It took a little longer than anticipated.
And it surely wasn’t the exact deal he was looking for, but outfielder Michael Bourn is back with the Orioles – at least for the spring.
The 34-year-old veteran signed a minor-league deal Monday with an invite to Orioles’ camp. His contract will be worth $2 million if he ends up making the roster.
Based on his skill set and his production in 2016 during his brief stint with the Orioles, you’d think he would make the Opening Day roster with little trouble. That’s the perception given by executive vice president Dan Duquette’s text Monday night: “Michael Bourn’s all-around play helped the club earn a 2016 playoff spot and (the) O’s are glad to have him back for 2017.”
Bourn immediately becomes one of the best outfield defenders on the club and its most prototypical option at leadoff, a spot he’s filled 890 times in 1,143 career starts.
Bourn is a career .266 hitter with a .329 on-base percentage and .357 slugging percentage in 11 seasons. Last year, after being acquired in an Aug. 31 deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor league outfielder Jason Heinrich, Bourn slashed .283/.358/.435 in 28 games with the Orioles.
In his career, the speedy, left-handed-hitting Bourn fares better against right-handers than southpaws (.270/.337/.366 in 3,891 plate appearances vs. .254/.310/.334 in 1,432 plate appearances). But he had reverse splits in 2016 with the Diamondbacks and Orioles; he slashed .240/.297/.351 in 338 plate appearances versus right-handers and .357/.387/.457 in just 75 plate appearances against lefties.
Given his age, Bourn’s not going to play every day. But, based on his track record, he should be a contributor and see a decent amount of playing time.
Here are my thoughts on the deal, which was first reported by MASNSports.com (signed) and FanRag Sports (financial terms):
Bourn a boon for slow O’s lineup
Let’s face it, the Orioles needed speed and defense. Those were the two ingredients missing from this 2017 lineup. And though the Orioles may have had both in Joey Rickard and newly signed Craig Gentry, Bourn has fewer red flags.
He’s not an on-base machine, but he did have a .358 OBP in his limited time with the Orioles. And though he had one memorable misplay in right field the American League Wild Card game, he can defend at any outfield position.
Then there is his speed. He has 341 career stolen bases and has swiped double digits in every full season in his career. He was 15-for-20 last year, including 2-for-2 with the Orioles. Those two stolen bases in one month put him into a second-place tie with three other Orioles. Seriously. Rickard led the sloth-like O’s with four stolen bases, and he missed most of the second half.
Bad news for Rickard?
Bourn’s signing, coupled with that of Gentry’s on Saturday, gives the Orioles a tremendously crowded outfield. They have nine outfielders on the 40-man roster – including two Rule 5 picks – and five more that have received non-roster invites to spring.
Right now, you have to assume Hyun Soo Kim, Adam Jones, Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo have made the team. So, that leaves one outfielder – two if they take 12 pitchers north – for the 25-man roster. Bourn could start the season in the minors since he is on a minor-league deal. But once his contract is purchased by the big-league club, he can’t come off the roster without going through waivers (or being outright released).
The club would love to keep at least one of their Rule 5 outfielders – Aneury Tavarez or Anthony Santander – but that means a clogged roster spot all season.
Therefore, because Rickard has minor-league options remaining and is coming back from injury, he could be the odd man out to start the season.
Although somewhat unfair, it probably wouldn’t be a terrible thing for the 25-year-old’s development. He could get more minor-league experience and be great insurance when/if needed during the season.
Because Rickard is right-handed and Bourn is left-handed, there is a scenario both could be kept, but then the Rule 5 guys would have to be punted and the pitching staff would be limited to 12 pitchers – which might be doable if Chris Tillman begins the season on the disabled list and manager Buck Showalter can juggle his staff to accommodate a couple early-season spot starts. Heck, with a little creativity, the Orioles potentially could survive a month with 11 pitchers, though that seems unlikely.
By the way, Bourn’s expected presence also delivered another body blow to first baseman/DH Trey Mancini’s chances of making the Opening Day roster.
Good news for Jones?
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones verbalized his desire for the team to add more defensive-minded outfielders before the season began. He got his wish in Bourn and the 32-year-old, right-handed-hitting Gentry, who appears to be a real long shot to stick in the big leagues initially, but he also could be good insurance at Triple-A Norfolk.
Both Bourn and Gentry can play center field (as can Rickard), and that’s big because Jones, who turns 32 in August, needs more rest this year. He plays so hard, and has had so few good defenders alongside him recently that all the running and pounding is taking a toll on his legs.
Having Bourn available to spell Jones, even once a week, should make Jones a better player throughout the entire season. And the Orioles wouldn’t be jeopardizing their defensive alignment when Bourn is filling in.
And, when Bourn is in the lineup, Jones won’t have to hit leadoff, something Showalter was hoping to avoid this year.
Lefty logjam conundrum
Kim and Smith are corner outfielders who mash right-handed pitching. Trumbo is going to play nearly every day at DH or occasionally in right field or first base. So where does that leave Bourn, a natural lefty, against right-handers?
I don’t know the answer to that yet. But injuries do occur. Showalter wants to give more guys days off in 2017. And you can’t have too many talented players on your roster.
I wouldn’t have endorsed a major financial investment for a 34-year-old whose game is so dependent on healthy legs. But on a minor-league deal that’ll cost just $2 million in the majors for a guy who has a track record and fits seamlessly into the clubhouse, it’s another Duquette, February no-brainer.