David Murphy: Bourn not the answer

Phillies third baseman Kevin Frandsen watches Dan Uggla's three-run double get past him inseventh inning.
Phillies third baseman Kevin Frandsen watches Dan Uggla's three-run double get past him inseventh inning. (STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 10, 2012

IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, there is a more delicate way to broach this topic, but regardless of how you spin it, the notion remains the same: If any major league organization decides to hand Michael Bourn the $15 to $20 million salary that some national pundits estimate he is worth, the next owners meeting better feature a Brooks Brothered line of executives waiting to purple nurple the guilty party. And Phillies fans better hope that it isn't David Montgomery wincing in pain.

Michael Bourn is a relative topic for a variety of reasons, mostly because he happens to be in town at a time when the lower half of Charlie Manuel's lineup reads Mayberry-Kratz-Schierholtz-Frandsen. Granted, there is a bit of logic involved. The Phillies need an everyday centerfielder for 2013, and they seem intent on using the last 2 months of 2012 to prove that John Mayberry will not be the guy. Come November, Bourn will be a free agent, and if he isn't the unanimous choice as the top player available, Scott Boras will do everything in his power to make it look that way. Which is a dangerous situation, because the Phillies have a glaring hole at a position, and Ruben Amaro Jr. says he has the money to fill it, and that type of situation occasionally results in a contract that makes the Philadelphia School District look like a model of fiscal responsibility.

That the Phillies like Bourn is an open secret around baseball. Hell, they better like him. They drafted him, developed him, traded him to the Astros, watched him blossom. In Wednesday's 12-6 loss to Atlanta, they saw him hit a two-run homer in one inning and then rob Erik Kratz of an extra-base hit in the next. Really, it was more of the same: He entered Wednesday night having reached base in 11 of his 24 plate appearances at Citizens Bank Park this season.

Bourn is a nice player, one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game, a player who can wreak havoc on the base paths, an above-average hitter at a position where those kinds of players are rarer than a Manuel-ordered porterhouse. Somewhere in the major leagues lurks a general manager who will decide that such a commodity is worth the payroll flexibility that it will cost. But that general manager cannot be Amaro, at least not if his actions over the past 7 months have been the result of anything other than a long con designed to fool his colleagues into thinking that he is operating on a budget.

The Phillies have traded away Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, shopped Joe Blanton and Placido Polanco. This, after they decided to enter the season with a mishmash of part-timers holding down leftfield and first base, without any substantive backup plans for their injury-plagued veterans at third base and second base, with Chad Qualls and his debilitating strikeout allergy on the mound in the eighth innings of tight games. Teams that are not beholden to opportunity costs do not make those sorts of decisions. They spend the extra seven, eight or nine million dollars per year on a Josh Willingham or a Jason Kubel, on a couple of veteran relievers whose pitches do not harbor a cosmic attraction to wood.

No doubt, the Phillies need help. Plenty of it. They are going to need to spend money to acquire that help. Plenty of it. But they also need discretion. Plenty of it. At the moment, the Phillies biggest needs in the lineup are base-reaching ability and righthanded power. Between the ages of 26 and 29, Bourn has a .283 batting average, .347 on-base percentage and .382 slugging percentage with 203 steals, 15 home runs, 498 strikeouts and 216 walks in 2,513 plate appearances. Compare those to the numbers that Jimmy Rollins posted between the same ages (2005-08): .285/.341/.472, 165 steals, 78 home runs, 291 strikeouts, 211 walks in 2,893 plate appearances. Or Juan Pierre (2004-07): .297/.340/.376, 224 steals, eight home runs, 155 strikeouts, 151 walks in 2,946 plate appearances.

When Bourn hits free agency, he will be entering his 30-year-old season. He is lefthanded. He has 21 home runs and a .367 slugging percentage in his career. He is more of a line-drive hitter than Rollins, but he also strikes out much more. And he doesn't walk with the frequency of a bona fide leadoff man. His game is largely dependent on vacant patches of grass. Drawing walks is a much easier skill to sustain than hitting balls where fielders aren't. After the Braves acquired him last season, Bourn hit .278/.321/.352. In 2010, he posted a line of .265/.341/.346.

Don't be surprised if Amaro plays along and allows Boras to use the Phillies to drive up his client's price. But if Amaro does end up overpaying for a centerfielder, don't be surprised if it is Melky Cabrera, a switch-hitter who is mauling pitchers from the right side of the plate this season and will be 28 years old next season. While the wisdom of that move can also be debated, let's keep in mind one important fact.

It's only August.


The Phillies fell to 50-61 in ugly fashion. Righthander Kyle Kendrick threw 50 pitches in the second inning, walking light-hitting eight-hole hitter Paul Janish before giving up a two-run double in an inning that saw the Braves score four runs . . . Jimmy Rollins hit a leadoff home run and the Phillies scored five in a bottom of the fifth inning that included RBI doubles by Rollins and Domonic Brown . . . Antonio Bastardo allowed three runs in the eighth and took the loss.

Contact David Murphy at murphyd@phillynews.com. For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at @HighCheese.

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