Michael Bourn returning to the Braves

Michael Bourn is coming back as the Braves pull off another big blockbuster trade.

When Michael Bourn hit free agency following the 2012 season, the Atlanta Braves wanted him back. The story goes that then-general manager Frank Wren had a conversation with Bourn's agent, Scott Boras, about a potential return.

But Boras told Wren his client was going to demand a seven-year contract and the money needed to be somewhere near the $17 million per-year neighborhood.

The conversation didn't last long. Knowing Boras' history, Wren knew there really was not much reason for more discussions. Wren moved on and would eventually sign B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.5 million dollar contract.

Bourn never found the deal Boras dreamed of. Instead, Bourn had to wait until February 15, 2013, right before spring training, and he signed a four-year deal worth $48 million with a vesting option for a fifth year at $12 million.

Well, in a strange twist of fate, Bourn is coming back to the Braves, who acquired the now 32-year-old outfielder in a trade with the Cleveland Indians Friday afternoon. The Braves also get Nick Swisher and cash, while Chris Johnson is headed to the Indians.

There is significant money changing hands in this deal. The Braves owed Johnson $16.5 million for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, while Bourn and Swisher are owed $29 million for next season. The Indians have practically evened the deal financially for the Braves. Bourn and Swisher both have vesting options for 2017, but there are unlikely to reach the statistical levels required to kick those options into play.

The Braves had to get rid of Johnson. His contract was ridiculously stupid. Sure, he finished second in the National League in batting in 2013, but that was no reason for Wren to give him the contract extension about 15 months ago. It was a burden, and some believed it was almost as bad as the deal Wren gave B.J. Upton before the 2013 season.

Johnson was not happy. He knew the Braves wanted to trade him. He knew his manager didn't particularly like him very much. Johnson had run-ins with Fredi Gonzalez and first base coach Terry Pendleton, who likely didn't appreciate the way Johnson played the game. His teammates didn't really respect him anymore. So Johnson had to go.

The Braves had to get rid of him. They had tried to put him in deals, but no team would take him. This is perfect. It's weird the Indians are doing this. Their comments were bizarre, like they just wanted to try new people and not have Bourn and Swisher around. That's fine. The Braves likely smiled uncontrollably when the Indians agreed to do this.

It would have been a great deal if the Braves had traded Johnson straight up for Swisher. It would have been a great deal if the Braves had traded Johnson straight up for Bourn. They got both of them, and they practically get Swisher for free.

But looking at the deal as Johnson-for-Bourn is amazing. The Braves had to think about simply releasing Johnson. But to get something of value in Bourn is incredible. Sure, Bourn has not been as good in Cleveland as he was in Atlanta. He's older now. But Bourn can be a needed outfielder for this team, while Johnson simply no longer had a role.

This season Bourn has hit .246 with 13 stolen bases and a .313 on base percentage for the Indians. Since the All-Star Break, Bourn has hit .360 and since July 1 Bourn has hit .297. The Indians actually moved him out o the leadoff spot, where he hit only .180 in 15 games. He's hit better lower in the order, with a .269 mark as the ninth-place hitter.

Bourn can still play. He can play in center, or with Cameron Maybin there for the Braves, Bourn could play in left. That would be a great defensive outfield with Nick Markakis in right field.

But the Braves have a few more advantages in this deal. They don't have to worry about having to try and lump Johnson in deals anymore with other players, like they did with Upton in the Craig Kimbrel trade in April. The Braves have tried to link Johnson with several players, probably including Maybin, over the past few months. Now, they don't have any bad contracts they need to move anymore.

Also, Bourn will be a tremendous mentor for young Mallex Smith, who is in Triple-A Gwinnett and could be ready sometime next season. Smith needs more time. It's easy to see why he would be considered close, but Smith needs to head back to Triple-A to start 2016. Having Bourn allows the Braves to let Smith fully develop, and you can bet Smith will be shadowing Bourn next spring.

Bourn had a tremendous impact on Jason Heyward in the season-and-a-half the two played together in Atlanta. That will happen again with Smith. You can guarantee that.

Even though John Hart, the de facto GM of the Braves, said this trade does not impact Maybin, it probably wouldn't be a good idea for Maybin to buy a house in Atlanta. If the Braves get a good offer for Maybin, he will likely be traded. Why would they keep Maybin, now that they have a center fielder to take his place?

Sure, Bourn may be in left and Maybin in center to start 2016, but don't bet on it. If Maybin has value, he'll be moved, especially if Swisher can prove he can play left field.

Who knows what Swisher has left, but frankly, who cares? If the Indians are paying most of his contract, the Braves have no risk in keeping him. If he does well, then great. But if he struggles, they can just let him go. No hard, no foul.

Swisher will turn 35 in November. Maybe he can't play in the field anymore. He's played just one game in right field this season and played just six games in the outfield (four in right and two in left) last season. The rest of his action was as Cleveland's designated hitter.

He hit just .198 this season (in only 101 at bats) and .208 last season, so Swisher might be done. But it's worth the gamble to see if he has any gas left in the tank. Maybe he can become a good reserve, with a solid bat off the bench. Maybe he can show he can still hit enough to where he could be the main left fielder next season. The Braves can be at the least let Swisher show what he can do the next two months.

Swisher will likely play first base while Freddie Freeman remains out, and then we'll see. We'll know then if Maybin is still around. If not, then Swisher could see time in left field with Bourn moving to center.

Swisher is a great clubhouse guy, too. So the Braves traded someone who was 'an issue' in the clubhouse for two players with great reputations. That's been part of the theme since this new front office took over. They know these two can help the younger players become better big leaguers.

This was a great trade. Talking about making chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what... they did that with this trade. They got something out of nothing, and it will be fun to see the impact Bourn has on and off the field, and if Swisher can make this trade look even better.

That's the 22nd trade made by Hart and his trusted assistant, John Coppolella. What's next?




Listen to "The Bill Shanks Show" from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.


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