Braves fill leadoff void, acquire Astros' Bourn
Schafer, three prospects to Houston for speedy center fielder
ATLANTA -- When Braves general manager Frank Wren began evaluating the trade market, he said he was attempting to enhance his lineup with a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence both fit this category.
But as this month progressed and Dan Uggla began serving as a right-handed power threat again, Wren and his staff determined their primary need was to find a center fielder who could serve as a legitimate leadoff hitter.
Having passed on the opportunities to pay a heavy price for Beltran or Pence, Wren waited patiently and gladly announced Sunday morning that he had acquired Michael Bourn from the Astros in exchange for Jordan Schafer and three Minor League pitchers -- left-hander Brett Oberholtzer and right-handers Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu.
"He was the one thing we were lacking," Wren said. "We haven't really had a prototypical leadoff hitter in five or six years. Getting Michael really adds to our club. ... It might not be the offensive punch, but it's run creation, which is important."
A Houston native, Bourn was sad to learn he would no longer be playing in his hometown. But the trade does provide him the opportunity to be part of a pennant race with a team that is confident it will earn a second straight trip to the postseason.
"It's definitely tough leaving Houston, my hometown. But I understand the trade," Bourn said. "I have the chance to be in a pennant race, so I'm happy about that. I want to say thanks to the Houston fans for their support. It was special to me to play in my hometown. And I want to thank the Astros' organization for the opportunity they gave me. I wish them all the best."
Bourn was unable to get to Atlanta before Sunday's series finale against the Marlins. But he is expected to be with the Braves on Monday, when they begin a three-game series in Washington.
While the Giants feel good about adding Beltran and the Phillies were happy to add Pence, Wren said that he felt Bourn was the better fit for his team. To acquire him, the GM did not have to part ways with any of the four elite pitching prospects -- Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino and Mike Minor -- it would have taken to land Beltran or Pence.
"We could have had Beltran if we had given the player they wanted," Wren said. "We're not going to do that for a rental player, for a guy for two months with no Draft compensation coming back. The same thing with Pence. We're not going to give up a couple of those young kids that were premiums for our future in that kind of deal."
When the Phillies acquired Pence, multiple Braves players became anxious and started wondering if Wren would make a significant move. As Saturday night neared its end, he was closing in on completion of this deal.
"When you've got a good team like we have and you have a chance to win, I get caught up in it as far as you want to add that piece that you feel like puts you over the edge," Braves catcher David Ross said. "When you're looking around this locker room and the confidence we have in this team, you start thinking about the World Series."
Bourn is in the midst of the finest season of his career, having hit .303 with a .363 on-base percentage and a Major League-best 39 stolen bases in 105 games entering Sunday. The 28-year-old center fielder recorded a career-high 61 stolen bases last year, two fewer than the entire Braves team.
While Schafer spent the past two months showing he is capable of handling the leadoff role, Bourn is the first proven leadoff hitter the Braves have possessed since Rafael Furcal exited after the 2005 season.
"If he's on base, he's definitely a threat," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Last time I saw, he was leading the league in steals. We haven't had that kind of threat at the top of our lineup in a long time -- consistently anyway. We'll see how it all turns out."
Bourn has shown steady improvement since breaking in with the Phillies in 2006, and over the course of this season, has seemingly taken his game to another level. He has batted .339 with a .388 on-base percentage in his past 53 games.
The Braves have seen their leadoff hitters bat .254 with a .306 on-base percentage this year. Their center fielders have batted .241 with a .322 on-base percentage.
Once Schafer and fellow center fielder Nate McLouth went on the disabled list, the Braves had even more reason to get a center fielder. They started to get the sense Bourn might be available about a week ago.
"From a strategy standpoint, we didn't want to be really transparent as to what we were looking for," Wren said. "But as we looked at our club, we felt the most glaring need was center field. Even before the injuries, that was an area where we felt we could improve our club."
Bourn has one remaining arbitration-eligible season, and could make in the neighborhood of $7 million next year. Earlier this year, it was revealed Scott Boras is now serving as his agent.
Once considered the top prospect in the Braves' system, Schafer has seen his career stall as he has dealt with a left wrist injury and a banned-substance suspension over the past three seasons. The Braves were forced to call Schafer up from Triple-A Gwinnett in late May, and he had spent most of the past two months as their starting center fielder.
"I don't know if the injuries had [any effect]," Schafer said. "Obviously, I was probably the first one to set things back quite a bit [with the suspension]. It's a business and it happens. I'm not the first player to get traded and I'm not going to be the last."
Jones truly became a fan of Schafer's talents this year and was saddened to learn the 24-year-old outfielder will no longer be playing in the Braves' system. Instead, once his left middle finger heals, Schafer should stand as the Astros' center fielder of the future.
"It's the same old story for him," Jones said. "It seemed like he had it going in the right direction. Another injury kind of knocked him off the track. But he certainly showed a lot of improvement and some promise this year. I was proud of him. He set out in Spring Training to make a difference. And you can honestly say he did that."
Clemens has established himself as a strong prospect while going 6-5 with a 3.73 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A Mississippi this year. MLB.com ranked him as the organization's eighth-best prospect.
Oberholtzer gained attention during Spring Training and has posted a 3.74 ERA in 21 starts for Mississippi. Abreu is a strong-armed right-handed reliever who has recorded 68 strikeouts in 48 innings at Triple-A this year.
While Wren verified that there are not truly any "untouchable prospects" in his organization, he was thrilled to keep his top prospects and improve his Major League club with a player who could prove to be a difference maker with his speed.
"We're not an eighth- or 10th-place team trying to get into the Wild Card," Wren said. "We have one of the best records in baseball. We know we have a good team. We know we can pitch with anyone. So I think it was imperative to do whatever we could to increase our chances."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.