Bourn sure to improve next team in numerous ways
I love center fielders, so I love Michael Bourn.
As for my obsession with the position, I'll put myself on the couch. Maybe all of this is the result of me growing up as a center fielder in various youth leagues. Not only that, I was infatuated throughout the 1970s with Bobby Tolan and Cesar Geronimo, the first and the last of the center fielders during the era of my Big Red Machine.
Those old black-and-white films of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays doing their things are intoxicating.
Remember Paul Blair? He was hitting challenged, but his glove, legs and arm were among the primary reasons the Baltimore Orioles had those four 20-game winners in 1971.
There also were those magic center fielders before Blair, ranging from Ty Cobb to Tris Speaker to Joe DiMaggio. Then there were those after Blair, ranging from Kirby Puckett to Ken Griffey Jr. to Torii Hunter. And there are those now that include rookie sensation Mike Trout, Adam Jones, Josh Hamilton and Bourn.
So this is just me: If you have a center fielder of note these days, you should keep him no matter what.
Gold Glove-caliber defense? That's a given for the kind of center fielder I'm talking about. And if the guy can hit a little, while providing you with some zip on the basepaths and spark in the clubhouse -- well, you really need to make sure he doesn't leave anytime soon.
I'm talking about Bourn. That's why I cringe whenever I hear a few measly millions (OK, a bunch of millions) could prohibit the Atlanta Braves from re-signing the free agent for a second full season.
As for Gold Gloves, Bourn has two of them, and he was close to snatching his third in four years this season. He can hit, too. Despite his career batting average of .272, he was around .300 for more than a year as the definitive leadoff hitter, before he slumped in the second half of last season. He also led the National League in stolen bases for three consecutive years through 2011.
If that isn't enough, Bourn is a clubhouse favorite, and going back to the start of Bobby Cox's second reign with the Braves in 1991, chemistry has been as important to this franchise as pitching.
There's more. Bourn spent two of his seven Major League seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies and four of them with the Astros in his native Houston, but he keeps saying he has enjoyed his time in Atlanta the best. He also keeps mentioning he prefers to stay with the Braves, and Braves officials keep saying the feeling was mutual.
Sounds like a perfect match.
"I do like that organization. I really do, because camaraderie is a big thing in baseball, and it's fun with the Braves," Bourn told me over the phone on Tuesday. "That [loss to the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card game] was tough, because I thought we had a good team. No, a great team, with all of the aspects of the game that you need. But there are a few teams out there that are likeable, and I can't put my finger on just one. So I can't narrow it down right now to just one."
In other words, Bourn wouldn't mind returning to a Braves team he joined when traded from the Astros in the 2011 season, but that money thing keeps getting in the way of both parties.
The Braves offered Bourn a qualifying offer of $13.3 million last week, but Bourn rejected it. After all, given his still-potent skills at age 29, he is expected to do much better than that in the pocketbook. It also doesn't hurt his financial prospects that his agent is Scott Boras, noted for squeezing more than a few pennies out of owners.
Speculation is that Bourn could get as much of $15 million annually in a multiyear deal from one of his many suitors. The Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and Phillies have been mentioned as other potential suitors.
That's just for starters.
Whatever Bourn gets, he deserves. I mean, given what he provides for a team, you can't overpay for his services, and that applies to just about any other superlative center fielder -- past, present or future.
He agreed, of course.
"People know that you always want to start up the middle when building a team, and that brings you to the center fielder and also to the shortstop," Bourn said. "I think it's 1A and 1B between those two positions. The shortstop is going to get more action than the center fielder, but I'll tell you what -- you save a whole lot of runs in center field. And because of all the running you do, you have to be in great shape.
"You look at what Mike Trout did this year for [the Los Angeles Angels] as a center fielder and as a leadoff hitter. It was tremendous. He has more power than I do, but we do some of the same things."
No question there. It's just that Bourn has been doing them longer than Trout -- and Bourn hopes to keep doing those things as long as he can without jumping from team to team.
"Hopefully, I can sign with somebody where I can play for a little while, where I don't have to switch next year, or the year after that, or the year after that," Bourn said. "As a player, you would like to get comfortable in one spot, but I'm not sure where that spot is for me right now."
Wherever it is for Bourn, the pitchers on his team will be happy -- along with the rest of his teammates, the team's fans and everybody else.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.