Everyone wants Michael Bourn (and his teammates have a secret plan to keep him!)

NEW YORK -- Michael Bourn was just starting to say that he's trying not to focus on free agency.

"I put that on the back burner," Bourn was saying Friday afternoon in the Braves clubhouse.

And that was when Dan Uggla chimed in.

"We've already got it figured out," Uggla said.

"It could be a distraction to teammates," Bourn continued. "That's a personal issue. I'm playing for the Atlanta Braves, and I enjoy it."

"He's already got a place in the cul-de-sac," Uggla said. "He doesn't know it yet, but he's buying a house [in Atlanta]."

If only it were that simple.

Bourn's future is a topic of big interest, in the Braves clubhouse and elsewhere. He's going to be one of the hottest free agents on this winter's market, at a time when multiple teams are desperate to find a center fielder and a leadoff hitter.

It's hard to find anyone with the Braves -- players, coaches, executives -- who doesn't desperately want to keep Bourn. He's been just what the Braves hoped for when they traded for him last summer, and he's as well-liked and well-respected as he is talented.

But it's almost as hard to find anyone who expects the Braves to be able to keep Bourn, because the Braves hold tightly to their payroll limits (almost always right around $90 million) and the expected heavy interest in Bourn likely means that his salary will soar.

"If he had a different agent, we might have signed him already," one Braves person lamented.

Bourn's agent is Scott Boras, and Bourn hasn't signed already. He will be a free agent, and he will be in demand.

People who know Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo say that Bourn has always topped his wish-list. When the Braves were in Philadelphia this week, plenty of people pointed out that the Phillies need an answer in center field, and that Bourn (who the Phillies once traded away to get Brad Lidge) would be perfect.

The Reds need a leadoff hitter. The Marlins need a center fielder.

And, yes, the Braves have no one ready to replace Bourn if he leaves.

They had no one to fill that job in the years before he arrived, either. Before trading for Bourn, the Braves had gone six years without having anyone steal 20 bases in a season.

In 164 games since the trade, entering play Friday night, Bourn had 51 steals.

"Those guys are hard to find," Braves general manager Frank Wren said last year, just after trading for Bourn.

With strict payroll limits, those guys can be even harder to keep.

Maybe Uggla's house plan will work.

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