Going into the off-season there were nine players who declined their qualifying offers–thus forcing any prospective team without a protected first-round pick to surrender their draft choice as compensation.
Of those nine players, two re-signed with their former teams (David Ortiz and Hiroki Kuroda), two signed with teams with low-seed picks (Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton), and one signed with a protected pick (Nick Swisher).
And then there were four: including center fielder Michael Bourn.
Bourn arguably enjoyed his finest Major League season for the Atlanta Braves in 2012, posting a .274/.348/.391/.739 line with 9 HR, 57 RBI, 96 R, and 42 SB. In addition to being a speed demon, Bourn is also an artist with the glove, posting a black-hole-esq 3.0 dWAR and 22.5 UZR/150.
His good year with the stick, and sensational one with the glove netted him a whopping 6.0 WAR–beating out his former-highest total of a 5.3 WAR.
While Upton offers more pop than Bourn (career .167 ISO vs. career .093), as far as speed, defense, and consistency go, Bourn has him beat.
It’s also worth pointing out that Upton has only posted a 4.0-plus WAR once in his career (4.8 WAR in 2007), while Bourn has achieved the feat three times–including a 5.3 WAR season in 2010 and 6.0 WAR season in 2012.
It’s more than fair to say that if teams did not have to surrender an unprotected first round pick in exchange for signing Bourn, the center fielder would have suitors lining up with lucrative, multi-year contracts.
However, with the so-called Scarlet Letter attached to his name–and the fact that most teams have already addressed their center field slots–the market for Bourn is bleak.
That is, unless the Braves re-sign him.
Assuming teams like the Los Angeles Angels (already surrendered first-round pick by signing Hamilton) and Texas Rangers (25th overall pick) continue to pass on the 30 year-old outfielder’s services, it’s possible the Braves could re-ink Bourn at a reduced, one-year rate.
The Braves outfield currently has Martin Prado in left field, Upton in center, and Jason Heyward in right–but if the team were to move Prado to third base (1359.6 career innings), and kick Juan Francisco to the bench, Bourn could viably be a Brave again in 2013.
Few would argue that the 2013 Atlanta Braves would be better off with Prado and Francisco (combined 5.6 WAR in 2012) than with Prado and Bourn (combined 11.4 WAR in 2012), so if Frank Wren agrees, then it might still be too early to rule Bourn’s tenure in Atlanta as history.