The Braves reacquired Jordan Schafer from Houston on waivers Thursday, but quickly made it clear the enigmatic former Atlanta prospect was a low-cost addition for depth, not a contender to replace center fielder Michael Bourn if they lose the All-Star leadoff man to free agency.
Schafer, the Braves’ Opening Day center fielder in 2009, has a .221 career average and .305 on-base percentage with eight homers and 51 stolen bases in 238 games, including a .211 average with four homers and 27 steals in 106 games for the Astros in 2012.
“We saw him on the waiver wire and felt he would improve our depth in the outfield,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “It doesn’t affect how we pursue or try to put together our team this winter. But he’s very talented. He has above-average talent in three areas – run, throw and defend.”
Also Thursday, the Braves announced the hiring of Dave Bialas as a minor league fielder coordinator and outrighted three players off their 40-man roster: catcher J.C. Boscan and pitchers Erik Cordier and Robert Fish, a left-hander and Rule 5 Draft pick who missed the 2012 season after having ligament-transplant elbow surgery.
Rather than accept the outright assignment, Boscan opted for free agency and could re-sign with the Braves, as he did a year ago.
Bialas has spent 41 years in pro baseball as a minor league player, coach and team official, most recently as the Cubs’ Triple-A manager. He replaces Dave Trembley, who left to join Houston’s major league coaching staff.
Meanwhile, Triple-A Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage left to take a similar position with the Phillies’ Lehigh Valley affiliate. The Braves haven’t named a replacement for Brundage.
Schafer, 26, was the main piece of the trade package the Braves sent to the Astros in July 2011 in the deal for Bourn, who became a free agent this week and is expected to seek a long-term contract worth between $80 million and $100 million.
Bourn is represented by high-powered agent Scott Boras and is expected to be pursued by multiple teams including Philadelphia and Washington. Under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, teams have until 5 p.m. Friday to make one-year qualifying offers to their own free agents in order to be guaranteed a compensatory draft pick after the first round should that player sign with another team.
The qualifying offer is based on the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball from the previous season, and for this year it’ll be about $13.3 million. Free agents have until 12 days after the World Series to accept or decline the offers, and if a player accepts he becomes a signed player for 2013.
Wren wouldn’t disclose the team’s intention, but the Braves seem certain to make a qualifying offer to Bourn, since he’s likely to command a higher salary than $13.3 million in a five- or six-year deal on the open market. In the unlikely event he accepts the offer, the Braves would welcome him back atop their lineup and still have plenty of money left to fill their other primary need – a left fielder or third baseman.
Martin Prado will move from left to third base to replace retired Chipper Jones if the Braves find it easier to acquire a power-hitting left fielder than a third baseman. The Braves plan to pursue another center fielder/leadoff man if Bourn leaves.
If a player receiving a qualifying offer signs elsewhere, that team surrenders its first-round draft choice (or its second-rounder if the first-rounder is one of the draft’s first 10 picks). Free agents can sign with any team beginning Saturday at 12:01 a.m., six days after the World Series.
Schafer is out of options, and the Astros hoped to sneak him through waivers. If he doesn’t stay on the Braves’ 25-man roster, the team would have to put him through waivers again before he could be sent to the minors.
If Schafer has a good spring training he could earn a spot as a fourth or fifth outfielder with the Braves, potentially providing some speed off the bench and the versatility to play strong defense at all three outfield positions.
It’s been a circuitous and troubled path for Schafer, a third-round pick by the Braves in 2005. He led minor league baseball in hits in 2007, then served a 50-game suspension in 2008 at Double-A Mississippi after being linked to performance-enhancing drugs, though he insisted he never used and didn’t fail a drug test.
A few months after being traded to the Astros, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia after the 2011 season.
Between injuries and off-field incidents, Schafer has shown flashes of considerable talent. He homered in his first major league game in 2009 and went 8-for-19 with two doubles and two homers in his first five major league games, but broke his wrist on a swing in the fourth game and was slowed for much of two seasons before and after eventually having surgery.
He’s not been the same player for any sustained period since, but Schafer has been solid for several weeks at a time on a few occasions. In 2012 he hit .276 with two homers, eight steals and a .351 OBP in 23 games in April, and went 18-for-57 (.316) during a 15-game stretch in May. But Schafer hit just .156 (24-for-154) with two homers and 55 strikeouts in 63 games after May 30, and spent time on the disabled list with a separated shoulder.