The potential free-agent price tag for Michael Bourn was never going to be cheap, and could be rising with the dizzying pace the Braves center fielder set through the season’s first 5-1/2 weeks.
Bourn had a .375 average and 48 hits in his past 29 games before Monday, including 20 Braves wins. The team’s surge coincided with his own.
He’s eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. Negotiations haven’t begun between the Braves and Bourn’s high-powered agent, Scott Boras, and it’s unclear if the Braves will be willing to get in a bidding war for Bourn.
Boras generally advises clients to go to free agency once they’re this close to it. The agent and player indicated the Braves had factors in their favor.
“I knew coming into the season there would be questions, people coming up to me and asking what was going to happen with this and that,” said Bourn, who doesn’t comment on free agency and trusts Boras to fill him in when there’s something he needs to be aware of.
“I knew one thing – I knew we had a good team. I noticed that when I came [from Houston in a July 31 trade-deadline deal], how everybody interacted together. It kind of caught my eye.
“I could just tell they were trying to interact with each other and make sure we felt like we were playing together as one. So I made that my first priority. I told myself this year in spring training I wasn’t going to worry about that part of it, the negotiation part. If something came up, cool. But it didn’t, so I told myself just focus on working and playing baseball.”
He has done that, playing it at a level that’s far surpassed the two months he spent with the Braves last season.
Bourn was batting .336 overall with a .399 on-base percentage, 11 stolen bases and a .421 slugging percentage before Monday. He’d played every inning of every game and had 11 more plate appearances than any other National League hitter.
There has been speculation that Boras will seek a long-term deal worth at least $10 million to $12 million annually for Bourn, although Boras hasn’t said.
“We thought that was a good place for him, a good environment,” Boras said to a general question about Bourn’s first full season with the Braves. “The team in Atlanta was a really good fit. Glad it’s working out for everybody.”
He said the only immediate discussions he anticipated having about Bourn weren’t about a contract, but whether or not he’d be in the All-Star game. Which he will be, barring some unexpected turn of events or monumental snubbing.
“He’s the catalyst,” Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. “He’s been our team MVP by far. He doesn’t get the accolades that the bombers do. Freddie [Freeman] has gotten a couple of player of the week [awards]. I don’t know if he gets those without Bourney.”
Bourn was tied with Josh Hamilton and Rafael Furcal for second in the majors in hits with 51 hits, and his average, OBP and slugging percentage were all well ahead of pace of his career bests.
If there’s any pressure playing in a free-agent walk year, for a contender after years on mostly lousy Astros teams, then Bourn sure isn’t showing it. He said the key is to leave the contract talks and free-agent discussions to his agent and just play baseball.
“I knew we had a good team,” he said. “The guys we have – we have the pitching; each day we go out there we have a pitcher that can hold us in the game. And we have a really good bullpen. With that being said, you owe it to your team to be focused on the task at hand. You don’t want to have any kind of questions in your head, having to worry about that all the time or what this person’s saying about you, what you’re going to be looking at.
“You don’t want to be worried about that. The single day has enough problems of its own without you having to worry about the next day and what else could be going on. Just worry about that day.”
Boras said there haven’t been any negotiations, but that he and Braves general manager Frank Wren have talked.
“Our position is, when this thing is all said and done, I’ve got to believe this ballclub is going to be a part of Michael’s considerations — a strong part,” Boras said. “There’s just a lot of things there for him that work out very well.”
Wren makes it a practice not to publicly comment on contract matters.
Braves players say Bourn’s value to the team has been huge.
“He’s been the biggest difference,” Jones said. “Yeah, he was here for the stretch run last year, but to see him play every day, knowing that he’s going to be here all season – I think he’s got 51 hits in 35 games; that’s way up over 200 hits for a season. That’s something this offense has not had for a long time.”
Bourn won’t discuss free agency, but did say that if the Braves try to re-sign him, he’d be interested.
“It’s cool here,” he said. “Yes, I could [see himself staying]. I’ve got no problem with at Atlanta at all. No doubt.”
In Sunday’s 7-2 win at St. Louis, which capped a sweep of the Cardinals, the Braves scored all of their runs with two outs. This after they started the day with the majors’ lowest percentage of two-out runs (25.8 percent).
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time the Braves scored as many as seven two-out runs in a game since an 8-6 win over the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field on April 18, 2007.
Dan Uggla hit .357 with a .438 OBP and seven RBIs in his past seven games before Monday, despite striking out in 12 of 28 at-bats. He was 10-for-28 with three doubles and two homers in that period. His 40 strikeouts were tied for third in the NL with ex-Brave Jordan Schafer, who was traded to Houston in the Bourn deal…. Freddie Freeman’s 28 RBIs were tied for third in the NL behind the Dodgers’ Andre Ethier and Cardinals’ Carlos Beltran, with 32 apiece.