Getting Bourn big boost for Braves' lineup and their playoff chances
Michael Bourn was traded from Houston to Atlanta for four prospects
Bourn is a skilled leadoff hitter, accomplished base stealer and fine defender
Astros GM Ed Wade didn't get big names but he did a good job in this deal
For all the activity on Saturday, no team changed their chances at the postseason. That wasn't the case on Sunday morning, when the Braves acquired Michael Bourn from the Astros for four prospects without touching their core of great young pitching.
At a time when the game lacks players with leadoff skills, Bourn combines OBP (.348 since 2009, .363 this year) and speed (leads NL in SBs with 39, with an 85 percent success rate, after leading in 2009 and 2010; 25 triples, 12 GIDP total 2009-11) in a way few players do. He's also a very good defensive centerfielder thanks largely to his raw speed. The upgrade Bourn represents for the Braves is significant. Braves leadoff hitters, mostly Martin Prado and Nate McLouth, have hit .254/.306/.365; their center fielders, mostly McLouth and Jordan Schafer, have hit .241/.322/.324.
This is a big upgrade on both sides of the ball, probably more than a basic WAR construct would indicate because of the value of improving the structure of the lineup -- having Bourn should mean more runners on base for the team's best hitters. I could see this deal being worth two wins over the season's last two months, while also making the Braves substantially better in a short series. It's the first completed deal that increases a team's postseason hopes.
The package the Astros received for Bourn reflects the reality that leadoff hitters, as valuable as they may be, don't move the needle. Rather than gain two top prospects, as GM Ed Wade was able to do in exchange for Hunter Pence, the Astros received four lesser ones, adding depth to an organization that is still reeling from years of lost drafts and poor work internationally. They get Schafer back, who can be a placeholder in centerfield. Schafer has a sub-.300 OBP in more than 800 plate appearances above Double-A, and was suspended in 2008 for use of human growth hormone.
Of the three pure prospects in the deal, none were in Baseball Prospectus' top 10 in the Braves' system -- two weren't in the top 20. The starters, Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens, comprise 40 percent of Double-A Mississippi's rotation, and are low-upside college draftees who project as back-rotation filler. Juan Abreu, the other pitcher, is a 26-year-old relief pitcher with 48 career innings above Double-A. If the Astros get 800 MLB innings from this deal, it will be a win for them. The saying is that if you want to develop two major league pitchers, start with 10 prospects. The Astros are just now getting to that number.
I give Wade some credit here. He was brought in to shepherd the Astros back to the playoffs, a notion that was silly on the day he took the job. Having failed to complete that mission, he's shifted gears -- no doubt with the blessing or at least approval of probable new owner Jim Crane -- to rebuilding the Astros, a job that will almost certainly go on longer than Wade's employment with the team. To lay the groundwork for success you will not participate in is not an easy thing.
Contrast Wade's approach with that of Cubs GM Jim Hendry -- whose team is not as bad as the Astros, but faces a similar dilemma -- and you gain respect for a man who has done his best to put the organization's needs first, even though in doing so carves in stone his legacy as a man who didn't get the job done. I'm sure I have more middle-relief jokes in me, but in this moment, Ed Wade deserves better than a punchline. The man did his job.
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