Even if he does not walk enough for Chip Bailey, Michael Bourn is having a standout season. He has ended the center field carousel, which began with Richard Hidalgo in 2001, Lance Berkman in 2002, Craig Biggio in 2003-2004, Carlos Beltran in 2004, Willy Taveras in 2005-2006, very briefly Chris Burke in 2007, and then Hunter Pence.
This year he leads the league in steals, is among the leaders in doubles, sports a slash line of .297/.362/.412, and is on course to score 100 runs for the first time in a season. His fWAR, even with an average UZR is 3.4, putting him around about the top 10 among batters in the NL.
The reason for this season's success? In terms of batted balls, it has been his line drive percentage, up from a career mark of 19.8% to 26.6% in 2011. Combined with that his GB% has dropped from 59.4% in 2010 to 49.2% in 2011. Either Bourn is seeing the ball better and is just hitting it on the screws more, or is just waiting for pitches he can drive more, rather than just putting the ball on the ground and hoping he can beat out a throw with his speed, only he really knows.
Before the season started the Astros faced a crossroads with Wandy Rodriguez. Since the lefty was a free agent after the 2011 season it made sense that they either traded him away, or they signed him to a contract extension. As Stephen Goff writes, they are in a win-win situation. Either they keep him, and enjoy his success over the length of his contract, or they trade him away when his value is as high as it ever will be. There is no pressure on Ed Wade. Its worth noting very quickly that Rodriguez's fourth year vesting option, becomes a player option if he's traded.
However with Bourn, his situation is far more like Wandy's was in February rather than now in July. He will be a free agent after the 2012 season, meaning the Astros have only a year and a half left of him.
Let's hypothetically entertain the notion of a contract extension. Ignore the fact that Scott Boras is his agent, as I've been told by many that it will have less impact than you might assume. If a deal is inked in the offseason, it would likely wipe out Bourn's final arbitration year, where he will likely earn $6-7m. At the least he should probably be expecting something in the figure of five-years $45m, but then again he may be angling for something closer to Carlos Gonzalez's seven-years $80m, even if he does turn 29 in the offseason. If Bourn is feeling really cock-a-hoop, he might use Carl Crawford's seven-year $142m deal as a benchmark.
A five-year deal would wrap Bourn up until the end of the 2016 season, something that would overlap with the planned genesis of George Springer's major league career. If you ink Springer now and get him in short-season ball, he'll be ready at the earliest in 2014? Zachary Levine said that the Springer pick did not impact what the Astros would do with Pence and Bourn, but I would argue it does, big time. It precludes a long-term contract.
Who is going to fill that spacious gap in center field until then if you trade Bourn before July 31st? Jason Bourgeois would be a competent replacement level player, but he picked up another nagging leg injury and is on the DL. Brian Bogusevic is back on the 25-man roster, but has not had much time to prove himself. Austin Wates, currently the most likely player in the system to fill Bourn's shoes, is still at A+ Lancaster, and is way off the majors.
If you get a package for Bourn full of high ceiling guys who fill several holes that the club has, then Wade should go for it, but there are a lot of considerations to bear in mind behind any potential move. And while we mention Wade it is worth pointing out that the Astros have paid Bourn just $7.6m compared to the $42m that the Phillies have forked out to Brad Lidge since the two were traded three and a half seasons ago. Chalk that one for Boffo.
Apart from a handful of players, it isn't so rosy on the field right now. The Astros are 6-21 over the past month. You have to go back to May 14th since they last won a game J.A. Happ started, they hitched three more blown saves (two in the same game) in the past week, and the bullpen is still giving up runs for fun. Brad Mills meanwhile is irritating everyone with his penchant for sitting Brett Wallace against LHP, doing it twice this week.
The good news? Josh Beckett-Jordan Lyles on tap this afternoon?