• Exclusives

    Pence is off the market… who’s left on the Braves’ shopping list?

    by Kent Covington

    With the announcement of a certain outfielder switching uniforms Friday, the field of potential Braves trade targets officially narrowed.

    That’s right… Ryan Langerhans was dealt to the Diamondbacks on Friday.

    Then, after Atlanta lost out on the Langerhans sweepstakes, word came down that all-star outfielder, Hunter Pence, who the Braves reportedly pursued, would be moving from one popcorn machine (Minute Maid Park) to another (Citizens Bank Park).

    Multiple sources reported that the Astros wanted 2 of the Braves’ “big 4” pitching prospects (Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino and Mike Minor), along with another quality arm.  And sticker shock compelled Braves’ GM, Fran Wren, to pull out of the Hunter Pence auction, clearing the way for the Phillies to close the deal.

    Pence is a fine ball player, and he will make the Phillies a better team. That said, he is not a premier hitter or anything close to a franchise player. Wren could not afford to substantially overpay for his services, and he was correct in refusing to do so. But where does that leave the Braves now?

    From a field of about 10 rumored Braves trade targets, we can now scratch 3 off the list. Pence to Philly, Carlos Beltran to San Fran and Jonny Gomes to Washington.

    Among the outfielders who we know to have drawn the Braves’ interest… that leaves:

    •    Michael Bourn (Houston — pictured above)
    •    Carlos Quentin (Chicago-AL)
    •    B.J. Upton (Tampa)
    •    Marlon Byrd (Chicago-NL)
    •    Josh Willingham (Oakland)
    •    Coco Crisp (Oakland)
    •    Ryan Ludwick (San Diego)

    Atlanta is rumored to have especially robust interest in Bourn, Quentin and Upton.  It’s unclear whether the White Sox are earnestly entertaining offers for Quentin, so he may or may not be a viable option.  As for Bourn… we know Houston wanted 2 of the Braves’ top young arms for Hunter Pence. If they’re willing to settle for a package built around ONE of those arms in exchange for Bourn, a deal could be completed soon.  I believe the same could be said of Upton. Atlanta may be willing to part with one of their blue chip pitching prospects (most likely either Minor or Delgado) to get him, but it’s quite unlikely that they would surrender more than one.

    Any offer the Braves may make for Willingham, Byrd, Crisp or Ludwick is NOT likely to include any of their “big-4” pitching prospects. However, Atlanta does have a number of other quality arms, which could be used to reel in a less ambitious trade target.

    For the record, BravesWire.com officially endorses Michael Bourn as the next Atlanta Braves Center Fielder (though, we can’t get the campaign buttons and yard signs completed before the deadline). Bourn is one of the game’s premier leadoff hitters. Despite batting left-handed, he hits southpaws well (.284 average vs LHP). His on-base percentage stands at a solid .364, and he leads all of Major League Baseball in stolen bases (39).

    While Atlanta’s current starting Center Fielder, Jordan Schafer (on 15-day DL), has introduced dynamic speed to the top of the order, he has yet to prove an ability to hit consistently at the big league level.  And the Braves’ opening day Center Fielder, Nate McLouth, has continued to underwhelm this year.  With that in mind, Bourn would represent a tremendous upgrade to the top of this lineup, and could certainly have a big impact on the postseason aspirations of the Wild Card leading Braves. 

    If the price is right, Bourn would be our man, followed – in order – by Upton, Quentin, Willingham, Byrd and Crisp.  We cannot get behind any deal for a struggling Ludwick, unless it’s paired with a trade for one of the other aforementioned players.

    So there you have it. Will the Braves make a substantial move over the weekend?  If so, will it be one of the players discussed herein… or someone else entirely?  Only time will tell, but I will be surprised if they don’t swing a deal for a bat that can make a difference. The Braves don’t have Philly’s checkbook, so they MUST develop talent from within. This requires Wren to guard their young talent rather jealously. However, the Braves do feel they have a chance to compete for a World Series championship right away. So as the clock counts down to Sunday’s non-waiver trade deadline, I’m convinced a deal will go down. It’s just a matter of who and when.

    Stay tuned, Braves fans.  If and when a move is made, we’ll be on top of it.