LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – A contract extension wasn’t high on the priority list for Michael Bourn when the Braves center fielder reported to spring training on Wednesday.
“Playing and getting ready for the season is pretty much all I’m focused on,” said Bourn, who’s eligible for free agency after the 2012 season and represented by hard-driving agent Scott Boras.
Bourn said he’ll concentrate on preparing for the season and that Boras would let him know if there was anything brewing in a potential contract offer.
“You know, [Boras] is pretty good at his craft so we’ll see,” Bourn said, smiling. “I’ve got to take care of my business first, though.”
The National League’s stolen-base leader each of the past three seasons, Bourn is in first Braves spring training after being traded from Houston at the July 31 trade deadline. He hit .294 with a .349 on-base percentage and 61 stolen bases in 2011, including .278 with a .321 OBP and 22 steals in 53 games for the Braves.
Bourn avoided arbitration by agreeing last month to a one-year contract worth $6.845 million. He has set no deadlines for negotiating a new contract, either during spring training or the season.
He’s looking forward to starting the season with a playoff contender, something he didn’t do often in his years in Houston.
“I feel like we have a real good team,” he said of the Braves, who lost 20 of the last 30 games to blow a 10-1/2-game wild-card lead over St. Louis and miss the playoffs. “I felt like we had a real good team last year. I didn’t feel like anything was wrong with our team, we just had some breaks, had a couple of injuries…
“I’ve never been on a team where the pitching is that deep, where you have six or seven starters that really can start anywhere in the big leagues. It’s a good thing to be part of, and with the bullpen we have – if we can just score for them, we’ll be all right.”
The Braves have maintained they are interested in signing Bourn to an extension, but it’s unclear if they’ve had any discussions yet or when they plan to.
Boras made it clear he thinks Bourn, who has one All-Star appearance and two Gold Gloves, is a special player who will command a sizeable contract at a time when many teams have put a renewed emphasis on speed and defense.
There is speculation Boras will ask for well over $10 million annually in a long-term deal for Bourn, 29, who has a .271 career average, .336 OBP and 234 stolen bases in a little over five seasons, including 174 steals in 456 games over the past three seasons.
Boras is known for taking most clients to free agency once they’ve earned the right to test the open market.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez looks forward to penciling in Bourn’s name atop his lineup for 2012. He’s the first accomplished leadoff man the Braves have had since Rafael Furcal left after the 2005 season.
“It’s fun to watch him put pressure on the defense,” Gonzalez said. “A ground ball to the left side, he’s got a chance to beat it out. Ball in the gap, he can get a triple. It’s going to be fun watching him play.
“He’s a plus-defender, plus-runner, playing a position where he can use his speed.”
In Baseball America’s Tools Issue last summer, a survey of NL managers ranked Bourn as the best and fastest baserunner in the league, ahead of Jose Reyes. Bourn was also rated the best defensive outfielder and No. 2 hit-and-run artist.
Like most other Braves, Bourn struggled during the team’s 10-20 slide that began Aug. 26. In that stretch he hit just .254 with a .295 OBP and seven RBIs in 30 games.
“When I came here I thought we were playing good,” Bourn said. “Just some mishaps there at the end. Things like that happen. You’ve got to forget about that. This is pretty much the same team, and chemistry plays a big part. I think we’re going to be all right.”