With the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star break approaching, the Atlanta Braves currently trail the Philadelphia Phillies by 4.5 games, but lead the Arizona Diamondbacks and the defending champion San Francisco Giants by 1.5 games. While the Braves have had a great season thus far, they are unfortunately playing in the strongest division in the National League. Atlanta has had to battle through numerous outfield injuries, even having all three starting outfielders on the disabled list simultaneously.
Recently there have been several rumors that the Atlanta Braves are interested in adding a more reliable outfield bat by the deadline. Two Houston Astros, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, have been the center of several rumors lately. This slideshow will list the top five reasons that the Braves should work hard to make a deal for one of these players before the trade deadline, as well as my prediction for the most likely trade.
To say this season has been painful for the Houston Astros would be an understatement. Through the first 76 games of the 2011 season the Astros are the proud owners of the worst record in baseball. Houston has 28 wins and 48 losses, which amount to a measly .368 winning percentage. They currently trail the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers by 13 games, and the Wild Card-leading Braves by 15 games.
Barring some major plot twist in the second half, the Astros will not be making a postseason run this year.
The Astros are probably viewing the 2011 season as a lost cause, which means they will be sellers at the deadline. They will be willing to make trades that will improve their ballclub in the future rather than the present. Houston should be willing to part with either of these players for prospects and cash because it will be able to build for future seasons. This bodes well for the Braves, who are looking to overtake the Phillies and win the NL East in 2011.
If the Braves can get the right deal in place, they could possibly score one of these major pieces without cleaning out the farm system.
Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer have been less than stellar in 2011, and that is putting it lightly. McLouth is currently hitting only .233 with a .328 on-base percentage. Schafer has been even less productive than that, hitting .231 with a .310 on-base percentage.
The lack of production from the Braves center fielders is one of their biggest problem areas, especially compared to the production that the Philadelphia Phillies get from their center fielder Shane Victorino. If the Braves plan on making a run at the 2011 NL East title they must address this problem before the trade deadline.
The 2011 season has been rough for the Atlanta Braves in terms of injuries. Recent injuries include Jason Heyward's shoulder, Nate McLouth's oblique and Martin Prado's staph infection in his right calf. It's not just the outfielders that the Braves front office has to worry about, however. Chipper Jones is always a big concern when the topic of injuries arises.
Chipper, 39, has spent nearly as much time on the disabled list as he has on the field over the past several years. If Jones does sustain a serious injury, the Braves will have to seriously consider moving Martin Prado to third base and starting someone else in left field. Pence would be a perfect fit in left field in this scenario, but if the Braves trade for him he has the ability to play center field as well.
Bourn can play any outfield position, but he would be the durable center fielder needed in Atlanta if a move was made to secure his services.
The Atlanta Braves hitters have been very inconsistent so far this season. Currently, the Braves only have one starting player with a batting average above .277. The Braves rank 14th out of 16 National League teams with a terrible .239 team batting average. If the Braves plan on winning the NL East, they will have to find some offensive consistency, or trade for one of these very consistent outfielders.
Michael Bourn is currently hitting .284 with 25 RBI while batting in the leadoff role. Hunter Pence is batting a very impressive .321 and has an even-more-impressive .497 slugging percentage. Pence could be a huge piece of protection in the order for Brian McCann, who has been the Braves' only consistent hitter this year with a .305 average.
Either of these players would give the Braves a huge boost in offensive production, and make them much more capable of winning the NL East in 2011.
Not since the days of Rafael Furcal have the Braves had a true leadoff hitter that can consistently get on base and wreak havoc on the basepaths. Michael Bourn is a true leadoff hitter in every aspect of his game. Bourn has a high batting average, a high on-base percentage, and he leads the National League with 32 stolen bases in only 74 games.
If the Braves had a leadoff hitter that could put himself in position to score consistently, they would produce a lot more runs and win a lot more games. Jordan Schafer has had moments where he has shown how beneficial a speedy leadoff man can be to a lineup, and Michael Bourn is one of the best and speediest leadoff hitters in the game.
I hope that the Braves can work out a deal with the Astros that will bring Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn to Atlanta. However, I know that this type of deal would cost a great deal to accomplish, and the Braves would have to be willing to part with a big-time player such as Martin Prado, and a wealth of prospect talent to see it completed.
With that said, I believe the Braves management would be more likely to target Michael Bourn than Hunter Pence. Bourn is a dynamic player that disrupts pitchers when he gets on base, which is quite often. Bourn brings the speed element with him, a presence that has been missing in Atlanta for a very long time.
I believe that either of these players could push the Braves offense over the top and help them win the East in 2011, but if only one player can become a Brave, I believe it will be Michael Bourn.