HOUSTON - JUNE 25: Center fielder Michael Bourn #21 of the Houston Astros dives but can't make the catch off a line drive by Matt Joyce of the Tampa Bay Rays in the fifth inning at Minute Maid Park on June 25, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Yeah, it's an arms race in the NL East. After the Phillies made a huge splash on Friday by acquiring Astro right fielder Hunter Pence, the Braves followed up this morning by acquiring an Astros outfielder of their own: center fielder Michael Bourn.
This morning, via press release, the Astros announced the trading of Bourn to Atlanta in exchange for center fielder Jordan Schafer and pitchers Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu. The 28-year-old outfielder is owed $1.45 million through the end of the season and hits free agency after the 2012 season; with Boras around, it's highly likely that Bourn will hit the open market.
But through next year, this is a monster addition for a Braves team that long has needed a consistent center fielder. And in Bourn, the Braves now have one of the best center fielders in the game. Currently hitting .303/.363/.403 on the season with a league-leading 39 steals, Bourn is arguably the premier base-stealer in the game, and he uses his elite speed to be an impact player both on the bases and defensively in center.
Since his breakout 2009, only Franklin Gutierrez has a better UZR mark among center fielders, and only Elvis Andrus has been a better base-runner according to UBR, which accounts for all non-stealing base-running events. So when you note that he's routinely the best base-stealer in the league, it's easy to surmise that few if any other players in baseball accrue more value simply through base-running and defense. Toss in slightly above-average hitting since 2009, and you have a legitimate impact player.
The most shocking part of this deal is the weak return going to Houston, though. If Hunter Pence can command two elite prospects, it absolutely blows my mind that Michael Bourn can't even command one. I recognize that Pence has one extra year of team control and more offensive potential, but at this point Bourn has demonstrated that he's a better all-around player than Pence. And yet, the Bourn trade return absolutely pales in comparison to what the Astros got for Pence.
Schafer, 24, is the centerpiece of Houston's return. That alone should be a sign to you guys that this isn't a great deal. While the former top prospect brings some tools and can play a good center field, he's not a Bourn-caliber defender out there, and a lot of evaluators are skeptical as to whether he'll hit enough to play regularly in the majors. Through his first 415 plate appearances, he's hit just .223/.310/.303, so those concerns clearly have a strong basis. I'm pretty blown away that this is the best guy that they could get in return for a player of Bourn's caliber.
The three pitchers, Oberholtzer, Abreu and Clemens, are all nice pieces to have around, but it's hard to picture any of these guys being true impact players at the next level. Oberholtzer has the best reputation of the three, and he's done well in his first Double-A stint this year, but he also doesn't have great stuff and most scouts don't see him as more than a good No. 3 starter in a best-case scenario. Abreu, 26, is a Triple-A reliever putting up huge strikeout numbers with a big fastball, but he's also still a 26-year-old reliever battling command issues in Triple-A. Clemens, 23, was part of that same Double-A rotation with Oberholtzer, and while he's performed alright, few consider him more than a potential back-of-the-rotation starter at the next level.
It's a shockingly poor return after some of the deals that we've seen so far this week. When guys like Zack Wheeler, Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White on the move, and you have a star center fielder under control through 2012, I don't know how you settle for a package centered around Jordan Schafer. What an absolutely fantastic deal for the Braves, though, who get an impact player that fits perfectly onto their roster without giving up any of their best young players.