Star free agent Michael Bourn remains the best player without a team. But suitors are starting to show up now for the center fielder who by some advanced-stat estimates has saved 80 runs or more with his defense over the past four years.
To this point, Bourn hasn't had just mystery teams but an entire mystery market. But now, teams are starting to emerge, and things are starting to develop.
Here's a look at the thought-to-be players in the long-running behind-the-scenes drama that still may have an act to play ...
The Mets have the money despite perceptions to the contrary, they like Bourn and, as everyone knows by now, they surely can use an outfielder -- or two, or three -- and especially a center fielder.
As Mets GM Sandy Alderson said a couple months ago about his own outfield, "What outfield?"
The Mets let Scott Hairston go to the Cubs because their main interest is apparently a different outfielder, one who is a bigger player. They haven't said who it is, but they admit having no match for Justin Upton (they won't give up Zack Wheeler), so Bourn has to be the guy they are considering.
Of course, there's a long way from considering to signing. There's understandable skepticism as to whether the Mets will pay what it takes -- likely a five-year deal for about $15 million a year -- to win the day. But the Mets have money left in their payroll, with only about $80 million to $85 million committed and a budget with room for about $15 million more.
But there are clear indications they are at least thinking seriously about Bourn.
The Mets are thinking enough about it that they are trying to win a ruling to keep their draft choice if they sign Bourn, the Daily News reported. The teams with the 10 worst records are supposed to have protected first-round draft picks, and the Mets' contention is that while they are slated to pick 11th and thus not holding a protected pick, that's only because the Pirates failed to sign their No. 1 pick, Mark Appel, last year, not because they weren't 10th worst by record.
Whether or not they can win their case to protect their draft choice, Bourn would be a major coup for a team that's shopped at Walmart the past few winters. He might not make the Mets an immediate contender, but he sure would make folks take them more seriously.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, coach Terry Pendleton and a Brave star or two are believed to have reached out to Bourn, who was an extremely popular Braves player among the uniformed personnel.
The Braves' front office also very much likes the Uptons though, and the Braves have made an offer for Justin Upton that the Diamondbacks are said to be weighing only a couple months after signing older brother B.J. Upton for $75.2 million over five years.
Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers has said he won't take less than Seattle's extremely strong offer for Justin Upton (led by star righthanded pitching prospect Taijuan Walker), and while the Braves like Justin Upton, they aren't likely to match that bid in terms of talent.
Justin Upton is a wonderful player (not to mention a bargain now, with $38 million to go over three years), he would surely relish the chance to play with his brother, and of course the Diamondbacks wouldn't mind easing their outfield logjam by finally trading Upton. But the reality is, in some ways Bourn really is the better fit for the Braves.
The Rangers are said not to have talked to the Diamondbacks about Upton in a couple weeks. But it isn't certain how often they've been talking to Bourn, either. They've lost Josh Hamilton (not to mention Michael Young and Mike Napoli), but have a lot of young takent and don't appear to be acting desperate to appease the masses. They would have to go with unproven Craig Gentry and/or Leonys Martin in center field if they don't get Bourn. But they aren't a team that rushes into deals, and seem just more inclined to go for a starting pitcher at this time.
They've added four hitters on one-year deals so far but have kept engaged with Bourn, who fits a rebuilding team better since he's a long-term proposition. Seattle's bigger issue was the middle of the order, but they've acquired Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, and still could use help after striking out for Upton when he invoked his veto power to nix the proposed trade to Seattle. Bourn would definitely help. But since Bourn is a free agent, it'd be up to him. The Mariners have had trouble attracting offensive players, though their big park (the fences are being moved in slightly) shouldn't impact a leadoff man.
They've wanted to add a pitcher and a hitter, and Bourn is an outside possibility. Leadoff hitter is an issue, unless they believe Nate McLouth can stretch out his couple good months last year into a full season. The Orioles were reluctant to give up a draft choice to sign Adam LaRoche, but it isn't known whether they would have similar concerns in regards to Bourn.
They are thought to like Bourn very much and have interest at some level. They have a pending two-year deal with Hairston, though they are a team full of surprises.
Tampa Bay is still looking for offense after losing B.J. Upton to free agency. But they are a definite long shot considering the amount of money such a signing would take.
The Mariners are one of a couple A.L. teams that made a play for Andre Ethier, and if the Dodgers ever dealt Ethier that would open a spot for Bourn. At least one prominent Dodgers player is believed to have contacted Bourn with words of encouragement regarding his hope for Bourn to come to L.A., but the Mariners and Dodgers haven't talked in weeks, and people familiar with the Dodgers plans suggest they aren't trying to trade Ethier and full well expect Ethier to be their right fielder.
The Yankees admit they could use another bat, but they appear focused on a right-handed hitter. The Phillies are presumably done with outfielders after signing Delmon Young. Anyone else in this group would represent a major surprise.