|Bourn has stolen 40-plus bases in each of the last five seasons. (US Presswire)|
Pitchers and catchers started to report to spring training on Sunday. Position players will report in about a week. Two of baseball's top free agents -- outfielder Michael Bourn and right-hander Kyle Lohse -- remain unsigned, though, which I imagine is an uncomfortable feeling. Matt Snyder noted Saturday that Lohse has been in this situation before, but Bourn most certainly has not.
Bourn, 30, is a Scott Boras client, and Boras does not hesitate to let his top clients go unsigned into the early spring if the right offer doesn't come along. Prince Fielder and Rafael Soriano are two recent examples. Boras has even been willing to let spring training begin before finding a new home for some of his clients, as we've seen in recent years.
Johnny Damon, 2010: Damon, then 36, was coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He hit .282/.365/.489 (118 OPS+) with a career-high 24 homers for the World Champion Yankees, but the free agent offers were hard to come by. It wasn't until February 22 that the Tigers stepped forward with a one-year, $8 million contract to make Damon their primary DH.
Manny Ramirez, 2009: The Dodgers acquired the then-36-year-old Ramirez from the Red Sox at the 2008 trade deadline, then watched him hit .396/.489/.743 (221 OPS+) with 17 homers in 53 games following the deal. Despite his monster finish, Manny remained unsigned until Los Angeles ponied up a two-year, $45 million contract on March 4. The deal included quite a bit of deferred money.
J.D. Drew, 2007: Drew used a clause in his contract to opt-out of the final three years and $33 million of his deal with the Dodgers following the 2006 season. Despite his relative youth -- just 31 at the time -- and .283/.393/.498 (126 OPS+) batting line in 2006, he remained unsigned until the Red Sox handed him a five-year, $70 million deal on Valentine's Day. That contract did not include an opt-out clause.
Age was working against both Damon and Ramirez, but Bourn is right in the prime of his career like Drew was six years ago. Teams value (arguably overvalue) draft picks more highly these days, which is part of the reason Bourn remains unemployed. The unique shape of his production -- he compiled 14.3 WAR from 2010-12 despite a 98 OPS+ because he rates as an elite base-runner and defender -- could also be an issue. Bourn may still be underrated by some within the industry.
It's only a matter of time until Boras finds Bourn a contract, one that will likely be lucrative despite what appears to be a limited market. It's not unprecedented for a top free-agent position player to remain unsigned into spring raining, especially with Boras calling the shots.
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