The Braves trade for Michael Bourn?
Love it. Absolutely love it.
Three things convinced me. Topping the list was seeing Nate McLouth miss yet another cutoff man last Monday night. The second was seeing Jose Constanza motor down the first base line after his first major league at bat on Friday.
The third? Hearing the uproar the trade made in Houston.
First and foremost, let’s talk speed. Granted, Constanza’s a career minor leaguer. After six-plus seasons and over 3,000 at bats in the bush leagues, you’d expect to see exuberant play once he finally reached The Show.
Constanza didn’t disappoint. He bounced a multi-hopper all the way back to the pitcher’s mound, and tore down the base line like Cool Papa Bell. Thrown out at first, he still elicited approving "ooohs." By the time the game ended, he had his first hit, run and RBI.
Sunday, his speed proved a bit of a curse, as he was thrown out at third for the first out of an inning. But that was after his speed caused a bad throw on a slow roller toward third. While refreshing to see such blatant speed, Constanza clearly hasn’t harnessed it yet. Which may explain all that time in the minors.
Last Monday, McLouth sabotaged a fine effort by Tim Hudson by creating a two-run second inning. By missing the cutoff man and throwing through to third, McLouth allowed both baserunners to advance. Predictably, the next batter hit a ground ball to third. Sadly, the inning-ending double play was no longer in order.
And to think that we cringed last year when he couldn’t even reach the infield with a throw from center.
But the days of watching agitating center fielders has ended, my friends.
Welcome to the Braves, Michael Bourn.
Here’s a guy so fast that he doesn’t play center field, he plays outfield. He’s won two Gold Gloves in the three years he’s been a regular.
Talk about sparking a lineup: Bourn arrived having stolen 39 bases; the Braves had 42. Total. And that’s no fluke. Last year Bourn stole 61 bases; the Braves amassed 63. He led the league in steals the past two years, and leads this year as well. But the best thing about speed? It never slumps. It’s there every single day.
He also arrived having hit a cool .386 (17-for-44) over his last 10 games. He’s hitting over .300 on the season, far above the .230 we’ve come to expect from our center fielders.
One caveat: will Fredi Gonzalez embrace the running game more than his predecessor? For all his considerable virtues as a manager, Bobby Cox never seemed comfortable turning a speedster loose.
Think about how uncomfortable Tommy Hanson is with runners on base. If Gonzalez lets him go, Bourn turns every pitcher in the league into Hanson.
The Braves got Bourn without risking another Teixeira Debacle. It’s hard to imagine missing Jordan Schafer. In over 800 games above the AA level, Schafer has an on base percentage under .300. Hardly ideal for a leadoff hitter.
None of the three pitchers lost were ranked among the Braves’ top ten prospects by Baseball Prospectus. General Manager Frank Wren confirmed that none of the Braves’ "special prospects" including the Four Tops (pitchers Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino), were traded.
You’ll certainly embrace the trade after hearing what the folks in Houston think about it. "Hey Astros," wrote Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle, "do the city of Houston a favor and put us out of your misery. Just cancel the season. Perhaps even the next two or three… Are y’all running a baseball team or a pawn shop?"
"Breathtaking speed, game changing speed, "80 grade" speed, however you want to describe it — none of it could outrun the wave of change sweeping the Astros’ clubhouse," lamented the Chronicle’s Zachary Levine. "And so, Michael Bourn, the hometown kid turned underrated star, was gone, too."
General Manager Ed Wade, forced to face the rising tumult, obfuscated the issue as best he could: "I can understand the level of concern and disbelief that is out there," Wade told the Associated Press. "But we’ve got to do the things to point us in the direction where we’re not going to be going through the types of seasons that we’re going through right now and that we’ve gone through in the past."
That’s the crystal-clear thinking that directed the Astros from the 2005 World Series to a 2011 team that closely resembles the original 1962 Colt .45s. Give the Braves credit for never hitting rock bottom after their miraculous run of 14 straight division titles ended.
Now, they might be on the threshold of big things indeed. "You want to add that piece that you feel like puts you over the edge," catcher David Ross told Mark Bowman of mlb.com Sunday. "When you’re looking around this locker room and the confidence we have in this team, you start thinking about the World Series."