Posted on: August 5, 2011 8:33 pm
Edited on: August 5, 2011 9:26 pm

Bourn fit the Braves, just as Uggla did

NEW YORK -- Trades are supposed to be about filling needs.

Give the Braves credit. They filled needs.

They hadn't anyone hit 30 home runs since 2006, so they needed a power hitter, preferably right-handed. Last winter, they got Dan Uggla.

They hadn't had anyone steal 20 bases in a season since 2005, so they needed a leadoff man who could run. Last Sunday, they got Michael Bourn.

Sure enough, Uggla has 23 home runs, well on his way to a fifth straight year with 30-plus, even though he was lost at the plate for nearly three months. He has 54 RBI, and he has a 26-game hitting streak, too.

And sure enough, Bourn has 40 steals, although 39 of those came when he was still with the Astros.

Two years ago, Bourn stole 61 bases. That same year, the entire Braves team stole 58.

"I had no idea," Bourn said Friday.

Looking back, it makes perfect sense now that the Braves got Bourn, rather than Carlos Beltran, Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick, Hunter Pence, Carlos Quentin or any of the other outfielders they were linked to.

They have the middle of the order straightened out, or at least they will once Chipper Jones and Brian McCann rejoin the lineup to go with Uggla and Freddie Freeman. What they didn't have was someone to go at the top.

"Those guys are hard to find," Braves general manager Frank Wren said.

He knows. He's been looking.

Wren said that when he got his top scouts together for a late June conference call, Bourn's name kept coming up. There was a thought last week that the Braves switched tracks and started focusing on center fielders once Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer went on the disabled list, but Wren said they were always looking for someone like Bourn.

"This guy fit our needs," he said.

The Braves, with their outstanding pitching, play a lot of low-scoring, close games. They realized that they were too dependent on the home run, and that they needed other ways to score runs. But they had so little speed that they ranked 27th in baseball in steals.

The last few days, with exciting rookie Jose Constanza batting ninth and Bourn leading off (as manager Fredi Gonzalez experiments with the pitcher batting eighth), the Braves might have the two fastest players in the game hitting back-to-back.

It's a different look, and one Gonzalez likes.

"[Bourn] creates situations," Gonzalez said. "The defense is uncomfortable. The pitcher is uncomfortable, and sometimes that creates a not-so-good pitch."

It all goes to make the Braves a lot more dangerous offensively, and it makes them a much more dangerous team going into the playoffs.

And, since they got Bourn without surrendering any of their four prized pitching prospects, it makes them dangerous for the next few years.

They have someone who should hit 30 home runs every year. They have someone who should steal 40 bases or more every year.

They traded to fill their needs.

And isn't that how it's supposed to work?

Category: MLB
Posted on: August 5, 2011 6:21 pm

McLouth has surgery for sports hernia

NEW YORK -- Braves center fielder Nate McLouth has undergone surgery for a sports hernia, the team said Friday.

McLouth hasn't played since last week, and he went on the disabled list on July 29. The Braves traded for Michael Bourn two days later, and Bourn is now the regular center fielder.

The Braves said McLouth will be out about six weeks, which means he could miss the rest of the season.
Category: MLB
Posted on: August 3, 2011 1:11 pm

So you're saying there's a chance?

I understand not giving up hope, especially with two months to go.

I understand that weird things can happen in the final two weeks of a baseball season, let alone the final two months. I saw the 2006 and 2009 Tigers up close, and the 2008 Mets, too. I saw the 2007 Mets from a distance.

But as I sat at Citi Field on Tuesday, listening to the .500 Mets and Marlins talk about their "pennant race," I found myself nodding to keep from laughing.

Pennant race? Mets? Marlins?

So I went to consult the friendly computers at Cool Standings, which look at these things without laughing. They assured me that the Mets have just a 4.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, with the Marlins even further behind, at 2.2 percent.  (You can use the computers at Baseball Prospectus if you prefer, but I use Cool Standings because it's, well, cool -- and besides, BP gives the Mets and Marlins even less chance at the playoffs).

But here's the question: What exactly does that mean? A 4.8 percent chance is just about 1 in 20. Does that mean that if the Mets were in this spot 20 consecutive years -- and sometimes it feels like they have been -- they would make the playoffs one time?

Perhaps that's true, but when I went back through the entire wild-card era (back to 1995), I couldn't find one team that had a 4.8 percent chance on Aug. 3 and made it. The closest was Phil Garner's 2004 Astros, who were at 9.0 percent on Aug. 3.

Those same cool computers say that the Phillies (99.6 percent), the Yankees (97.6) and the Red Sox (97.3) are all virtual locks to be in the postseason (the fourth highest percentage belongs to the Braves, at 66.1). Your eyes probably tell you the same thing.

But 99.6 isn't 100, as anyone who remembers the 1995 Angels could tell you. Cool Standings wasn't around in '95, but when they went back and calculated the Angels' playoff chances as of Aug. 3 that year, they came up with 99.8 -- and the Angels went 22-34 from that point on and missed the playoffs.

So yes, I am saying there's a chance.

But not for the Mets and Marlins.


A couple of other things that surprised or interested me, and may surprise or interest you:

-- The Tigers, according to the computers, now have far and away the best chance of winning the American League Central. Cool Standings put them at 61.3 percent (just about exactly the same as the Rangers' chance of winning the AL West), while Baseball Prospectus says it's 74.5 percent.

-- The computers totally disagree on the National League West. Cool says the Diamondbacks are now favorites, at 55.8 percent. BP still loves the Giants, at 85.8 percent.

-- The computers come up with the percentages by simulating the rest of the season 1 million times. According to the Cool computer, the only teams that didn't make the playoffs in any of those 1 million simulations were the Orioles and Astros.

Category: MLB
Posted on: August 2, 2011 7:10 pm

Marlins build a ballpark, and maybe a team

NEW YORK -- The Marlins announced Tuesday that they'll open their new ballpark with two exhibition games against the Yankees.

Two days earlier, they announced that they'll open the new ballpark with the same core of players they have now.

That's not exactly true, but it sure did feel significant that the Marlins let this non-waiver trade deadline pass without sending anyone away. The Marlins haven't usually been active sellers in July, but somehow it felt more significant that they didn't sell anyone off this July 31.

It didn’t go unnoticed in the clubhouse, either.

"Next year, going to the new stadium, we're going to need those pieces," Wes Helms said.

That squares with what the Marlins told teams that inquired about Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Leo Nunez and other Marlins. The Marlins may not have much chance at catching the Braves in the NL wild-card race (although they say they're not giving up on that yet), but they believe that a strong finish this year can be an important step towards what they hope to do in the new park next year.

"They know they want a winner going into the new stadium," Helms said.

It was a strange trade deadline in the NL East. The two teams that have pulled away at the top did exactly what you'd expect -- both the Phillies and Braves improved by adding Astros outfielders -- but the three teams at the bottom resisted all-out sales.

The Mets traded only the two players they absolutely had to move, outfielder Carlos Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez. The Nationals eventually dealt starter Jason Marquis, but only after trading for a bench player (Jonny Gomes) and trying like heck to trade for a center fielder.

And the Marlins held onto what they have, happy that after falling 11 games under .500 in late June, they played well enough in July that they began play Tuesday just one game below break-even for the season.

"I've always preached to them that once we get to .500, we'll take off," manager Jack McKeon said. "I gave that same speech in '03."

The difference was by the first days of August 2003, the Marlins were already 10 games over .500, and just two games behind in the wild-card race. As of Tuesday, the Marlins were 8 1/2 games behind the wild-card leading Braves (and a game behind the third-place Mets).

At this point, it really seems to be about finishing strong and building momentum towards the new stadium.

"It was important to win games and continue to improve and have continuity," general manager Larry Beinfest told reporters after the July 31 deadline passed. "And we felt pretty good about keeping this team together at this point and having a good, productive two months as we head into the new ballpark."

Beinfest and McKeon said the Marlins would have added rather than subtracted had they made a move at the deadline.

"I mean, we're trying to build," McKeon said. "We're not trying to trade our good pieces off."

They're building a ballpark. They believe they're building a winning team.

They're trying to sell tickets. They didn't sell their players.

It's all related.
Posted on: July 31, 2011 9:57 am
Edited on: July 31, 2011 10:30 am

Braves get Michael Bourn from Astros

The Braves have acquired center fielder Michael Bourn from the Astros.

After starting out looking for a big outfield bat (the Braves were one of the teams most interested in Carlos Beltran), the Braves shifted their focus some after putting two center fielders (Jordan Schafer, Nate McLouth) on the disabled list. Bourn, regarded by some as the fastest player in baseball, should help.

In return for the 28-year-old Bourn, who leads the National League with 39 steals, the Astros get Schafer and three minor-league pitchers, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu. Thus, the Braves were able to add an outfielder without surrendering any of their top pitching prospects (as they would have had to do to get Beltran, Hunter Pence or Carlos Quentin). The Astros also included cash to pay part of Bourn's $4.4 million contract.

Bourn will be under Braves control through next year, when he can become a free agent.

Schafer, still just 24 years old, was once considered one of the Braves' top prospects, but he has mostly struggled in the big leagues, with a .223 career batting average and .613 OPS. The Braves put him on the DL this week with a chip fracture in his left middle finger.

"Michael Bourn is a perfect fit for our club, which focuses on speed and defense to match up with our strong pitching," Braves general manager Frank Wren said in a statement.

The Astros have traded away Pence and Bourn, after trading Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman last July. They could still move pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers, although interest in the two was described as light as recently as Saturday night. New owner Jim Crane, who has yet to officially take over from Drayton McLane, plans to cut the major-league payroll to about $60 million next year (from $70 million at the beginning of this year), and hopes to totally rebuild the organization.
Posted on: July 28, 2011 6:39 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2011 7:01 pm

Braves, Phils like Carlos Quentin

With the Tigers' loss to the Angels Thursday, the White Sox head into the weekend just three games out of first place in the American League Central.

Could they really trade Carlos Quentin, who is second on the team in both home runs and RBI?

Perhaps so, if the return is high enough. And with the Braves and Phillies both seriously interested, according to sources, the return may well be high enough.

The Braves are desperate to add an outfield bat, and the word Thursday was that they were making a big push for Quentin. The Phillies' wish list, according to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia, is topped by Hunter Pence, Quentin and Mike Adams. Many people still doubt that Pence will be traded, and people are starting to doubt that the Padres will move Adams, as well.

But what's in it for the White Sox?

That's more complicated. The Sox could call up Dayan Viciedo to replace Quentin. Viciedo has been dealing with what's described as a minor thumb issue, but he's hitting .307 with 16 home runs and 65 RBI in Triple-A. That's nice, but if the Sox believed Viciedo was their best option, he'd be in the big leagues already.

And that's why the return in a potential Quentin deal is so important. If the Braves were willing to include a few of their top pitching prospects -- the same guys they refused to trade for Carlos Beltran -- the White Sox could become convinced that a deal would give them a much better chance to compete next year, while not totally giving up on this season.

If the Phillies were willing to deal Domonic Brown and one or two of their top pitching prospects, the Sox could do the same thing.

Quentin can't be a free agent until after the 2012 season, so it's not out of the question that the Braves or Phillies would pay a higher price for him than they would have agreed to give up for Beltran, a true rental player.

The White Sox could decide that while they may have enough to win a weak AL Central this year, but not enough to compete in October.

"They just don't like their team," said one baseball man who speaks regularly with White Sox officials.

The Braves and Phillies aren't the only teams that like Quentin. The Reds and Red Sox have both shown interest in the past, although it's not clear whether they are working to get him this week.

Quentin is making $5.5 million this year and would be due a raise next year (when he'll again be arbitration-eligible), so by trading him the White Sox would also free up payroll that could allow them to make other moves.
Posted on: July 28, 2011 4:07 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2011 6:44 pm

With Beltran gone, interest in Pence picks up

Interest in Hunter Pence has picked up considerably, even as some rival officials continue to doubt that the Astros will trade their All-Star outfielder.

With Carlos Beltran now off the market, the Braves, Phillies, the Reds and many other teams have spoken to the Astros about Pence, a 28-year-old who has emerged as the face of the franchise in Houston. Pence has a .307 batting average and 62 RBI, and his value is enhanced by the fact that he won't be a free agent until after the 2013 season.

Earlier in the week, the Astros were telling people that it was much more likely Pence would be dealt this winter, rather than this week. But with interest increasing, some people involved in the talks now believe a deal could get done.

Some rival officials, though, continue to doubt that the Astros will complete a trade, saying that outgoing owner Drayton McLane won't permit it.

McLane has an agreement to sell the Astros to Jim Crane, but that deal still awaits MLB approval, so McLane remains in charge. Many in baseball expect Crane to change general managers once he takes over, so there is also doubt that he and McLane would allow Ed Wade the authority to trade their most valuable asset.

The Braves and Phillies both have interest in adding an outfield bat. Besides Pence, the Braves have discussed Ryan Ludwick with the Padres and Josh Willingham with the A's. They have also long had interest in Carlos Quentin of the White Sox.

Posted on: July 28, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2011 4:08 pm
This entry has been removed by the administrator.

Post Deleted by Administrator

This message has been removed by the administrator.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com