By Sam Bush
On the verge of the 2015 meetings, the Phillies signed a free agent outfielder the fans will see plenty of in 2016.
New general manager Matt Klentak claimed Peter Bourjos off waivers from the Cardinals and quickly agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract to avoid salary arbitration.
Bourjos’ arrival puts free-agent outfielder Jeff Francoeur’s return in doubt, but it gives the Phillies one of the better defensive outfielders in the game.
“I was kind of expecting it,” Bourjos said in a telephone interview Wednesday with MLB.com. “I didn’t feel like I would be back in St. Louis just because of the amount of outfielders that are there. And I didn’t really play a whole lot the second half of the year, so there really wasn’t too much of a fit. So I felt like something was going to happen. Either I was going to be traded or non-tendered or claimed off waivers.”
Former Phillies general managers Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro Jr. liked the speedy and defensive-minded Bourjos, and new general manager Klentak likes him, too.
Klentak and Bourjos know each other well. They were together with the Angels from 2012-13.
“Yeah, I got to know him well in Anaheim,” Bourjos said about Klentak. “He was one of my favorite guys. Every time I saw him down in the clubhouse, I really enjoyed talking to him. I was excited when I saw him get the GM job.”
Bourjos had a career-year in 2011, when he hit .271 with 26 doubles, 11 triples, 12 home runs, 43 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and a .765 OPS in 552 plate appearances with the Angels. He has managed just 910 plate appearances since, posting a .645 OPS, in part because of injuries (Bourjos had right wrist surgery in September 2013 and hip surgery in October 2014) and in part because other players passed him on the depth chart.
Bourjos, who hit .200 with a .623 OPS in 225 plate appearances last season, hopes more regular playing time will help him offensively.
“That would help a lot,” he said. “In 2013, I was probably off to my best start [.827 OPS through 22 games] and I was playing every day. Then I pulled my hamstring and I broke my wrist, so that year was lost. And every other year it’s been inconsistent playing time.”
Bourjos is known as an premier defender. According to FanGraphs, the 28-year-old has averaged a 16.1 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 defensive games since his debut in 2010. That is third among outfielders with 3,500 or more defensive innings played in that span. Only Lorenzo Cain (19.0) and Jason Heyward (18.3) have a better average.
He has played only center field in his career, but Odubel Herrera played well there last season. The Phillies might want to keep Herrera in center to keep him comfortable. Bourjos seems willing to make a move to left or right field, if asked.
“Obviously, I enjoy playing center, but my answer to that question is I just want to play,” Bourjos said. “I don’t care where I play. I just want to be out there and contributing. I’d be open to anything. I can’t remember the last time I’ve played a corner. It may have been in high school, so it’s been a while. Obviously there is different spin in the corners, but it’s something you can adjust to.”
At the moment, Phillies outfielders Bourjos, Herrera, Cody Asche and Aaron Altherr are all expected to make the opening day roster. Darnell Sweeney could be considered the team’s fifth outfielder. Darin Ruf also can play left field, although he could get more playing time at first base.
The possibility exists that Francoeur could fit somehow, but reduced playing time in a more crowded outfield might not suit him. Francoeur hit .258 with 16 doubles, one triple, 13 home runs, 45 RBIs and a .718 OPS in 343 plate appearances last season. The 31-year-old also proved to be a vocal leader in the clubhouse.