By the end of this week, there will be a 19th — except this one, Michael Bourn, is different. He is the real thing: a true, classic, get-on-base, havoc-on-the-basepaths, steal-50-bags leadoff man. Acquired by the Braves on Sunday from the Houston Astros, he joined his new teammates on their charter flight to Washington that night and was in their lineup Monday night as the Braves opened a three-game series at Nationals Park.
“That’s what we’ve lacked here for a long time. It’s where we’ve struggled,” Braves veteran Chipper Jones said. “We’ve struggled with it since [Furcal] left. Some of our trouble scoring runs has been some inconsistencies at the extreme top of the lineup. But he’s going to give the middle-of-the-lineup guys an abundance of RBI opportunities.”
The Braves were the last of the three National League titans to make their move at the trade deadline. The NL West-leading San Francisco Giants struck first, getting Carlos Beltran, a slugging, three-month rental, from the New York Mets. The NL East-leading Philadelphia Phillies were next, prying right fielder Hunter Pence from the Astros.
The Braves, who entered Monday trailing the Phillies by six games in the East but up by 31
2 games over Arizona for the wild card, were considered suitors for both Beltran and Pence. But internally, the Braves knew the guy they really wanted was Bourn, who over the past few years has developed from a one-dimensional speedster into a well-rounded, two-way force — a two-time Gold Glove winner in center field, a two-time stolen base champ with a .352 on-base percentage since the start of 2009.
“As we got [close to] the trade deadline and started looking at our team, there were corner [outfielders] who would make us better,” Braves General Manager Frank Wren said. “But the more we talked, the more we thought this could be the one thing that could transform our club and make it more complete.”
But from the Braves’ standpoint, the best part of the Bourn deal may be this: While the Beltran and Pence deals both cost the Giants and Phillies their top pitching prospect, the Braves managed to pry away Bourn without sacrificing any of their top four pitching prospects. This despite the fact Bourn actually rates as a better all-around player than Pence, according to the Wins Above Replacement metrics at both Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com — both of which rate Bourn as being worth at least one win more than Pence so far this season.