As things stand, the Seattle Mariners look like they need just a couple pieces: they need another catcher, and they need another starting pitcher. They don't need another catcher, but that would mean making major-league use of Jesus Sucre. They don't need another starting pitcher, but that would mean making major-league use of Hector Noesi. I left yesterday's conference assuming the M's would acquire a veteran backstop and a veteran arm, and then the 2013 product would go on to be acceptable, with potential help coming up from the system.
I didn't really get the vibe the Mariners were looking to address their outfield. Which is why I was caught off guard by these new rumors.
The #Rangers not involved at all in Bourn talks, leaving #mets and #mariners as favorites (Bob Nightengale)
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. (Jon Heyman)
We know the Mariners have flexibility remaining, and we assumed they'd put that toward the rotation. Joe Saunders or Chris Capuano or Rick Porcello or some such. Bourn! The rumors are back! They went away, but now they've returned, and they're better than ever. If you're really into Michael Bourn rumors.
As for the Mets as co-favorites?
Either way, one person familiar with #Mets doubts team will meet Scott Boras' price for Bourn. "Zero chance," he said. (Ken Rosenthal)
The Mets are reportedly trying to pull some strings to protect their first-round draft pick, but that's not a guarantee, and they might not want to make Bourn too much of a commitment. A report emerged earlier Thursday that the Rangers are not interested in either Bourn or Kyle Lohse. The Braves are out of the picture, now that they have Jason Heyward and a couple of Uptons. The Mariners aren't an obvious fit, but it's not such a reach that it's unthinkable. The Mariners might well be back in the Michael Bourn sweepstakes, if they even ever dropped out.
How would he fit? One option would be having Bourn, Franklin Gutierrez, and Michael Saunders in the outfield, with Michael Morse shifting to first base and Justin Smoak either getting traded or demoted. Now probably isn't the time to try to trade Smoak, and if he did well in Tacoma, he could be promoted midseason in the event of another deal. Another option would be moving Gutierrez, but I can't imagine he has much in the way of value at the moment. This isn't like a Justin Upton situation, where the player is solid but the front office has limited leverage; Gutierrez can't be trusted, and teams love themselves some dependability. It doesn't seem like Gutierrez is worth trading at the moment.
Another option would be trading Michael Saunders for some reason. Another option still would be reducing Gutierrez to a backup role, behind Morse, Bourn, and Saunders. That would spell the end of Jason Bay, Casper Wells, and Mike Carp. I don't know if Gutierrez is reliable enough to be a fourth outfielder, but Raul Ibanez would provide some degree of insurance.
There are ways that Michael Bourn could fit with the Mariners, and he'd almost unquestionably make them better, at least in the short-term. If you had a choice between a Mariners team with Bourn and a Mariners team without him, you'd take the former and figure things out. But as always, it has to come down to the price, on top of the sacrificed first-round draft pick. I don't think anyone has any sense of what Bourn is going to end up costing, at this point, and you'd be a fool to doubt Scott Boras' ability to find a hefty contract. He doesn't do it every time, but he's demonstrated an ability to do it more often than you'd expect.
For me, the loss of a first-round pick wouldn't be a deal-breaker, since a draft pick just has some value in millions of dollars. You could think of it as a trade of a low-level prospect for Bourn and his contract if you like. It's an open question as to how Bourn is going to age, as there are concerns about both his defense and his strikeouts, but Bourn is 30; we should expect he's not getting any better, and we should expect he won't fall flat on his face. It's always about the price. It's always about the price. We don't know at what price Bourn and Boras will eventually reach an agreement.
The Mariners seem to have something in the neighborhood of $10-15 million still available. Bourn would presumably eat just about all of that, and the Mariners would still need a pitcher or two and a catcher as well, so maybe they'd have to shed some payroll. This is where Gutierrez might come in, since he's due more than $7 million in 2013. Gutierrez, at present, is the second-most expensive player on the team, and the M's aren't about to move Felix, Morse, or Iwakuma. The Mariners would have a reason to try to trade Gutierrez, maybe as part of a package for a starter, but again, I don't know how Gutierrez could have much value right now. Maybe some team out there only sees the good. I know I mostly see the good, even though I've watched almost nothing but Gutierrez's bad over the previous seasons. He's healthy now, and a healthy Gutierrez has never been a bad player.
I don't know if the Mariners are actually that involved on Michael Bourn right now. All I have to go on are rumors, and Scott Boras has a vested interest in trying to make Bourn's market seem active. But other possibilities for Bourn seem to be dropping out, and the Mariners aren't not a fit. It's definitely something different to think about. Maybe not something different that you're in love with, but it's definitely something different to think about.