FanPost

Bourn Again?: Life Without Michael Bourn

This is my first fanpost, and it came about due to trying to answer the question of what the Braves lineup will look like in 2013? That led me to another question: how can the Braves replace Michael Bourn? (assuming they cannot re-sign him) First and foremost Michael Bourn is a special player, and should be the number one priority of the Braves’ front office this offseason. However given his impending free agency, as well as being a client of evil Scott Boras, he may very well be priced out of the Braves’ budget. These items noted, how do you replace his speed, presence at the top of the order, WAR, and defense? My research (using mostly fangraphs) proves Michael Bourn is a hard guy to find a replacement for. His defensive metrics combined with his hitting ability alone are a hard combination to find in other potentially available players. With all these factors taken into account, I have compiled four interesting scenarios to attempting to replace Michael Bourn’s services for the Atlanta Braves.

I must first preface my scenarios with the following roster predictions for next season:

C – McCann

1B – Freeman

2B – Uggla

SS – Simmons

3B – Francisco

LF – Prado

CF - ______

RF – Heyward

Bench: Ross, Johnson, Janish, Pastornicky?, LH Bat

Rotation:

Hudson

Medlen

Maholm

Minor

Delgado/Teheran

Bullpen: Kimbrel, O'Flaherty, Venters, Gearrin, Martinez?, Varvarro?, Avilan?

Scenarios after the jump

Michael Bourn Season Average: 52 SB, .348 OBP, .384 SLG, .732 OPS, 107 wRC+, 5.0 fWAR

Scenario #1: Justin Upton and the Position Conundrum

The Diamondbacks seem to have soured on their young star right fielder, he was rumored to be moved at this year’s trade deadline and said to be guaranteed to be moved this offseason. Unless there is some major injury or flaw that is unknown I can’t see why he would not be worth trading for. Upton’s .837 OPS is one hundred points higher than Bourn with about the same on-base percentage (.360), however he does not steal that many bases and has only ever played right field. If the Braves were to acquire Upton I would have to think that Jason Heyward would have to move to CF to give the Braves the best possible defense on the field, as Upton’s defensive metrics are not too strong in right field as it is. The drawback to this scenario is that moving Heyward or Upton to CF does not vastly make up for Bourn’s defense and leaves the Braves still without a true leadoff hitter. Upton is in the middle of a 6yr/50M deal that calls for 9.75M next season and 11M in 2014, so it’s not as if he is a much cheaper alternative. To acquire Upton I would envision the Braves giving up Tommy Hanson plus another top pitching prospect and hopefully getting a reliever like Brad Ziegler thrown in. Ultimately Upton transforms the lineup but leaves the Braves without a true leadoff man (maybe Simmons moves to the top) and doesn’t help the Braves as much defensively, still intriguing however.

Scenario #2: The Underused Defensive Whiz That Is, Peter Bourjos

Peter Bourjos is an interesting case; he is one of the best defensive players in the game yet has been shuffled to Anaheim bench due to salary commitments to other players, and the ascents of Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. Bourjos was another name thought be shopped and moved at the trade deadline this year; however the Angel’s front office thought his value off the bench and in the field was enough to warrant keeping after not coming across an offer they liked. The Angels do have some money coming off the books next season, but unless they eat Vernon Wells’ contract and/or move Mark Trumbo to DH or 3B permanently it is hard to see that much playing time for Bourjos. Bourjos best skills are his defense and his speed. If the Braves were to acquire him it would be primarily for his defense in CF and ability to steal a base. Bourjos’ .735 OPS is comparable to Bourn’s, but his OBP (including minor leagues) is nearly 30 points less (.315). Bourjos would also likely be hitting towards the bottom of the order still leaving the leadoff spot in question. Bourjos’ appeal is that he would replace Bourn’s defense and some speed while coming at a cheaper cost both in trade and salary. To continue my theme, I would make Tommy Hanson the center piece of a deal for Bourjos. Between the inconsistencies of Haren, Santana, and Williams, Hanson could be a nice piece for the Angels to acquire especially if they are unable to re-sign Greinke.

Scenario #3: Texas Role Player, Craig Gentry

The possibility of the Braves acquiring Craig Gentry is both my dark horse favorite and most potentially problematic scenario. Gentry, in a part-time role in the major leagues, has a .358 OBP, .775 OPS, and a 113 wRC+. These stats obviously come from a much smaller sample size than Bourn, but are equal or better. Gentry has also averaged 24 SB in his professional career (including AA and AAA). The red flags in acquiring Gentry are his defensive metrics, never being a regular starter, and potential value to the Rangers. According to fangraphs Gentry has just over half of the defensive metrics as Bourn (still better than the likes of Justin Upton and Chris Young), so how he would hold up in CF for entire season is up in the air. Another hitch in this scenario is that he may provide immense value to the Rangers. Not only could Gentry be the best fourth outfielder in the league, but if the Rangers were unable to re-sign Josh Hamilton they may be pressed to use Craig Gentry every day in CF for themselves. These facts are all compounded by the fact that Gentry is also not even arbitration eligible yet and thus very cost efficient. A possible Braves acquisition for Gentry is also hard to predict given that Texas is loaded with pitching, which in turn is the Braves best trade chip. That said the Braves could benefit if the Rangers decline to pursue Ryan Dempster and with Feliz being on the shelf most of the year, the Rangers look to improve their rotation. Honestly though, haven’t the Braves already given the Rangers enough (see Mark Teixeira trade).

Scenario #4: Another Rookie Wins Opening Day Job (Year 4 Edition)

First Jason Heyward, next Freddie Freeman, then Tyler Pastornicky, and finally… Todd Cunningham? The Braves have made a habit of bringing rookies to camp with the intention of letting them play their way out of the job as an opening day starter, why should 2013 be any different. Based on what I have read by others who devote much more time to prospect analysis, Todd Cunningham should probably have a little more seasoning in Triple A before being handed the starting job in CF. Cunningham is a switch hitter who likes to make contact and doesn’t walk or strikeout very much, not a completely bad setup for a potential leadoff man. Cunningham’s line in the minor league over three seasons reads: 15 SB, .329 OBP, .360 SLG, .689 OPS, and 96 wRC+. Not ideal, but respectable considering in AA this season 18 SB, .363 OBP, .779 OPS, and 122 wRC+. Cunningham is said to play good defense in CF but may project long-term in a corner outfield spot or fourth outfielder. This scenario is cheap and in many respects easy to accept, but given that the Braves will have a lot of payroll flexibility next season it is hard to imagine putting that kind of pressure on a rookie CF/leadoff man who has never played a professional game above the Double-A level. For Todd Cunningham to be Braves primary CF next season, I would envision having a flawless spring training and outperforming another acquisition for CF. That said he should really be considered a guy the Braves would only use if they were comfortable with production at all other positions and had a leadoff hitter already.

In review I think a trade to replace Michael Bourn makes the most sense where Tommy Hanson is the centerpiece of a deal. Hanson’s decline has been documented and he has pitched himself on the outside of the current rotation. It may take additional prospects along with Hanson, but hopefully he retains enough value to provide a good return for the Braves. As I stated above, Craig Gentry would be my favorite acquisition, but the viability of that is very much in question. I think a trade for Justin Upton would have real traction, but ultimately could leave the Braves in a tough spot defensively and atop the batting order. Bourjos would cover any defensive lagging as well as come pretty cheaply, if he were able to repeat his production offensively from last season he would be a steal. These obviously aren’t all the possibilities at the Braves disposal, but I felt they were some of the most interesting, realistic, and stimulating.

This FanPost does not express the views or opinions of Talking Chop.

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