MLB.com’s Bill Ladson first reported last Wednesday that the Washington Nationals had expressed interest in acquiring Jason Bourgeois from the Houston Astros. GM Mike Rizzo has inquired about Bourgeois at least three times since December’s Winter Meetings but there seems to be a general feeling that a deal is unlikely. He’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2012 season but he’d still likely only be a temporary solution to the organization’s center field troubles.
In 93 games for the Astros last season, Bourgeois batted .294/.323/.357 in 252 plate appearances. He doesn’t hit for much power – only one home run, 8 doubles, 2 triples – but he does provide value on the bases – 31 for 37 on stolen base attempts (83.8%). He is capable of playing all three outfield positions but has spent more than 50% of his career innings in center field.
But he’s 30 years old (literally about two weeks older than me) and he’s played for a number of organizations in his career. The 2000 Draft selection (2nd Round, Texas) has been claimed on waivers twice, was selected in the Rule 5 Draft in December 2005, and had been coming off a string of three consecutive minor league contracts. He’d been given numerous chances in the past with little success. The bulk of the six previous seasons was spent at Triple-A.
Bourgeois is your typical 4-A prospect – too good for the minor leagues, not quite good enough for the Majors – who happened to have one solid season (in part-time duty).
To a team like the Astros – in the midst of what should be a rebuilding process worth keeping an eye on – Bourgeois would ultimately have the most value. Most of their projected starting outfield (namely Jordan Schafer and J.D. Martinez) is young and will likely be parts of the organization’s future plans. Bourgeois’ versatility in the outfield and offensive potential give them a quality fourth outfielder who could see regular playing time in an effort to give everyone adequate rest and keep them healthy. He’s a solid bench piece who is still making just over the league minimum for at least one more season. In other words, Houston’s just not going to give him away.
That is where this idea falls apart for me. And I’m not alone in that thinking.
Eric Seidman at FanGraphs presented a very convincing argument that aligns with my reasoning for being against such a potential deal. Bourgeois doesn’t provide any added value over the current in-house options.
Much of Seidman’s argument revolves around the absence of Bryce Harper on the Major League roster. As most would seemingly agree at this point, having Harper spend a month or two in the minor leagues is likely in his best interests. Given the current makeup of the roster (and other payroll related concerns) the Nationals’ best outfield lineup would consist of Michael Morse and Jayson Werth in the outfield corners. Once Harper arrives, Werth would slide over to center field. Whomever fills that role while Harper is in the minor leagues is merely filling it on a temporary basis.
Ankiel, while a limited offensive player at this point in his career, is a more rounded bat in the lineup. He struggled last year in his first season in Washington, hitting .239/.296/.363 with 9 HR and 37 RBI in 415 plate appearances. He doesn’t have Bourgeois’ speed, but has far more experience and possesses a superior arm in the outfield while providing the same versatility. He re-signed with the Nationals late in the offseason and will make just $1 Million if he is able to make the 25-man roster.
Bernadina, meanwhile, is a career .242/.304/.364 hitter with 18 HR and 76 RBI in 889 plate appearances over the past four seasons. He’s out of options, so he would need to clear waivers before the team could send him to the minor leagues and there is no certainty that would happen. His drawback has always been his offensive potential as he never hit well in the minor leagues (.266/.351/.388 in 805 career games). That said, there does seem to be a growing contingent of Nationals fans who believe that with an opportunity for consistent playing time those numbers would improve. Bernadina is also a solid defensive outfielder, despite what most of the advanced metrics claim, with a number of memorable catches in the Nationals Park outfield.
Seidman ultimately summed up the situation best, after noting a few additional statistics of his own on the subject:
In looking at those numbers I struggle to see any reason to actually trade something from the Nats system to acquire Bourgeois. He may be a more natural fit in center than Ankiel, but there isn’t enough evidence to bear out the advantage of playing him at the position over Bernadina. And considering that, by most accounts Harper is going to play for the Nationals this season, why bother trading for a two-month player, let alone one that isn’t any better than players already on the roster?
Players know that in some instances, they need to focus on winning playing time in Spring Training. In many of these situations, players will ultimately perform under that pressure better than they do once the games and statistics actually start to count. Right now, we don’t really know what the team is going to get from either Ankiel or Bernadina this season. There’s no way we could.
But sound reason seems to indicate that the Nationals would be better suited standing pat, rather than seriously pursuing Bourgeois to play center field, especially if he’d only be playing there for the next two months.