- Last Updated: 5:02 PM, February 6, 2013
- Posted: 1:52 AM, February 6, 2013
The Mets and Scott Boras are engaged in a game of chicken. The powerful agent is saying he has attractive offers elsewhere for Michael Bourn. The Mets are essentially challenging him to prove those offers exist by remaining relatively inflexible in what they are willing to spend on the fleet center fielder.
With pitchers and catchers now less than a week away, we wait to see who blinks in a game that these two sides have participated in before.
After the 2008 season, the Mets offered three years for Derek Lowe, Boras said he could get four, the Mets said prove it and Lowe signed for four years and $60 million with the Braves. The following offseason, the Mets proposed five years for Matt Holliday, Boras said he could get more, the Mets dared him to and Holliday received a seven-year, $120 million pact from the Cardinals.
However, in those previous situations, the Mets were deluding themselves into thinking they were contenders. So when they bypassed Lowe, the Mets still felt they needed a starter and took a destructive next choice, giving Oliver Perez a three-year, $36 million contract. Without Holliday’s righty power, the Mets opted to bestow a calamitous four-year, $66 million pact on Jason Bay.
This time the Mets have no Plan B. For Bourn is a potentially unexpected gift. The Mets did not begin the offseason imagining they could secure a defensive stalwart of his ilk, not when the asking price was publicly believed to be in the five-year, $75 million range. But as the offseason game of musical chairs has played out, Bourn does not have an obvious place to sit now after the Phillies and Braves, in particular, solved their center field needs.
Thus, the Mets can discuss a three-year deal for Bourn and hint at willingness to go to a fourth season — as they have done — and once again dare Boras to prove he has someplace else to go. And, if Boras does, as opposed to what occurred with Perez/Bay, the Mets are not redirecting a large chunk of their bid elsewhere. They either add Bourn to deepen an uninspiring outfield or they don’t, and simply continue with what was the strategy prior to Bourn appearing on their radar — rebuild mostly on the cheap.
Does Boras have appetizing alternatives? Rangers GM Jon Daniels said publicly again yesterday he does not imagine another high-profile move prior to spring training. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported the Indians could be interested in Bourn if his price drops “a lot.” But right now there is no team as overtly willing to go multiple years besides the Mets, which is emboldening the organization to make their offer and stick with it and see if Boras truly has a safety valve.
Of course, Boras has been doubted before (such as with Holliday and Lowe) and turned out to indeed have suitors at a higher level than perceived. Just three weeks ago, he found a multi-year deal at the top of the closer market for Rafael Soriano (two years at $28 million) when that was not anticipated.
And sometimes new events change the landscape, even this close to spring training. For example, the Cardinals yesterday announced Chris Carpenter is likely to miss this season and suddenly Boras’ other high-profile remaining free agent, Kyle Lohse, might be back in play for St. Louis.
But without a dramatic turn or the revealing of a so-far covert aggressive bidder, the Mets could be sitting with the largest offer, and Boras could be trying to get them to go further by intimating he has a market when there is none. At this point, we can probably safely assume the five-year, $75 million offer will not materialize. But Boras probably feels compelled to bring Bourn in at a larger package than the four years at $40 million the Giants gave Mets castoff Angel Pagan.
The Mets might go that far, but have let it be known they will only sign Bourn if they know for certain they would not lose the 11th overall pick in June’s draft. Currently, only teams with one of the top-10 picks have those protected should they sign a tendered free agent, such as Bourn. But the Mets — and the Boras camp — believe they have a winning argument should the case go to an arbitrator, mainly built around the spirit of the rule, which they believe is to protect the teams with the 10-worst records. The Mets had the 10th-worst record last year.
However, the Mets do not want to win an arbitration before they have an agreement with Bourn because if the draft impediment is removed, there likely will be intensified pressure from fans to get a contract done, which would give Boras leverage — at a time when the Mets are playing chicken that Boras has little leverage.