Bourn creating a dillemma for the Braves

Bill Shanks has some thoughts on the pending free agency of Michael Bourn.

On the surface, the question of whether or not the Braves should re-sign outfielder Michael Bourn seems almost silly. Seeing the things he's done this season makes you know how important Bourn can be for a lineup.

Entering Tuesday's game against Cincinnati, Bourn led the NL with 52 hits, was 11th in batting average and on base percentage and tied for fourth with 11 stolen bases. He has ignited an Atlanta offense that was filled with questions before the season.

Now they are second in the NL in runs scored with 190, and only one behind league leader St. Louis. Bourn is obviously a huge reason Atlanta has done so well through the first 36 games.

But the free agent-to-be presents an interesting dilemma for the Braves. He'll be 30 years old this December, and that'll be right around when he signs his new contract. Do the Braves commit long-term to a speedster that will be in his mid-30s at the end of a potential five-year contract?

Bourn has averaged 53 stolen bases over the last four years. He's on pace for about the same amount this season. But will he still be stealing 40-50 bases in 2017 when he's 34 years old?

History shows it might be tough to expect a player to still swipe bases as he gets into his mid-30s. Rickey Henderson is an exception, of course. He stole bases until he left the game when he was 44. Lou Brock is the same. He stole 118 bases when he was 35 years old.

But others found it more difficult.

Tim Raines stole 45 bases when he was 32 years old, but then the most he ever stole was 21 the next year. Raines became a different type of player, a complimentary player, as he got older. Willie Wilson went from 59 stolen bases when he was 31 years old to 35 the next year. Then Wilson's numbers continued to plummet and he stole between 20-28 bases the last four years of his career.

Kenny Lofton stole bases until he retired at 40 years old, but he was not the same threat in the last decade he played. Lofton averaged 58 stolen bases his first seven seasons in the majors, but then for the next five year, when he was between the ages of 32 and 36, Lofton averaged 26 stolen bases per season.

So will Bourn still be able to steal bases at a high rate at the end of his next contract? If the Braves knew the answer was yes, there would be no hesitation to offer a big deal.

The problem is, if Bourn does fall off with his speed, there's not another significant offensive skill he can bring to the table. It would be different if Bourn could hit for at least some power, but he has only 14 home runs in 752 major league games.

Compare Bourn with another pending free agent speedster in Shane Victorino. Philadelphia's center fielder has averaged 14 home runs in his last five seasons, so even as his stolen base numbers have decreased, we've seen Victorino be a threat in a different way. Victorino is becoming more of a Johnny Damon-type of player than a true leadoff man.

Perhaps Victorino, a thorn in Atlanta's side for years, would be a better investment?

The Braves do not have the payroll flexibility to gamble on a player that could see his skills decrease over the term of a new deal. It would be more difficult for them to recover if a deal for Bourn turned out to be a bad investment.

But Bourn is making them think hard about this with his fast start. There is no doubt he's made an impact, and Bourn has given Atlanta its first legit leadoff man since Rafael Furcal. His agent, Scott Boras, is another factor, since he'll be looking for a huge deal for his client.

From all accounts, Bourn has fit in well in Atlanta. Unlike Lofton in 1997, this doesn't seem like a lame duck situation. But can a team with a middle-of-the-road payroll afford to commit big money to a player that might not be the same in a few years?

It's won't be an easy decision.



Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA, WHAL Fox Sports 1460 in Columbus, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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