Bourn settles in amid uncertainty after 2012
Free agent-to-be ready to be catalyst for Braves' offense
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Michael Bourn had prepared himself long before the Astros informed him that they had traded him to the Braves hours before last year's Trade Deadline. He had often thought about the possibility of playing the remainder of his career surrounded by friends and family members in his hometown of Houston.
"When I was there, every year, I was thinking, 'Stay there,'" Bourn said. "I always prepare to play where I am at. That's my approach. I don't see it any other way. That's the way I take it. In these days, it's hard to say you're going to play one place for a long time, because you rarely see that now."
Bourn was reunited with his former teammates, as the Braves claimed their first win of the Grapefruit League season with a 10-5 triumph over the Astros at Osceola County Stadium on Monday afternoon. The fleet-footed outfielder showed off his speed when he drilled an RBI triple to deep center in the fourth inning.
"I'm not too concerned about having to play against them," Bourn said. "This is my new team and this is my new home. I'm good with that."
Bourn is also cognizant of the fact that he could find himself with a new team and new home at this time next year. The 29-year-old outfielder will be eligible for free agency at the end of this season, and will be marketed by his agent, Scott Boras, as a rare commodity within a game that is once again placing greater value on speed.
Bourn has led the National League in stolen bases each of the past three years, and his 174 steals during this span are 49 more than any other Major Leaguer. He stands as one of the few players in the game who can legitimately be considered a leadoff hitter.
The Braves went through nearly six full years looking to replace the leadoff threat they lost when Rafael Furcal exited via free agency after the 2005 season. With last year's Trade Deadline acquisition of Bourn, they at least found a replacement for a season and a half.
"As much as we wanted to try to find [a leadoff man], they're not easy to find," Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
Still, even as the Braves enter this season excited about the kind of spark Bourn could consistently provide at the top of their lineup, there is not a sense that they will be willing to provide him what he is seeking once he hits the free-agent market.
Bourn said the Braves have not yet approached him about the possibility of signing a contract that would keep him in Atlanta beyond the end of this season.
There will certainly be some demand for Bourn, as he currently stands as the game's premiere basestealer. But there will also be some teams that will be hesitant to provide a multi-year deal to a speed guy who will be 30-years-old at the start of the contract.
So Bourn will enter this season without much certainty about where he might be when Spring Training arrives next year.
"You know you're not signed long term anywhere," Bourn said. "But each game is one game. You can't worry about the next game or the game after that, because there is nothing you can do. You just got to do what you can do within that game.
"I just try to keep my focus ... on one thing. I'm pretty good at that. I can't do two things at once anyway. God blessed me with that. Hopefully, that will work with me."
When the Braves acquired Bourn, he was viewed as the missing piece within a lineup that was poised to make a playoff run. The veteran outfielder proved respectable, as he hit .295 with 15 stolen bases and a .332 on-base percentage in his first 40 games with Atlanta.
But following the lead of so many teammates who struggled down the stretch, Bourn hit .213, with a .275 on-base percentage, in the season's final 11 games.
Now, the Braves can only hope Bourn's presence over the course of an entire season will have a greater impact. But at the same time, his ability to getting on base is just one part of the formula for scoring runs.
"He's going to give us the ability to manufacture one run," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "We need to improve with the multi-run innings. We've got to have the guys who hit .300, hit .300. We've got to have the guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark, hit the ball out of the ballpark. We've got to have the guys who do both, do both.
"Michael Bourn can set the table and steal second, and [Martin] Prado can move him over and I can drive him in with less than two outs. That's manufacturing a run. But every once in a while, you need the big three-run homer to put the nail in the coffin -- and it didn't seem like we did a lot of that last season. We got a lot of solo home runs, which is the same thing as manufacturing one run, like what Michael Bourn provides us."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.