After the Nationals signed Edwin Jackson, rumors involving John Lannan surfaced immediately. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported speculation that Lannan would be shipped to the Angels in a deal for Peter Bourjos. This deal would open up center field for mega-prospect Mike Trout.
A quick look at a few numbers tells you that this deal would be tremendously lopsided. The Halos would get an expensive fifth starter for a couple years and the Nationals would get a premier defensive center fielder for five years. Unfortunately for Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, Tony Reagins is no longer in charge of the Angels.
In recent years we’ve seen players with a ton of time left until free agency shipped out for huge prospect returns. Mat Latos and Ubaldo Jimenez both brought back huge returns, so what might a player like Bourjos warrant? How rare is a top-of-the-rotation arm compared to a brilliant defense centerfielder with some bat?
For the purposes of this article I’m going to consider a “top-of-the-rotation arm” any pitcher who could be the best pitcher on a good pitching staff. I looked at the rosters of every team and determined that there are 35 pitchers that fit the bill. My list is totally subjective and you can contact me if you’d like to see it.
Elite defensive centerfielders are incredibly rare. Based on 2011 metrics, I consider only six players worthy of the term “elite.” These players are: Bourjos, Jacoby Ellsbury, Austin Jackson, Chris Young, Cameron Maybin, and Ben Revere. So among the 30 openings in center field, only six spots are held by elite defenders. Among the 150 starting pitcher roles, 35 are held by elite pitchers.
The scarcity of elite defense in center field doesn’t make it as valuable as elite starting pitching, but it is essential to a player’s value. Think about it for a second. Center field takes up a huge chunk of the field and elite defenders cover the most ground there, preventing hits and, thus, preventing runs. It’s easy to see how preventing runs can lead to wins.
In addition to his defense, Bourjos has value on offense. The 24-year-old posted a .271/.327/.438 slash line in 2011. There may be some concern of regression because of his high BABIP (.338), but Bourjos posted very high BABIPs throughout his time in the minor leagues. Some players always have high BABIPs and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bourjos were one of them.
Most players peak in their late 20s into their early 30s. Bourjos will be 25 when the season begins and should play out his prime before he sniffs free agency. When you look at his complete body of work in 2011 it’s kind of scary to think that his best days are ahead of him.
When we put all of these things together we can conclude that Bourjos is a rare commodity. People in and around the game think Mike Trout can be even better. So if the idea is to move Bourjos to open up center field for Trout, then what would be a fair return for Bourjos?
One relatively comparable player is Colby Rasmus. Rasmus had been okay in center and done much more with his bat when he was traded, but his stock was low because he was in the midst of a down year and the Cardinals were apparently desperate to ship him out of town. Even so, the Cardinals nabbed a #3 starter, a late-inning reliever, a middle reliever, and a bench bat for Rasmus and a few fringy relievers. Almost no one liked the deal for the Cardinals, so the Angels would presumably get a lot more in a deal for Bourjos.
There aren’t a ton of teams that look like logical destinations for Bourjos, so the market for his services could be a bit thin right now. Down the line, however, Bourjos could be the key to bringing in an elite prospect or a key big leaguer to help the Halos get over the hump.
Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.