Sometimes something’s good simply because it’s new. A car. A house. A center fielder.
And when you’re in a pennant race — or at least a wildcard race for your second straight playoff berth — new momentarily brings renewed hope to the fans that their general manager cares as much about reaching the postseason as they do.
This isn’t to say that the Atlanta Braves acquiring center fielder Michael Bourn from the Houston Astros in exchange for center fielder Jordan Schafer and three minor league pitchers is either a band-aid or a bad move.
As Braves GM Frank Wren told mlb.com on Sunday, “[Bourn] was the one thing we were lacking. We haven’t really had a prototypical leadoff hitter in five or six years. It might not be the offensive punch, but it’s run creation and that’s important.”
It is especially important when you currently rank 15th in the majors in runs scored and 26th in team batting (.242). Wren is also right that the Braves haven’t had a legitimate leadoff hitter since Rafael Furcal went west to the LA Dodgers, a move that cost the Braves both speed and pizzazz.
But where Wren is most right is his assessment of this team’s current playoff window. Knowing that pitcher Tim Hudson is 36, pitcher Derek Lowe is 38 and third baseman Chipper Jones is now 39, Wren told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “For a team that’s poised to win, we needed a finished product.”
Well, that or a fountain of youth.
And the 28-year-old Bourn’s identity is certainly that of a skilled leadoff hitter. He’s batting .303 with 39 stolen bases and 64 runs scored. By comparison, the 24-year-old Schafer is hitting .240 with 15 stolen bases.
By another comparison, the entire Braves team has 42 stolen bases, the third least in the NL.
No wonder Wren said in comparing the two players, “Michael is what we hope Jordan will be in three or four years.”
Problem is, no one can wait three or four years in today’s sports culture. Fans crave instant results. The malaise falling over the Big Peach the last few days as the San Francisco Giants landed Carlos Beltran and the Philadelphia Phillies grabbed Hunter Pence was about to become a full-blown Southern-fried depression.
But to Wren’s credit he neither panicked nor stood pat. He kept his thoughts to himself until the final day of trading, then grabbed the one available player best suited to better the Braves today without costing them their best prospects for tomorrow.
Said Jones — a mentor and friend to Schafer — of the move, “If [Bourn’s] on base, he’s definitely a threat. Last time I saw, he was leading the league in steals. We haven’t had that kind of threat at the top of our lineup in a long time.”
Of course, they haven’t had their expected lineup coming out of spring training but 11 games all season. Now with Bourn as the leadoff hitter, followed by — assuming they all get healthy — Martin Prado, Jones, Brian McCann (his bad back willing), Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Alex Gonzalez, the Bravos just might become boffo with the bats.
Then again, they have to stay healthy. Bourn has to get on base, then create a few cheap runs once there. And the pitching must remain as strong as Wren currently views it.
“We know we can pitch with anyone,” he said on Sunday. “We know we have a good team.”
By record (63-45), they currently have the second best team in the NL behind the Phillies. Adding Bourn should solidify that position, and possibly improve it.
Or — as AJC columnist Jeff Schultz astutely pointed out on Sunday — Bourn could mirror the production of the last Gold Glove, All-Star center fielder acquired by the Braves to hit leadoff: Nate McLouth.
Perhaps that’s why Chipper also said of the trade: “Talk to me in two months.”
After all, two months from today the Braves will either be the formidable finished product Wren seeks, or just plain finished for 2011.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...