SARASOTA, Fla — The Orioles continued to shore up their outfield defense on Monday evening, re-signing veteran Michael Bourn to a minor-league deal with an invitation to major-league spring training camp.
Bourn, 34, can make $2 million in base salary if he makes the Orioles' Opening Day major league roster. His deal includes a March 27 opt-out clause if his contract is not selected by the major league club, according to an industry source.
After he was acquired last August in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Bourn added speed in the outfield and on the bases as well as much-needed on-base capability.
In 24 games with the Orioles last season, Bourn hit .283/.358/.435 with two homers, eight RBIs and two stolen bases. After looking for a job in April after being released by Atlanta, Bourn was revitalized by being thrust into a playoff race in September with the Orioles.
Bourn made nine of his 11 starts with the Orioles in right field, a clear defensive upgrade over slugger Mark Trumbo, who was then allowed to slot into the designated hitter spot late in the season. But while Bourn improved the Orioles' outfield defense, he ended the season making a costly misplay on a tailing fly ball in the AL wild card game in Toronto that eventually cost the Orioles a run in their devastating 5-2 11-inning walkoff loss to the Blue Jays.
Bourn became a free agent at the end of the season.
Improving the corner outfield defense flanking center fielder Adam Jones has been an offseason priority for the Orioles. But the club did little to get better in the outfield defensively coming into spring training, instead focusing on offense by retaining Trumbo and trading for left-handed platoon bat Seth Smith. They also took two outfielders in the Rule 5 draft — Aneury Tavarez from Boston and Anthony Santander from Cleveland.
The addition of Bourn marks the Orioles' second signing of a speedy, defensive-minded outfielder since camp opened one week ago. On Saturday, the team added veteran Craig Gentry on a minor league deal.
Bourn now becomes the Orioles' 14th outfielder, a crowded mix that includes seven left-handed batters and one switch hitter in Santander. Orioles manager Buck Showalter has said there will be plenty of spring training innings to evaluate them all since starters won't play often in Grapefruit League games early on and there is the availability of potential "B" games.
The Orioles have had varying interest in retaining Bourn, knowing that he added an element in September that the club lacked, but Bourn was seeking a major league deal and remained unsigned going into spring training.
As the Orioles continued to pick up left-handed-hitting outfielders, the return of Bourn became less likely, but he remained a name the club had interest in. And the Orioles' camp roster — which now sits at 55 — still had space.
Over 11 major league seasons, Bourn is a .266/.329/.357 hitter with two Gold Gloves and two All-Star Games on his resume. While he doesn't have the speed that made him a three-time National League stolen base champ from 2009 to '11 — he averaged 58 steals over that span — he would be the top stolen-base threat on an Orioles team that ranked last in the majors with 19 stolen bases.
He has spent most of his career as a center fielder, but still has solid corner outfield range. Since 2007, Bourn ranks fourth among all outfielders in total defensive wins above replacement (dWAR) at 9.9, trailing only Lorenzo Cain (11.2), Carlos Gomez (11.2) and Jason Heyward (11.1).
Bourn was released by the Braves in the first week of last season and signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays late that month. He exercised an opt-out clause in his deal with Toronto and signed with the Diamondbacks, reviving his career by hitting .261/.307/.362 in 89 games with Arizona.