There's no denying that the Phillies outfield is a work in progress, at best. Actually, it's a completely open slate with no definite place-holders for any of the three spots.
John Mayberry Jr., Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf would like to think that they could comprise the starting lineup next season for the Phillies, but that's not likely. Mayberry and Brown are best suited for a platoon situation right now, which might fill one spot and Ruf is fresh off of a Double-A season where he set a Reading Phillies franchise record for home runs, but that doesn't guarantee anything at the major league level. Proponents of the Start Ruf Now movement will point to his .333 average, three home runs and ten RBI in just 12 games with the Phillies, but they don't focus on the 12 games part of the equation. Had the Phillies done the right thing and brought Ruf to Triple-A in mid-season, there would be a little more leverage to use for giving him a starting job next season. The problem is, they didn't and he still has to be considered a bit risky to just hand a starting job to, even if he has a good spring training.
We can also assume the Nate Schierholtz and Laynce Nix aren't answers for an everyday job in the outfield, although they are decent solutions to bring off the bench. There's also Juan Pierre, but we'll get back to him in a minute.
That leaves the Phillies to either look at the trade market or consider a free agent signing for their outfield. When you look at free agency,Michael Bourn is the name that jumps out, and he's touted as game-changer type free agent that might look good in the Phillies outfield. In Bourn's case, many fans have lamented the fact that the Phillies let Bourn get away when they dealt him to the Houston Astros in the deal that brought Brad Lidge to Philadelphia. Not that it was a bad trade, and Lidge certainly came up huge for the Phillies in 2008, but there's no denying that Bourn would have been a nice piece of the puzzle to have in center field.
At one point in the season, many were ready to anoint Bourn as a potential mega-superstar. The 29-year old was hitting .340 in mid-May, but by late July, his average dipped below the .300 mark and never got back above. Bourn ended the season hitting .274/.348/.391 with Atlanta and stole 42 bases. There's no denying that those numbers - even though they aren't what Bourn was producing early in the season - would look very good at the top of the Phillies lineup. Heck, if nothing else, they would be good enough to end the debate over whether Jimmy Rollins should be batting leadoff.
The problem is that signing Bourn won't be cheap and it won't be easy, thanks to the presence of uber-agent Scott Boras in Bourn's corner. Even though his numbers fell off, Boras is going to position Bourn as the best available free agent outfielder and he might be right. Odds are that he'll get a number of clubs interested and then start playing them off of one another to drive up the price of signing Michael Bourn.
But wait, the Phillies already have a Michael Bourn type outfielder; Juan Pierre.
Not only did Pierre show more consistency throughout the season, in many areas, he put up better numbers. In 130 games, Pierre hit .307/.351/.371, very favorable to Bourn's numbers. He also stole 37 bases, with a success rate of 84%, while Bourn's 42 stolen bases were accompanied by being thrown out 13 times - the most in the National League - resulting in a success rate of 76% for the Braves outfielder. Yes, Bourn is six years younger than Pierre, but when you take a look at the length and the dollar amount of the contracts that the two are likely to get, Pierre might be the better value. That's especially important for a team that isn't exactly broke, but certainly doesn't have a lot of blank checks laying around.
If you're worried about defense, Bourn's fielding percentage was just .001 ahead of Pierre's, although he does offer much better range even though their speed is comparable. They're about even in arm strength and accuracy as well.
The bottom line is that Pierre would likely need a few more days off than Bourn to keep him effective. Pierre's numbers against left-handers were way down in 2012, but even as late as 2011, Pierre hit .264 against lefties. When you consider the amount of money that the Phillies could save by re-signing Pierre and passing on Bourn, putting Pierre into the lineup everyday rather than signing Bourn would save a bundle of money that they could put into other areas.
An intangible that you get with re-signing Pierre is a solid presence in the clubhouse. Pierre not only became a fan favorite, but was a favorite among his teammates as well for how he carried himself and the presence that he brought to the clubhouse in Philadelphia. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with Bourn's character, but Pierre has the ability to be one of the leaders from day one in the Phillies clubhouse, which is something that Bourn would have to work to develop.