- Last Updated: 10:53 AM, January 29, 2013
- Posted: 2:17 AM, January 29, 2013
It remains a long shot — a bunch of moons aligning just right — but the Mets have not given up on being Bourn winners.
To that end, general manager Sandy Alderson and assistant GM John Ricco travelled to Houston last week to have dinner with free agent center fielder Michael Bourn and his agent, Scott Boras, The Post has learned.
It was more a getting-to-know-you session than a dollars-and-cents negotiation, at a time when the dollars and cents remain among the most significant hurdles in doing a deal.
The Mets’ strategy has essentially been this: Patiently wait and hope Bourn’s market evaporates as spring training nears, moving him to a) turn to them as the best remaining option and b) lower his financial demands.
However, the chasm remains substantial between the two sides. The Mets do not want to give more than three years to a 30-year-old whose main asset on both sides of the ball is his speed. Also, they wonder if any other team, in late January, is ready to commit more than, say, three years at $36 million-$42 million to Bourn.
It is believed Bourn wanted to remain with the Braves. Atlanta, however, obtained not one, but two Uptons (B.J. and Justin) rather than retaining Bourn. Texas GM Jon Daniels has said he does not plan another major move this offseason, despite a need for a center fielder.
Nevertheless, even with pitchers and catchers coming into view, Boras is in a familiar, unflinching posture, projecting that his client has a market. The Bourn camp continues to demand a five-year deal, reasoning he should not get fewer years than Mets castaway Angel Pagan, who is six months older than Bourn and received a four-year, $40 million deal this offseason with San Francisco.
Keep in mind Boras is the King of The Opt Out (think Alex Rodriguez, J.D. Drew and Rafael Soriano). So it is possible, for example, Bourn could trade length of contract — perhaps accepting three years — in exchange for being able to opt out and re-enter the free-agent market a year from now if he desires. The Mets could be amenable to that, determining Bourn could help them in 2013, give them another season to incubate a center fielder such as Matt Den Dekker and — should Bourn opt out — provide the Mets the chance to tender him a contract and recoup a June 2014 second-round draft choice if he were to sign elsewhere.
But that brings us to the tricky matter of what kind of draft pick the Mets would lose in compensation should they sign Bourne.
The Post has learned the Mets will not ink Bourn without iron-clad assurances they only would lose a second-round pick to do so. They have vowed not to forfeit the 11th pick in June’s draft, no matter how much they could use Bourn to bat leadoff and upgrade what is currently a flimsy outfield assortment.
A team signing a free agent who was tendered a contract, such as Bourn, loses its first-round selection unless it has one of the top 10 picks. The Mets had the majors’ 10th-worst record, but the Pirates are to receive a top-10 compensation pick for failing to sign their first pick from last June, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel (also a Boras client).
That pushes the Mets down to the 11th pick and they feel this is outside the spirit meant by the rule. But the Commissioners Office appears dug in against helping the Mets because the rules were understood for the entire offseason and it would be unfair at this late date to aid one of 30 teams, especially because other clubs already are strongly lobbying central baseball against doing so. If Bourn requests it, the Players Association would file a grievance supporting the Mets’ view of how the rule should be interpreted, a union official told The Post.
Even if the union got an expedited hearing this late in the offseason, there is no certainty an arbitrator would find in favor of the union and the Mets.
Again, the Mets pledge not to sign Bourn on spec, risk the 11th pick and wait for a ruling. Therefore, it remains a significant possibility the closest the Mets are going to get to the speedster is across a dinner table.Follow @NYPostsports