Overshadowed by the Toronto Blue Jays’ whirlwind weekend was the minor league signing of Michael Bourn, the former Gold Glove award winner and two time all-star.
The move fits the organization in both the short and long-term. Bourn has the ability to fill in immediately for the injured Dalton Pompey and Darrell Ceciliani at the triple-A level, then could eventually make a bid for Toronto’s fourth Major League outfield spot.
That job currently belongs to Ezequiel Carrera, who opened the season hitting 3-for-17 and playing some unsteady defence. Carrera turned that around in a hurry on Saturday, however, with a 4-for-5 performance including two highlight-reel diving grabs in left. For added measure, the 28-year-old added a home run on Sunday.
Beginning with the bat, Bourn has never been a particularly feared hitter, holding a career average of .266 with very limited power. His numbers between Cleveland and Atlanta last season represented a significant regression in his age-32 season, slashing .238 / .310 / .282, but a repeat of his 2014 performance with the Indians would be more than enough to push him into the conversation.
Bourn hit .257 with a .674 OPS that season, so if he is able to produce at that level or slightly over, it provides a strong enough base to argue that his defensive and speed output can exceed that of Carrera in left.
Once the owner of three consecutive seasons of 50-plus steals, Bourn’s speed will be worth monitoring closely as he makes his minor league debut. It’s a tool that has faded with age, but 33 is also the age that Rajai Davis stole 36 bags for the Tigers. Juan Pierre stole 37 at 34, Paul Molitor stole 31 at 35, Barry Bonds stole 37 at 32, Roberto Alomar stole 30 at 33, Jimmy Rollins stole 30 at 33.
Rarely do these numbers stretch into the mid or late-30s, but it’s not inconceivable for Bourn to have a little bit left in the tank on the bases, where he’s produced a career 63.3 base running runs above average (2.5 in 2015).
Carrera, on the other hand, has yet to fully translate his plus speed to the Major League level. In 159 games (309 plate appearances) since the beginning of 2013, Carrera has stolen 12 bases and been thrown out twice. Across 202 games played at the triple-A level in those 2013 and 2014 seasons, Carrera stole an incredible 86 bases. With two stolen bases this weekend, though, perhaps he’s ready to push the envelope.
Defensively, Bourn is no longer the Gold Glove Award winner he once was, but his fielding value has not completely deteriorated. After grading very highly in 2012 and very poorly in 2014, Bourn found his level with a 0.5 UZR/150 in 2015. Toronto would not be asking for a great deal more. Carrera, for his career, holds a -4.6 UZR/150.
Bourn also comes with nearly 10,000 innings of Major League experience in centre field compared to 742.1 from Carrera. In this, another issue is highlighted. The difference between being an experienced Major League veteran, and being a “known commodity” to the Blue Jays specifically.
Manager John Gibbons has shown a level of loyalty to Carrera, getting him into 91 games last season and rolling him out for a third straight start in the leadoff spot on Sunday as a reward for his weekend outburst. This past weekend could have conceivably bought Carrera another month of job security, even more, considering that one month could mean just six to eight games for a fourth outfielder.
Without a power tool, then, leaving the fourth outfielder’s job as his only ticket to the Major League roster, it appears that Bourn will require some patience when he arrives in triple-A Buffalo.
His value remains very much legitimate, though. The Blue Jays saw 24 positional players take an at-bat last season, preceded by 29 in 2014. So while the opportunity may not be as immediate as it seemed at the time of Bourn’s signing, as long as he plays relatively well in triple-A, it’s likely only a matter of time.