoid the potential pitfalls of free agency by filling this offseason’s needs via the trade market.