July 31, 2011 at 10:10 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
Acquired OF Michael Bourn from the Houston Astros for OF Jordan Schafer, RHP Paul Clemens, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, and RHP Juan Abreu.
After all the somewhat frightening talk, Frank Wren makes his big move and it’s a better one than I could have imagined him making.
Michael Bourn is, in a few words, a perfect fit for Atlanta. He upgrades the offense and defense at a position where the Braves haven’t gotten much from all year. Braves center fielders have hit .231/.326/.323 this season. Michael Bourn owns a career .271/.338/.359 line, is batting .303/.363/.403 this season, and .279/.348/.373 over the past three years. Any way you slice it, Bourn is a huge boost to the team’s offense in terms of hitting.
However, his hitting abilities pale in comparison to the other things he brings to the table. Over the past three years, Bourn has stolen 148 bases in 177 attempts (83.6% success rate), leading the league in steals each year. Over that same span, he leads the league in Fangraphs’ baserunning metric, having provided 14.7 runs on the base paths–this doesn’t include the 148/177 stolen bases. All told, Bourn has been, on average, worth about +15 offensive runs with his legs alone over the past three years. This makes sense, he’s one of the two or three players in major league baseball with pure 80 speed and the Astros let him play through his struggles in order to become a legitimate weapon on the base paths.
And then there’s Bourn’s fielding. As you may have guessed, 80 speed plays very well in center field. His arm is merely average, but you’ll live with it from a guy who can cover the type of ground Bourn does. All told, Bourn is about a +10 fielder in center–well better than Jordan Schafer and several wins better than Nate McLouth. The Braves have gotten average-at-best defense in center field all year.
So, we have a +12 offensive player and a +10 defensive player. As you know, center field is a premium position, and gets a +2.5 positional adjustment. Add +20 for replacement level, and Bourn is, roughly, a +4.5 win player.
Michael Bourn is in his second year of arbitration, making $4.4 million. He has about $1.45 million remaining on his contract and the Astros reportedly sent close to but less than $1 million to the Braves in the deal. That leaves Atlanta with what we’ll call a $600,000 hook for 2011. Bourn remains under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2012 and is likely to make ~$8-$9 million via the arbitration process.
So, if we have a good idea of how much he’s worth and how much he’s going to make, we can make a pretty good estimate of his trade value:
In return the Astros get Jordan Schafer, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens, and Juan Abreu. Schafer is a center fielder who the club had been playing every day and batting leadoff because they were desperate for anything other than Nate McLouth. Or, I don’t really know why, but he’s not a real MLB contributor at this point. He has big league tools, but he’s now 24 years old and hasn’t shown the same power since the wrist injury that made him a top prospect at the end of this past decade. He also comes with a suitcase full of make-up issues. The Braves have been cordial about him all this time, saying he’s matured et cetera. It may be true or it may be posturing, but I’m glad they’re rid of him.
Juan Abreu is a 26-year old, major-league ready reliever with a big fastball and awful control. He’ll likely get a spot in the Astros bullpen immediately and was looking at getting one in Atlanta’s in September. The Astros are tasked with improving his control to the point where he can be an effective, late-innings reliever, otherwise they’re looking at another Manny Acosta.
The big pieces of the return for Houston are Oberholtzer and Clemens, two starters having fine years at AA. Oberholtzer is a command lefty with an 88-91 MPH fastball and a couple of decent offspeed pitches. He fields the position well and can even hit a little bit, and the sum of his abilities give him a good chance of eventually pitching at the back of a big-league rotation. Clemens I wrote off as a NP when I saw him in Rome in 2009, but he’s exploded on the prospect scene out of nowhere in 2011 thanks to his fastball jumping into the mid-90′s. He’s basically a fastball specialist, throwing both a 2-seamer and 4-seamer, but mixes in a couple of offspeed pitches that could eventually be average or better. If his velocity jump holds and he improves other facets of his game, Clemens could eventually surface as a solid, mid-rotation starter.
Ninteen days ago Ben and I ranked Oberholtzer as the organization’s 9th best prospect, Clemens the 10th, and Abreu the 20th. If we call Clemens and Oberholtzer “B” prospects (they were both “C’s” before the season, their stock has improved), the pair is worth ~$17 million. Abreu, a 26 year old grade C pitcher, is worth $1.75 million, and Schafer we’ll call a grade C hitter worth $0.6 million. This brings the value of the package to ~$19.4 million.
When you consider, for example, that Hunter Pence was traded for ~$55 million worth of prospects, this deal looks really good. Also making the deal look better is Atlanta’s replacement level in center field and the fact that they figure to be contenders both years Bourn is under team control, driving up the marginal value of the wins.
Not only is Bourn a perfect fit for Atlanta, he came at a very reasonable price and one that allowed the Braves to keep their top 8 or so prospects. This is an extremely good deal for Atlanta. Be happy, be ecstatic. The Braves just got a whole lot better.