The Nationals and Michael Bourn have been talked about as a perfect fit since the season ended, and while there are positives of having someone like Bourn in the lineup, I think that there are better options to spend that money and quite frankly, I don’t see Bourn as an improvement over whoever the Nationals can put out on the field today.
Let’s look at just the numbers. I will be using Fangraphs WAR for this example. I will also be making some assumptions.
1) Adam LaRoche is not re-signed
This is obvious, but I will assume that Bourn would be the one big offensive weapon the Nationals sign. This does not take into account other positions or pitching. I am looking at first base and the outfield exclusively.
2) Healthy seasons from everyone
This is a big assumption, obviously (especially given the past season), but for the purposes of predicting, it’s what I am doing. I tended to downgrade expectations to compensate for the chance of missing playing time.
3) Mike Morse is not traded
Just to make things simple and not complicating things. This is a look at Bourn’s effect. If you want, just change Morse’s name to something else in your head.
Total: 12.5 WAR
Total: 14 WAR
As you can see, there is a slight improvement of 1.5 WAR by getting Michael Bourn. However, a lot of that improvement can also be tied to improvements from Werth and Morse due to healthy seasons. I also bump Morse up a little bit because his defense will not bring him down as much as it would if he were playing the outfield.
Is this simplistic? Absolutely. Did I pull the WAR out of my head? Not entirely. I averaged WAR of Werth/Morse based on previous full seasons. Harper is conservative of course, but this is to see Bourn’s effect not how Harper will play.
There is value for Bourn – don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily think he will collapse overnight like Figgins and Crawford did after their pay days, but there is the chance that he does based on precedent. I would be wary of giving Bourn a deal more than three years and more than $15-17 million per year. If it is any more than that, I would definitely stay away but there is a grey zone in that as well.
My ideal hope would be to give a bigger role to Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina over a full season with Corey Brown getting some backup time, get some more pitching, maybe get an improvement in the outfield or first base with another signing (say, B.J. Upton, Melky Cabrera or Angel Pagan) or via a trade. I am not against spending money on a lead-off man or a center fielder. I am against spending a huge amount of money on Bourn. I don’t think he makes a big enough difference given the risk it would be to sign him on a long-term deal and that money could be better spent elsewhere to improve this ball club.