For the last two years, as the Braves slowly but surely accumulated tremendous pitching depth in the organization, general manager Frank Wren has been very adamant.
He was going to hold onto the young arms and it would be tough to include them in just any trade.
It’s gotten so obvious of how special the arms are, at least in Atlanta’s eyes, that they even have a nickname. “The Big Four” include Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado.
So it was not a surprise Sunday morning when Atlanta announced it had acquired outfielder Michael Bourn from Houston that not one of “The Big Four” were in the deal.
Instead, Wren traded left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, right-hander Paul Clemens and reliever Juan Abreu. Outfielder Jordan Schafer, whom Bourn will technically replace in the Atlanta outfield, is also on his way to Houston.
So you couldn’t blame Wren if he had a small smile on his face Sunday morning. He was able to pull this off without his top prospects leaving the Atlanta organization.
“Our key is for long-term, sustainable winning, and to do that you’ve got to keep those special players,” Wren said. “Those special players are the ones that help you win for a long time. We’ve got some spots that are getting older. We’ve got some spots with guys that are going to be retiring in a couple of years. These are the key guys that will take those positions and help us, we think, win for a long time. It is very difficult to trade them.”
Bourn will bring the spark to the top of the lineup that Schafer showed, but it will be more consistent. Bourn leads the major leagues with 39 stolen bases, so this will be the best stolen base threat Atlanta has had since Rafael Furcal left after the 2005 season.
Bourn’s defense is outstanding. He’s won two Gold Glove awards. So any loss from Schafer being gone is going to possibly be an improvement with Bourn in center field.
But it’s the offense that everyone will be watching. Bourn’s on base percentage is .363, while Schafer’s was .307. There is little doubt Schafer was a threat, but Bourn will be an even greater thorn in a pitcher’s side when he gets on base.
“We think he’s a perfect fit for our team. He fits what we were trying to do, as far as the basic needs of our team,” Wren said. “He’s a great addition.”
“He gets on base and creates havoc,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez. “He’s a legit threat.”
Gonzalez was not only happy about what Bourn will bring to the team on the field, but in the clubhouse as well. He touched base this morning with Mike Barnett, Houston’s hitting coach and a longtime friend.
”He told me this guy is one of the best people you’ll ever want to be around,” Gonzalez said. “Hell of a teammate, leader, quality guy, worker - the type of player we like to have in the Atlanta Braves organization.”
Bourn will join the Braves as they board the plane for Washington late Sunday afternoon, and he's expected in the lineup Monday against the Nationals.
Schafer is currently on the disabled list, but when he’s off August 11 he will immediately be placed in the Houston batting order as the leadoff man. Then he’ll have two months to show what he can do for the rest of the season.
Oberholtzer is viewed by scouts as, at best, a potential number three starter in a big league rotation. He was 9-9 in 21 starts in Double-A Mississippi this season, with 119 hits allowed in 127.2 innings, with 42 walks and 93 strikeouts.
Oberholtzer should be able to go to spring training next March and compete immediately for a spot in the Houston rotation. But if he had remained with the Braves, with all the pitching prospects rated higher, there is little to no chance Oberholtzer would have gotten the same opportunity.
Remember, the Braves could have all five current starting pitchers back next season. Plus, Teheran is rated as one of the best pitching prospects in the game and is 11-1 this season in Triple-A. So Teheran will likely be in the Atlanta rotation next season.
While Oberholtzer does have potential, there’s just not enough room to keep all of these prospects. So he really was the perfect prospect to place in this trade.
Clemens has a really good arm. An American League scout I spoke with after the trade said he believes Clemens can be in the Houston bullpen next season. Again, good prospect, but little room for him in Atlanta.
And Abreu is just a fringe, interchangeable reliever. Who cares.
Now the Braves still have the chance to use one of “The Big Four” in an even bigger deal if it comes along this winter. It might not happen, but they still at least have the ability to do it if needed with this trade that kept “The Big Four” intact.
Wren admitted it was not easy making a deal of this magnitude with every team knowing he was being protective of his main prospects.
”Having good players makes it really hard, especially when you tell people up front that we’re not going to trade a few guys,” Wren said. “That makes it more difficult because they’re always coming back to those players. ‘Well you’ve got x number of players, why can’t you give us one?’ We feel like some of our prospects, of those top guys, are better than most anyone else has. We’ve got a nice group of them. We’re going to hold onto to them and be pretty tight-fisted.”
“There is nobody untouchable. We don’t have anybody untouchable in that clubhouse. But the fact of the matter is there are guys that are less tradable than others for your long-term future.”
Wren got the bat his team needed, and he held onto those special players. All in all, not a bad day's work.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.