Turns out, they landed the guy they wanted all along.
The Braves acquired speedy outfielder Michael Bourn from the Houston Astros on Sunday in a five-player deal, giving the Braves their first true leadoff hitter in at least six years.
“We haven’t had that kind of threat in the top of our lineup in a long time,” said third baseman Chipper Jones.
In exchange for Bourn, the Braves sent out outfielder Jordan Schafer and three minor league pitchers — right-handers Juan Abreu and Paul Clemens and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer — but the Braves didn’t give up any of their top pitching prospects.
Schafer, Clemons and Oberholtzer are each former Rome Braves. Clemens, 23, and Oberholtzer, 22, have been pitching for Double-A Mississippi this season.
Bourn is hitting .303 and leads the majors with 39 stolen bases.
He goes from the last-place Astros to a playoff-contending team that has one of baseball’s best pitching staffs, but was downright desperate for offensive help because of various ailments and lackluster performances.
Bourn sure fills a need. The Braves haven’t had a prototypical leadoff hitter since Rafael Furcal left after the 2005 season.
“I’m excited,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
“He makes the defense do things they don’t want to do. Pitchers are going to throw pitches they don’t want to throw.”
Atlanta leads the wild-card race and has been pursuing an outfielder for weeks, watching as the Phillies acquired Hunter Pence from the Astros and defending World Series champion San Francisco landed Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets.
Atlanta general manager Frank Wren said he asked about both Beltran and Pence but felt Bourn was a better fit.
“We did not go to the mat to get Pence,” Wren said. “If we had gone to the mat for Pence, we would have gotten him.”
As for Beltran, Wren said he wasn’t interested in giving up top prospects for a player in the final year of his contract.
“We could have had Beltran if we’d have given them (the Mets) the player they wanted,” Wren said. “We’re not going to do that for a rental.”
He called Bourn “a perfect fit” on a team that ranked 14th in the NL in stolen bases. Plus, he’s not eligible for free agency until after next season.
The Braves were reluctant to give up more than one of their top pitching prospects: Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Minor or Randall Delgado. Turns out, they didn’t have to surrender any of them to acquire Bourn.
Schafer, once considered Atlanta’s center fielder of the future, showed signs of finally living up to the hype since being recalled from the minors early this season.
But he was hitting just .240 with one homer, seven RBIs and a team-high 15 stolen bases before going on the disabled list with an injured finger last week.
The 24-year-old Schafer may go on to have a long, productive career, but the Braves needed someone who could help right away in their pursuit of the playoffs.
“On a team that’s poised to win,” Wren said, “we need the finished product."