Inside the Phillies: Michael Bourn may fit Phillies better than either Upton brother

Michael Bourn celebrates scoring a run with Atlanta. He is the best pure centerfielder left, with top defensive and base-running skills.    NICK WASS / AP
Michael Bourn celebrates scoring a run with Atlanta. He is the best pure centerfielder left, with top defensive and base-running skills.    NICK WASS / AP (      NICK WASS / AP)
Posted: December 05, 2012

NASHVILLE - The B.J. Upton-to-the-Phillies buzz had a nice, long shelf life, especially when compared to how long the Justin Upton-to-the-Phillies speculation survived Tuesday at the winter meetings before being trampled by Shoeless Ruben Amaro Jr.

"I don't comment on rumors, but that one is absolutely, unequivocally false," Amaro said from inside his sixth-floor suite at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

That winter-meetings falsehood spread rapidly through the Twittersphere just before 4 p.m. local time. It had the Phillies discussing a deal with Arizona for the younger Upton brother in exchange for lefthander Cliff Lee. It was squashed by a shoeless Amaro at 4:10, but not before it had contributed to the strange vibe surrounding this Phillies offseason.

The Phillies are well aware they need outfielders in general and a centerfielder in particular. The younger Upton, who is only 25, would be a great fit, but it doesn't seem likely that the Phillies could put together enough of a package to get him unless they were willing to trade Lee and eat lots of money. They obviously are not interested in doing either.

With former Phillie Shane Victorino erased from the board after agreeing to a three-year deal with the Boston Red Sox Tuesday, the number of top-tier, free-agent centerfielders has dwindled to two: Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton.

Those two figure to get bigger deals than any of the free-agent centerfielders who have already signed. In recent offseasons, the free agents seeking the most money were as likely to sign with the Phillies as any team in baseball. And maybe that's still going to be the case.

Bourn is the best pure centerfielder on the open market and his addition would significantly improve the Phillies because of the way he plays defense and runs the bases.

"If they can afford to do it, the Phillies should sign Bourn," a National League scout said.

The scout added that he'd rather have Bourn than B.J. Upton, who signed a five-year, $75.2 million deal with Atlanta last week.

"You know Bourn is going to show up to play every day," he said. "You don't know which B.J. Upton is going to show up."

Manager Charlie Manuel arrived here Tuesday and he has to be a little antsy about the Phillies' outfield situation 69 days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Clearwater for the start of spring training. The outfielders on the 40-man roster are Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, Zach Collier and Tyson Gillies. None of the above has spent a full season as a starting outfielder in the big leagues.

Bourn, who turns 30 later this month, would change the dynamic of the Phillies' offense because he would replace shortstop Jimmy Rollins as the leadoff hitter. It's well-documented that batting first is Rollins' favorite spot in Manuel's order, but the manager does not think it would be a problem if Bourn came aboard.

"I don't think it would be an issue," Manuel said. "We could work something out. I think [Rollins] likes leading off, but at the same time if we had somebody like a Michael Bourn . . . I think he'd do what's best for our club."

The question then is whether Amaro and Bourn's agent Scott Boras have any intention of trying to work something out. The two sides had a conversation at the GM meetings in California last month, but Amaro said he has not talked to Boras in Nashville. Boras typically makes his state-of-his-clients address Wednesday at these meetings, but it's already known that he believes Bourn would be a great fit for the Phillies.

All we knew for sure about the Phillies at the end of the second day of these meetings was that Lee was not headed to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Justin Upton. Dealing Lee after Roy Halladay's injury-riddled 2012 season would be as risky as going into 2013 with Mayberry as the starting centerfielder.

Neither is going to happen.

"I think our best chance is to keep our core together and keep them healthy," the general manager said. "I probably will not move any of the core players on this club because I think that would weaken us too much and I don't think I'd be able to get the value that we would need if we moved any of those guys."

Sooner or later, Amaro is going to add to his core. Sooner or later, the tweets you read about the Phillies' moves are going to be true.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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