When the Orioles acquired Michael Bourn at the waiver trade deadline last year, the move worked out surprisingly well. Bourn hit .283/.358/.435 in his 24 games with the O’s while playing decent defense, making him worth 0.5 wins above replacement (by Fangraphs’ estimation) in just 24 games.
Had Bourn been on the Orioles and played like that for the entire season, he would’ve been somewhere in the realm of a 3-win player. That would put him up there with the likes of Kevin Gausman and Zach Britton as one of the most valuable non-Machado players on the team.
Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that Bourn has been repeatedly mentioned as part of the short list of right fielders who are still available and that the Orioles might actually have interest in. Considering it’s coming from members of the team propaganda arm known as MASN, there’s no reason to believe it’s not true.
If the O’s want to pick up Bourn as a speedy 4th outfielder / pinch runner, then go for it. But if the Orioles were to sign Bourn alone and think they’re set in right field, that could be a mistake.
We’ve been down this road before. After the Orioles acquired Alejandro de Aza in 2014, he hit the cover off the ball for the final month of the season. Over 89 plate appearances, he hit .293/.341/.537, good for a 144 wRC+, nearly identical to that of 2016 Anthony Rizzo.
Naturally, the O’s decided to head into 2015 with de Aza as their primary left fielder. How’d that work out? He hit .214 in 30 games with the O’s before being traded to Boston in a salary dump.
The bottom line on Bourn is that he hasn’t been a very good player for a few years now. In 2015 he had an OPS of less than .600 and was below replacement level. Last season was more of the same until he was traded to the O’s.
His 2014 season wasn’t quite as bad offensively, but his slipping defense still only made him worth 0.3 WAR. Because of that defensive decline and a projected .246/.305/.340 batting line, Steamer thinks he’ll be worth exactly zero wins above replacement next season.
A good run of 55 plate appearances means nothing. Joey Rickard was hitting .327 through his first 59 plate appearances this year and fans were buying his jersey. A few weeks later he had already begun to lose playing time to Hyun Soo Kim.
Remember Caleb Joseph’s offensive explosion over the summer of 2014? In the month of August he hit .314/.352/.667 with five home runs over 58 plate appearances, good for a wRC+ of 186, higher than 2016 Mike Trout. Over his next 58 plate appearances, Joseph hit .148 with one extra base hit.
Michael Bourn undoubtedly was a good pickup last season, but his performance over 55 plate appearances shouldn’t cause the Orioles to disregard what he did over the previous thousand. If he hadn’t been traded and simply finished the year strong for Arizona, his name probably wouldn’t even be discussed.
The other options for the Birds aren’t flawless, either - Angel Pagan is old, and he was horrible in 2015 before having a nice bounceback in 2016. Michael Saunders is injury-prone and is also coming off a career year.
At the very least, though, both of them were able to play like starting-caliber outfielders over a full season last year. Bourn wasn’t.
It wouldn’t be an awful idea to pick up Bourn on the cheap to be a speedy 4th outfielder and give Joey Rickard regular at-bats in triple-A. But if the O’s put too much stock in a small sample size and head into 2017 with Bourn as their right fielder, it could be a Travis Snider situation all over again.