Bourn Seeks Playoff Identity In Atlanta

The Braves finally got in on one of the most active trade deadlines in recent memory Sunday morning, when they acquired Michael Bourn from the Astros. In doing so, the Braves were able to part with quantity over quality and get a guy who perfectly fits their ballclub.

As Bradley Woodrum noted at the All-Star break, the Braves were only getting a .310 wOBA from their leadoff spot at the break, and matters haven’t improved any since. After Jordan Schafer and his anorexic .291 wOBA went down, the Braves had tried Martin Prado, Nate McLouth and Jose Costanza at leadoff. While the Braves at least gave us a chance to relive some choice Seinfeld moments, that wasn’t really helping them win ballgames.

Enter Bourn. Perhaps sensing he might be traded at the deadline, Bourn has been on fire for the past two months. Since the Astros hit Chicago at the end of May for a set with the Cubs, Bourn has been hitting .339/.388/.446, with 14 doubles, five triples and 21 stolen bases against just five times caught stealing. For the season, Bourn’s wOBA is a robust .353, eighth among qualified center fielders and certainly the best available on the trade market.

With McLouth on the disabled list and Schafer heading out in the trade, Bourn slides right into center for the Braves. Bourn has accumulated a WAR of 3.6 this season, and has established himself as just shy of a five-win player. Plug that into a spot in the lineup that had only generated 0.9 WAR so far thus season (25th in the Majors) and you have what should be an upgrade of at least a win over the remainder of the season — plus the Braves get him for 2012 as well. No matter what the total is for the rest of this season though, the Braves are setting themselves up as optimally as possible in that they slotted in the best available center fielder into one of the two black holes in their lineup. It’s a much better situation than the Braves would have faced had they acquired someone like Carlos Quentin and then had to figure out how to fake center field and keep all the big bats in the lineup at the same time.

The same can not be said due north in Philadelphia, where instead of allowing Hunter Pence to replace the warm-congealed-chunks-of-milk version of Raul Ibanez, they have once more partaken in tradition-is-best hijinks and sent down Domonic Brown instead. The difference between Bourn and Schafer is roughly three wins, very similar to the difference between Pence and Ibanez, but Brown narrows that gap significantly, and would likely have continued to narrow it in August, unfamiliarity with left field be damned. If the Braves do mount a comeback charge for the National League East crown, that will certainly be a decision the Phillies regret.

Also unlike the Phillies — and Giants and Indians — the Braves did not part with the cream of the crop on the farm in order to land Bourn. They land a year and change of Bourn without having had to sacrifice top-shelft talent. First, Schafer was obviously expendable in this deal. Few, if any teams carry three true center fielders on their roster, and with McLouth the better bat, the offense-starved Braves wouldn’t have had a spot for Schafer. Schafer had briefly resurrected his career this year as a defense-first guy, generating an UZR of 1.8 in just 440 innings in the field, and when the dust settles in Houston, he could end up with, if not a starting role, at least a Major League job throughout their rebuilding process.

The Astros also net three Minor League pitchers. Chief among them is Brett Oberholtzer, who while he didn’t make our own Marc Hulet’s top 10 this spring or Keith Law’s, he was ninth on Baseball America’s list. The 21-year old has held up well at Double-A, but his strikeout to walk ratio has dipped from 5.94 at High-A to 2.21 this season. His teammate in Mississippi, Paul Clemens, is two years closer to being able to rent a car, but performance-wise is his junior, as Clemens’ 3.80 FIP can’t touch Oberholtzer’s 3.36 mark. Finally, 26-year old Juan Abreu could fill the “Wild Thing” role for the Houston bullpen in the near term, as he is striking out more than 12 batters per nine innings but also walking more than five at Triple-A Gwinnett. All of these guys have some upside to them, and will supply Houston with much needed depth in their system, but none are likely to be missed in the same manner that recently departed pitchers like Jarred Cosart, Zack Wheeler and Drew Pomeranz might.

Outside of shortstop, where the Braves seem comfortable with the ineptitude of Alex Gonzalez, center field was hurting the Braves the most. Michael Bourn represents the best possible fit for that position, and in netting the next six-eight wins of his career without giving up blue chippers to do so, the Braves certainly win this deal in the short term, and possibly the long term as well.




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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


63 Responses to “Bourn Seeks Playoff Identity In Atlanta”

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  1. atoms says:

    love this deal for the braves! had they gotten pence, who would have cost a lot more, they’d still have a hole in center field and pence would be taking playing time away from one of prado, heyward, or hinske, against righties most of the time. bourn doesn’t solve their woes against lefties, but even then he’s a steep upgrade over schafer or mclouth. the prospects they gave up are middling, with ceilings well shy of teheran, minor, vizcaino, and delgado, though if wren doesn’t pick up a right-handed reliever before the deadline or off waivers in a couple weeks, abreu would have been an interesting september addition to the pen.

    and it’s constanza, by the way.

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  2. TK says:

    Wow, FW fell ass backwards into an amazing deal.

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  3. Harmon Diego says:

    The braves really shoulda got pence. the braves NEED RH power, not some speedy LH defensive wiz kid. its also a shame the they had to part with that top talent. Atlanta should be looking to keep young cost controlled players like Oberholtzer and shafer. I give wren a C+ grade on this trade.

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    • Sean ONeill says:

      Bourn is not only a better fit for the Braves then Pence, he’s also the better baseball player. Deal gets a solid B from me.

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      • bsally says:

        This deal is a solid A+++. The Braves gave up entirely expendable prospects for the guy who’s accumulated more WAR over the last 3 years than any CF in baseball.

        Oberholzer and Clemens were never going to sniff the ATL rotation, given the arms in front of them.

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      • Josh says:

        And more War than Pence!

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    • atoms says:

      um, you might have missed the part about the prospects not being “top talent.” they have a young rotation as is, and with hudson (likely through 2013), hanson, beachy, jurrjens, teheran, minor, and delgado all rotation-worthy, oberholtzer and clemens wouldn’t have had much value to the big-league braves outside of the bullpen. and schafer, it seems pretty clear, will never be the kind of major leaguer that his AA hgh-inflated stats indicated. wren can still trade for or claim off waivers a right-handed bench bat and bullpen arm.

      if you’re a braves fan, you should be thrilled — the team just got better in every facet of the game without giving up much in the way of useful pieces.

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      • Deadpool says:

        You forgot Medlen. He’ll be back next year as well, is young and while he doesn’t have the ceiling actually performed as well as Hanson last year.

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    • Larry says:

      I feel like that was sarcasm, but lets just assume it wasn’t. Pence has a career ISO of .189 which is pretty impressive, even for a RF but it has been falling every year and is at .161 this year which is below average. With his un-inspiring BB and K rates, he really doesn’t profile as a big time slugger. His 135 wRC+ this year is fueled by a .366 BABIP and is sure to regress. Trading the org’s 2 top prospects for a guy with a 4.5 WAR ceiling reeked of desperation.

      Sure Pence may have 1 more year of team control – but Bourn gives ATL a legit center fielder and a decent bat. If Hunter Pence went to the Braves, they would still lack a serviceable CF and may still need to play Nate or Jordan everyday. And regarding RH power, would you have preferred BJ Upton as a target? Because that was the only other possible choice and may be a fair point. The top talent part is where I think your kidding, because the Braves have a ton of players in their system better than Oberholtzer, much less Shafer.

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  4. Go To War Miss Agnes says:

    This has to easily be the best deadline deal of any contending team. While some other deals were justifiable, this is the only one that classifies as a significant upgrade without giving up anything substantial.

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  5. Worry says:

    Good Job Frank Wren.

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  6. Eric says:

    Doesn’t starting Ibanez over Brown allow the Phillies to send Brown to the minors, and save a year of service time? If so, they can still have Brown for the postseason (which they will make regardless) and gain a year of Dom Brown. Win for the Phillies, I say (assuming my service math is correct).

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      The Phillies shouldn’t be worried about service time and trading two top prospects to preserve one player’s service time makes no sense.

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      • Eric says:

        True, and I agree that the Braves did much better. But it’s a point worth mentioning.

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      • hunterfan says:

        I don’t think they’re “worried” about service time. Since they’re asking the kid to move to a new position, LF, and he’s already been a butcher in RF, it kinda makes sense to send him down to AAA to get a month of playing it every day.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Why would you think a team with a 180M dollar payroll, a team that is going to be paying 4 guys over 30 nearly 100M next year, cares about a few million bump up in salary? Yea, 2013-2016 when the Phillies are crippled by these contracts and the attendance goes down then they’ll need to worry about that, but not now. Now they feel like they can sign anyone.

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    • NEPP says:

      Brown has basically never played LF and is a terrible defender in RF. The Phillies cant just toss a guy into a brand new position in a pennant race. Brown will be in AAA for the month to get reps in LF. He came up as a CF and moved to RF a few years ago…he’s not a plus defender at any of the positions.

      If you’ve watched Brown in RF this year, the Phillies were probably wise to not attempt another trial by fire with him.

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      • sean says:

        i’ve seen ibanez in left, he’s not better then brown in right. the defensive tool hasn’t developed yet for brown. Also the top two guys the phillies gave up were in A ball, a lot can happen from now till the majors(if they make it there). In one year the phillies will have guys to replace them.

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      • NEPP says:

        I dont disagree on that…the difference is that Raul at least fields the balls he gets too cleanly and its a known evil as opposed to Brown which would be a complete shot in the dark.

        Brown’s “tools” defensively might not ever develop. He has zero ability to read a ball off the bat.

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      • bsally says:

        Wait, are you seriously arguing that Ibanez is a better defender than Brown? Ibanez has been the worst defender at any position in all of baseball this year. You’d be better off hanging a bucket on a stick in left field.

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      • NEPP says:

        No, I’m arguing that, to the Phillies, a known evil (Raul’s defense) is currently preferable to a completely unknown evil in Domonic Brown’s defense (which has been nearly as terrible at a more difficult position.

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  7. Long time Braves fan says:

    This trade alone should win Wren GM of the Year. He cut off the fat from the team, packaged it with none of the Big 4 pitching prospects (who subsequently block pitchers at lower levels), and trades for OBP, speed, and a CF, 3 different needs all in 1 player. Now Prado can bat 2nd, and Heyward can thrive with less pressure on him in the 7 spot following the Jones/McCann/Uggla/Freeman stretch (when all are healthy obviously). Amazing job.

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    • Mark says:

      An excellent trade by Wren, but not GM of the year good. Getting rid of Vernon Wells trumps this :).

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      • Azim says:

        And getting Rasmus was pretty great too.

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      • Long time Braves fan says:

        Saving money is nice, even dumping an albatross of a contract, but it doesn’t really compare to Flags Fly Forever. Toronto isn’t going to the playoffs this year (despite getting Rasmus and dumping Wells), and Atlanta is.

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      • Larry says:

        Signing Bautista was amazing too, and we don’t want to get into the horrible media creation of only giving awards to those who makes the playoffs. Thats the kind of outdated thinking that we are trying to move beyond. Also, if Atlanta played in the AL East, they probably would not make the playoffs either.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        NL GM of the year. Anthropolis cheats though, he plays with “force trades” on.

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    • Bo says:

      Before we get too crazy with this whole GM of the Year thing, let’s remember Scott Proctor still has a roster spot.

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    • Don Mynack says:

      Look guys, its a good trade, but Bourn ain’t Babe Ruth. Simmer down.

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  8. ddriver80 says:

    Now if only they had Yunel Escobar still

    AMIRITE?

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    • If they had that, he’d still be hitting .240, and he’d be getting in nightly fights with the scorer when he didn’t think he made an error.

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      • Worry says:

        It’s sad that him batting .240 is still better than AGon this year.

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      • Sniderlover says:

        Yeah, because it’s like he always sucked with Atlanta, amirite?

        Remind me, which year was it when he put up a .299/.377/.436 and 4.5 WAR? Or right, it was before his one bad season out of 4 in Atlanta.

        I just find it really funny how all this “bad attitude” and “fights” came on a bad season. Where was it when he was doing well?

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      • cavebird says:

        It was always there. The Braves just would put up with it when he produced. It is still there in Toronto (he sat Sunday b/c he threw a temper tantrum Saturday that got him tossed). Great talent, however.

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      • Alan says:

        Why are some Jays fans so desperate to toot their own horns that they feel the need to attack every Braves thread with this shit about Escobar?

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  9. Robbie G. says:

    This trade really highlights the stark difference between the decision-making abilities and negotiation skills of the Atlanta and Philly front offices. Atlanta gets the player (from the same trading partner, no less) who, according to WAR, makes the bigger impact (this year, in 2010, in 2009) and gives up far less in terms of prospects in order to get him. Had Philly acquired Bourn rather than Hunter Pence, the Phillies could have dramatically upgraded their leadoff spot, slotted Bourn into CF, moved Shane Victorino, whose bat is about as good as Pence’s (according to OPS) over the past 3-4 years and is a much better baserunner and fielder, over to RF, either made the rational decision (a Domonic Brown-John Mayberry platoon) or the irrational decision that management seems to prefer (sticking with Raul Ibanez) to address the LF situation, kept Victorino in the #5 spot, and bumped Jimmy Rollins down to the #2 spot. Philly would’ve been able to put a better product on the field this season while giving up fewer prospects who will enable them to put a good product on the field in future seasons.

    Well played by Atlanta.

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    • reillocity says:

      As a fan of the team that formerly had Pence and Bourn, I think you’re overlooking the biggest difference between the Phillies and Braves which is that the Phillies are drawing 17,000+ more fans per home game. The Phillies front office doesn’t have to be as resourceful or shrewd as the Braves are because they are swimming in cash. The Phillies can simply target who they want, find out what it will take to get their guy, make that offer, and voila they have their man. And obviously the Phillies needed Pence more than Bourn so they went out and got Pence well before most of the other pre-Aug 1 deals went down. So in short why would Phillies’ front office even worry about trying to get Pence for the minimum trade return and possibly lose their man when they can just go out and meet the trade partner’s asking price and get the deal done ASAP?

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        They don’t have to be as shrewd now. They aren’t the BoSox or Yanks, they are recently good. Consecutive sellouts since winning the belt. When they become a mediocre team with huge contracts (the Cubs) and attendance starts to drop, then these moves will look bad.

        I bet they pay too much for Hamels in the off season too.

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      • Jon Bongiovi says:

        Phillies fans love to bring up attendance…when the Phillies were contending for a wildcard in 2004, 2005, and 2006, they were drawing flies at CBP in September. You couldn’t find a sports fan in Philadelphia who would want to talk Phillies over Eagles. Philly is not a hardcore MLB town…the Phillies do not have the hardcore fanbase they want you to think they have…when they have an inevitable down year (and they will…NEWSFLASH…you guys ain’t Boston or NY and you NEVER will be), watch those empty seats reappear at “The Bank”.

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  10. derek says:

    Wren also traded for a back up catcher for $1. That seems like a good deal too.

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  11. Krog says:

    Wow, Atlanta gave up spare parts for a premium centerfielder. Amazing!

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  12. 1tms says:

    Terrific move by the Braves. They traded their 6th and 7th best pitching prospects in this deal + Schafer. I can’t believe Wade did this. Bourn is not only a better fit for the Braves, but probably the more valuable player period compared to Pence. Bourn’s game is not particularly rewarded by the Arb. process so he’ll be decently cheap next year as well.

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    • 1tms says:

      I also wouldn’t be surprised if Wren feigned interest in Pence to drive up his price for the Phillies.

      Oh, and Abreu was a minor league FA.

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  13. Oliver says:

    After considering the phillies position, I’m not as upset with sending down Brown now as I was before. They weren’t going to bench Ibanez no matter what, even though they should have. This means that if they keep Brown up he wouldn’t be getting significant playing time and this at least allows him to play everyday…

    Still stupid but not the absolute worst…

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  14. Remy says:

    This is a great move on Wrens part considering the price of other players. But in defense of Wade, the media (and thus most GMs) put too much emphasis on organizational rankings. Who cares that Ober. isn’t a top five prospect in the farm system? He’s got four of some of the best players in the entire minor leagues above him. How would he rank in the Phillies system? Probably top five.

    This is why STL took less from TOR than what TB was offering because the rankings were “better” and thus the media wouldn’t crucify them as much.

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    • Heyward says:

      Well that plan backfired

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    • bsally says:

      Oberholzer’s ceiling is a 4th or 5th starter in a bad to average rotation. When that’s the centerpiece of the package you get for baseball’s best CF for the past 3 years, you dun goofed.

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      • cavebird says:

        That definitely makes it a great trade for Oberholtzer. The Astros have the bad to average rotation that he can make!

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  15. Slats says:

    The Braves just stripped the Astros naked with this trade.

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  16. Phantom Stranger says:

    An excellent deal for the Braves, it plugs almost every significant hole we had except at shortstop. Bourn’s speed and defense will be invaluable, as the offense generally produces so little that a late stolen base could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

    This is by far the biggest steal of the trade deadline for Atlanta.

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  17. Jon Bongiovi says:

    Frank Wren just showed Ruben Amaro how it’s done. When the Braves are making the Phillies their bitches in the NL East for the latter half of this decade, I hope Phillies fans take more bows for Amaro’s “aggressiveness”.

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    • hunterfan says:

      This is the same guy who traded Yunel Escobar for pennies on the dollar. Just sayin’.

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      • Josef says:

        Although Pastornicky has increased his stock this year.

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      • bsally says:

        He also got Uggla and now Bourn in trades more lopsided than that one. Plus he managed to convince the Yankees to not only take another flier on Vazquez, but to give up a premium arm for the privilege.

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  18. Shaun Catron says:

    Good trade by Wren. Might as well call the NL East Executive two headed dragon “Wren and Stimpy(amaro)”

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  19. domingoes says:

    The move is fantastic for the Braves, Jordan Schaeffer is not an everyday player. I’ve always liked Bourne, he’s such a good defender and definitely something to watch on the basepaths.

    I know Bourne is the better player but he’s not THAT much better than Pence, about 1 WAR/season. The Phillies at least filled the hole Raul Ibanez is leaving in the outfield for 2 years.

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  20. Jamie says:

    Will people stop saying Bourn is better than Pence?

    He is NOT as good as Pence. Bourn is a slap hitting CF who is having a career year with the stick. All his value is tied up in playing centerfield in HOUSTON.(even though UZR has him low this year in the field). Take him out of Houstons awful CF where no one can play well and i bet he comes out more average in CF than anyone ever imagined. Atlanta is about as neutral as it gets dimension wise and any CF with half a brain can field well there.

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    • cavebird says:

      That’s not a nice thing to say to Nate McLouth, who can’t field well in Atlanta. Bourn is a good on-base guy with great speed (not just steals, but steals with a good SB%) and very good defense. You can say that it is just Houston based, but last time I checked, the Astros still played half of their games on the road. So, no, we will not stop saying it, mostly because we are right, but, now, partially just to annoy you. ;)

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    • Dan says:

      Bourn’s more valuable in a vacuum than Pence. He’s also more valuable to the Braves than Pence. But context counts for plenty, and Pence is a better fit for the Phillies. Both teams come out way ahead, especially if the Phils decide to put Ibanez on the pine sooner rather than later.

      It’s pretty unbelievable that Atlanta didn’t have to give up any impact prospects or high ceiling guys for Bourn…

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