Kevin C. Cox
There is still a chance that Michael Bourn could return to the Atlanta Braves in 2013.
When the Atlanta Braves signed B.J. Upton last month it signaled a clear direction towards more power in the lineup and away from departing free agent Michael Bourn. Upton's contract, while at the time looked overly generous, is looking pretty good compared to what other free agents are receiving this off-season. It once again seems like the Braves read the market right, struck quickly, and made a good choice.
The only off-season item they have left is to find a left-fielder who could also lead off, and even that is not as much as a priority as it once was thanks to the emergence of Evan Gattis and Juan Francisco. There's a lot of buzz about the Braves using them in a platoon between left field and third base, with Martin Prado shuttling between those two positions. You can read about that scenario here.
But ideally the Braves would probably like a speedy left fielder, though they're not going to overpay for one.
And Michael Bourn is still on the free agent market, and really hasn't had much reported interest from many teams. Buster Olney (via MLBTR) notes that General Managers are hesitant to give up draft picks for players who received qualifying offers like Bourn did. If another team signed Bourn, the Braves would get a pick in the compensation round, the that signing team would lose their first round pick.
Of course, the Braves have already lost their first round pick by signing Upton. They moved from their first pick being around number-25 to their first pick being around number-35. Would they be willing to forgo any type of first round pick and make their first pick in the second round at around number-75?
If there really is no market for Bourn, in large part because signing him is tied to draft pick compensation (and LOTS of money), then would the Braves be willing to give up their compensation pick and sign Bourn? I know, I know, you're yelling at me and telling me that the Braves can't afford him. And you're right, normally they would be tapped out on cash. But they reportedly have around $10 million left that they could spend. Bourn made almost $7 million last year, so somewhere between $7 and $10 million would be reasonable for the team. But would it be reasonable for Bourn (and his agent Scott Boras)?
Boras ran into this problem the last time the Braves had a big-time free agent center fielder hit the market. After the 2007 season Andruw Jones, who would be 31 the next year, couldn't find any team to give him a long-term contract, so he settled for a two-year deal worth a lot of money from the Dodgers. (Ironically, the Dodgers might be best fit for Bourn this off-season if they can trade Andre Ethier.) Andruw had an advantage though, as signing him wasn't tied to draft pick compensation like it is for Bourn.
Here's where the scenario of Bourn returning to the Braves starts to make sense (seriously, stay with me on this). If the Braves are willing to lose that draft pick in the compensation round and Bourn is willing to agree to a one-year deal between $7 and $10 million, then they could write into the contract that the Braves wouldn't offer Bourn arbitration next year -- making him a free agent at age 31 -- and any team could sign him without losing a draft pick. Carlos Beltran had this written into his contract, and the Giants could not offer him arbitration after the 2011 season.
In this scenario each side loses something, but each side also gains something. The Braves lose a draft pick, but get their speedy left field leadoff man (and one they're very familiar with). Bourn loses out on a big payday, but gets the ability to return to the free agent market in one year without any team facing a penalty for signing him.
This scenario is a long-shot, as Boras will probably sucker some team into giving Bourn big bucks and giving up a draft pick. But this scenario is still a possibility, and, as I said, one that could fit both sides reasonably well.