Braves Free Agency: Options to Replace Michael Bourn If He Walks
The Atlanta Braves should be seriously considering potential replacements for Michael Bourn in center field in 2013.
Bourn proved to be a perfect fit for the Braves offense in the leadoff spot and played Gold Glove-level defense in center field.
However, he will enter this offseason as the premier leadoff hitter in the free-agent market, something that his agent, Scott Boras, will surely use to his advantage and turn into a nice deal.
The Braves don't hand out large deals and will likely watch Bourn go elsewhere.
Atlanta must have a backup plan, and here's a look at some of their options.
1. Long Shot
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The top hitter on the market this offseason is Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.
Atlanta will have some money to spend with Chipper Jones, Derek Lowe and Michael Bourn coming off the payroll.
Adding Hamilton to the lineup would give the Braves a powerful middle of the order that would rival the best in the league.
Hamilton is also well-respected in the locker room and would be a veteran presence around the young players in Atlanta.
The downside to signing Hamilton is that it would hinder the Braves' payroll flexibility over the upcoming years.
The 31-year-old will likely get a four to six-year deal. Will his production level be the same in years four, five and six? Doubtful.
There's a natural drop in production as a player ages, and the Braves hate making moves for the present that could damage them in the future.
Therefore, the chances of Hamilton landing in Atlanta are slim.
2. Free-Agent Market
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The most likely route the Braves will take to replace Bourn will be perusing the free agent market.
Top targets for the Braves will be Angel Pagan, Shane Victorino and B.J. Upton.
Pagan and Victorino would fill the void both in center field and the leadoff spot, allowing the Braves' lineup to remain virtually the same.
Pagan played a key role in the Giants' championship run and can add that to his resume.
The 31-year-old Victorino will likely receive a two to three-year deal despite coming off a down season by his standards.
Victorino had a career low on-base percentage in 2011, but still managed to hit 11 home runs and steal 39 bases.
Upton is an intriguing player with loads of potential. He has great power, a strong arm and blazing speed.
He is also just 28 years old and could reach his ceiling with a change of scenery.
Out of these options, I think Victorino would be the best fit. He would be a short-term solution at an affordable price.
He could take over the lead-off spot, play a good center field and being a switch-hitter is a bonus.
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General manager Frank Wren will explore the free-agent market as well as call around to see what he can pull off in a trade.
The previous trade for Bourn worked out well as the Braves gave up very little to acquire him.
If the right deal presents itself, Wren will pull the trigger.
A pair of Minnesota Twin center fielders would make sense for the Braves to target.
The Braves could package Tommy Hanson and another pitching prospect for either Denard Span or Ben Revere.
The Twins are looking for pitching help and have enough outfield depth with Chris Parmelee and prospects Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks.
Span would be more likely to be traded since he's older than Revere and has a larger contract.
The Braves could solve two issues with a trade with the Twins. First, it would obviously fill the needs of a center fielder and a leadoff hitter. Second, it would free up a crowded pitching rotation and get some value for the declining Hanson.
Span does have a no-trade clause, so the Braves would have to convince him to play in Atlanta.
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If Wren can't find a valuable deal, he could decide to roll the dice with his current roster.
The top options would be moving Jason Heyward, Reed Johnson or prospect Todd Cunningham.
Heyward just won his first Gold Glove in right field and is athletically good enough to play center field. However, it is doubtful the Braves will move him to center field in fear that it could stunt his growth at the plate.
Johnson is a solid player who does a lot of things well. As an everyday player, he would do a good job, but the Braves will likely view his versatility off the bench as his highest value.
The 23-year-old Cunningham has the chance to be the Braves' center fielder of the future.
He hit .309 with 24 stolen bases at Double-A Mississippi in 2012. He has excellent speed but needs to cut down on his strikeouts to fully excel at the next level.
Cunningham would benefit from another year in the minors to further develop at the plate.
Overall, this seems like the most likely scenario for the Braves to take, but Wren and the Braves have surprised us before.