Atlanta Braves Off-Season Questions, Part 3: Who's In Center

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Will the Atlanta Braves be able to re-sign Michael Bourn, and if they don't, how will they replace him.

Michael Bourn had a good year for the Atlanta Braves. It could have been a great year, but he fell apart in the second half of the season. He hit .311 with an .817 OPS in the first half of the season, but hit just .225 with a .636 OPS in the second half. The question is how that erratic performance will cost Bourn on the free agent market. And let's not have any illusions Braves fans, he will test the free agent waters.

Bourn's services as a lead-off man and Gold Glove center fielder will be sought after by plenty of teams -- heck, every other team within the Braves own division will likely go after Bourn. So the Braves chances of re-signing him are low. Here's how I think it will play out: The Braves will make an offer that is slightly better than a qualifying offer, needed to get draft pick compensation should Bourn sign elsewhere. But the Braves offer will not come close to what other teams will offer, both in terms of total years of contract and dollars per year.

The Braves just don't complete well when it comes to free agent bidding wars. Luckily for Atlanta this is a strong year for free agent center fielders. In addition to Bourn, the center field free agents include B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino. Upton represents a player who still might have a ton of untapped potential, while Victorino is a solid and steady type of player who might fit in really well on a team like the Braves.

But Bourn is the premier center fielder and leadoff man on the market, and if agent Scott Boras has anything to say about it, Bourn will be paid like the premier center fielder and leadoff man on the market. I don't see the Braves reaching beyond $15 million a year for any player, and I don't see them going beyond five years on any contract. The Michael Bourn of the first half of this season might be worth that, but the Michael Bourn of the second half certainly wasn't. Something tells me that some team is willing to dig deep into their pocket book to give Bourn more than he's really worth, and more than the Braves can afford.

Internally the Braves don't have any ready replacements in the minor leagues. The closest thing they have is double-A center fielder Todd Cunningham. He's playing Winter Ball this year, and had a breakout season at the plate. He could be a good option a year from now, but he'll likely need a full season of triple-A before he's ready.

No, no one even think about moving Jason Heyward to center. The team has repeatedly said that J-Hey is not an everyday center fielder. While it is tempting to put him in center and stack the corners, we should listen to what the Braves are saying and realize that will never happen.

So much of the Bourn decision will come down to Bourn himself. He'll have several hefty offers to choose from, and while the Braves offer might not be the most, he'll have to weigh the money versus a situation and a team he knows. While I don't think the Braves are a lure for players like they were during the Bobby Cox years, there's still a visible dedication to putting a winning product on the field every year in Atlanta, as there has been every year for the past two decades. Not a lot of other teams can say that or give a player that chance every season. All this will have to be a big part of Bourn's decision if he is to stay with Atlanta.

I put the odds in favor of Bourn re-signing at 30 percent. Vote in the poll with your guess.

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