The Phillies recently unloaded two-thirds of their starting outfield. Dominic Brown's in the bigs and will man one spot for the foreseeable future. But there are two other spots that the Phils need to, um, fill.
And one target, according to a report from Buster Olney of ESPN ($), could be free-agent-to-be Michael Bourn, currently of the division rival Braves and formerly of the Phightins.
According to Olney, one "rival official" recently told him that the Phillies "love" Bourn.
"You know who they want, right?" the official asked. "They love Michael Bourn."
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It's kind of hard to blame the Phillies for falling in love with Bourn. But it's also a little awkward since, you know, they drafted him. Philadelphia took Bourn in the fourth round of the 2003 draft and traded him during the 2007 season to the Astros (along with Geoff Geary and Michael Costanzo) for Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett.
Lidge turned in one of the greatest seasons ever for the Phils in 2008 as he was perfect while leading the Phillies to a championship. Bourn played well for Houston, leading the NL in steals three times, but really developed into an elite-level center fielder in 2009 and 2010 and then absolutely exploded this year with the Braves.
Bourn's got eight homers (and an OPS+ of 103), 29 steals and is batting .286. He's arguably the best defensive center fielder in the game. He's clearly aware that he's going to be a free agent.
And he'll be pursued too: the Braves are interested in Bourn but might not have the payroll room. The Nationals, per Olney, will be very interested in Bourn this offseason and, with all their success in 2011, will probably have some extra cheddar to throw his way.
Olney writes that it's "unclear whether [the Phillies] would be willing to outbid the Nationals" in pursuit of Bourn this offseason. However, the trades of Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino before the trade deadline doesn't just create a huge void (or two) in the outfield that will require talent to fill, it also moved some money off the Phils payroll.
The Phils have some freedom to operate this offseason. And, perhaps most importantly, there is a sizable void at leadoff: Jimmy Rollins is the best option for Charlie Manuel right now, and adding Bourn would be a huge upgrade.
Carson Cistulli did an "unreasonably early preview" for the Phils 2013 season over at FanGraphs recently and determined that, offensively speaking, the Phils need to figure out a way to add something like seven or eight wins above replacement (WAR) to the lineup to contend in the NL East.
Bourn's been worth, at worst, 4.2 WAR each season since 2009, and already worth 4.6 WAR this season. (He's worth an even four wins above replacement at Baseball-Reference.com.)
In other words, adding Bourn would immediately give the Phillies a decent shot at contending again next year, provided that the Phils don't deal with a rash of injuries and no one among the big names on the payroll (the big three pitchers plus Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Rollins) goes off a cliff in terms of production.
They'd still need to fill any number of spots -- third base, another outfield spot and that pesky fifth-starter spot -- but it's pretty obvious that Bourn would be an all-around fit who would immediately improve the Phils offense while simultaneously hurting two NL East opponents.
No wonder they love him.