Inside the Phillies: With two centerfielders off the board for the Phillies, is Bourn a target?

Atlanta Braves' Michael Bourn bats against the New York Mets during a spring training baseball game in Kissimmee, Fla., Monday, April 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

B.J. Upton will be the centerfielder in Atlanta next season.

Denard Span, after being traded from the Minnesota Twins Thursday, will play the position for the National League East champion Washington Nationals.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia . . .

At times like these, it's important to remember that the offseason is a marathon, not a sprint.

Being the first team to make a significant move does not guarantee a spot at the top of the standings any more than making the biggest offseason splash does. The latter, of course, is a lesson the Phillies, Miami Marlins, and Los Angeles Angels have learned in the recent past.

That said, the Phillies need a centerfielder, and two of the top ones that were available are gone. It's not known if the Phillies had any conversations with the Twins about Span, but you have to think they did. It is known that they were interested in Upton, but he opted to sign with the Braves Wednesday for five years and $75.2 million.

"We had interest in the guy, and he came off the board," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Thursday of Upton. "That's part of the process. You move on. Of course, [the Braves] got better. They added a very good player to their club. Any time you bring in a quality player to your club, it represents improvement."

Amaro said the Nationals, with the addition of Span, have improved, too.

The general manager's message to any fans who might be getting a little edgy: "Hopefully they understand and are aware of what's going on. Obviously we're going to do what we can to improve our club. Just because one or two players are off the board, there are still other ways to try to make our club better."

It's going to be fascinating to see what direction Amaro goes from here. The best pure centerfielder still available via free agency or trade is former Phillies fourth-round draft pick Michael Bourn. Yes, that includes Colorado's Dexter Fowler and Peter Bourjos of the Los Angeles Angels, both of whom are younger, cheaper, and possibly available in trades.

Those two, however, are not nearly as accomplished as Bourn, a defensive superstar who is also one of the best leadoff hitters and base stealers in the game. With Bourn in center field and batting first and Jimmy Rollins batting down in the order, possibly even fifth while catcher Carlos Ruiz serves his 25-game suspension, the Phillies would be a considerably better team.

Bourn, who turns 30 next month, is also a lot less of a risk than Texas superstar Josh Hamilton, whose future is probably more as a corner outfielder than a centerfielder. Bourn has averaged 153 games per season since 2009. Hamilton has averaged 123 games in that same span.

Because Bourn is only a .272 career hitter, he may not be perceived as an elite leadoff hitter. But his on-base percentage in each of the last three seasons has ranked in the top four among National League leadoff men with at least 400 plate appearances. Bourn has scored 371 runs in the last four years. Derek Jeter has 362 in the same stretch.

If the Phillies can sign San Francisco's Angel Pagan, that would also be a fine and probably more affordable move. But you have to believe the Giants have the inside track after winning a World Series with the switch-hitting centerfielder.

Bourn is not a perfect player. He struck out a career-high 155 times last season, and the left-handed hitter's career average against lefthanded pitching is .249. He did hit a career-best .273 with a .345 on-base percentage against lefties last season. He also did not finish strong last season, batting just .215 in the final month, but every player has bad months.

Bourn's ability to run down balls in center field would be invaluable for the Phillies, especially if they decide to go with young slugger Darin Ruf in left field and Domonic Brown in right.

There is, of course, the Scott Boras thing. He is Bourn's agent, and the history between Boras and the Phillies has been wobbly at best, with the most recent acrimony occurring last offseason when negotiations over a new deal for Ryan Madson broke down. None of Boras' elite free-agent clients has ever signed with the Phillies.

The two sides, however, may need each other more than ever. With Span going to the Nationals and Upton in Atlanta, the Phillies are probably the best fit for Bourn. They are a high-payroll team, and Bourn came up through the minors with the Phillies' star players. He liked it here, and the Phillies liked him.

Now we wait and see if the Phillies and Boras can finally get a major deal done.


Inside the Phillies:

Options in the Outfield

Josh Hamilton, left, and Angel Pagan are also possibilities, but Hamilton is a risk, and Pagan might stay with San Francisco.

Contact Bob Brookover at, or follow on Twitter @brookob.