And with good reason.
The six-year veteran had a very good year for the Braves, his first full season in Atlanta. Bourn played in 155 games and had 171 hits in 624 at-bats for a .274 batting average. The 29-year-old Houston native hit 26 doubles and 10 triples, and his nine home runs and 57 RBI were both career highs. His 6.0 wins above replacement (WAR), as calculated by ESPN, was sixth best in the National League.
As a result, Bourn should fetch a high price on the free-agent market, with the help of ruthless representation in the form of super agent Scott Boras.
But despite Bourn being highly coveted elsewhere, here is why the center fielder will re-sign with the Atlanta Braves.
First and foremost, the Atlanta Braves offense is built around their leadoff man, for better or worse. Bourn's career-high 155 strikeouts were seventh worst in the National League, but his .348 OBP ranked 22nd in the NL. This number was boosted by Bourn's 70 walks, another career high, which was good for eighth-best in the league.
All this helped spark a potent offense. The Atlanta Braves scored 700 runs during the 2012 MLB season. This ranked them seventh in the NL, and second in the NL East behind the division-winning Washington Nationals.
Secondly, Bourn forms the the cornerstone of one of the best defensive outfields in the National League.
Bourn won the NL Gold Glove in center field in 2009 and 2010, and in 2012 finished third in the NL among qualified center fielders with a .995 fielding percentage (FPCT). Right fielder Jason Heyward was third among qualified starters with a .986 FPCT, and tied for the National League lead among right fielders with 11 outfield assists. Left fielder Martin Prado was fifth among qualified starters with a .984 FPCT, and third with nine outfield assists.
But most importantly, the Braves will want to keep their prized center fielder from falling into the hands of a division rival. Scott Boras is rumored to be shopping his client's services to the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals, Atlanta's rivals in the NL East.
Losing a player as valuable as Bourn to an intradivisional foe could tip the delicate balance of power within the division.
If Bourn signed with the Phillies, it could spark a resurgence in Philadelphia, causing the Phils to leapfrog the Braves into second place in the division. And if Bourn signed with the Nationals, then Washington could create even more separation within the division, this time more easily winning another NL East title.
Atlanta Braves General Manager Frank Wren understands the importance of Michael Bourn, and even discussed a new contract for the center fielder with Boras during spring training, as told to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
We made contact with his agent in spring training to start negotiations, and they were not prepared to negotiate at that point, and said they would prefer to wait until after the season. We made it clear to Michael that we want him back, that we’d love to have him back. We also know there’s a process in place.
If Wren can complete that process, then the Atlanta Braves can complete the process of winning the NL East.
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