The Braves are about to sign BJ Upton. While some may balk at the expected contract (5/75), it's pretty much as fair as the LaRoche 3/30. Maybe not the best deal but it's hard to see the Braves not recouping at least 75-80% of that value over the life of the contract. Should the Nats worry about this turn of events? Not yet.
Upton for Bourn is an interesting swap. Offensively Upton is the better player. He hits for so much more power than the punchless Bourn (who's only going to get more punchless) that it overcomes his low average and OBP. Over the past three years Upton's OBP and SLG of .317 and .436 respectively make him an above average offensive player. Bourn's .346 and .376 make him maaaaybe average. On the basepaths they both steal at a success rate around 80%, though Bourn takes off a little more giving him a bit more value. In the field though Bourn has a huge advantage. He is one of the best centerfielders in the league. Upton can merely hold down the position.
On the surface it looks like the Braves are getting worse. Bourn is that much better a fielder, that Upton would have to be an all-star caliber hitter to make up the difference. Why then do the Braves make this deal? Two reasons.
Reason #1 : They need offense.
The Braves ranked 11th in BA, 7th in OBP, and 10th in SLG. They are losing Chipper Jones who hit .287 / .377 / .455 last year. Some help will come from McCann being healthy. Some more from fielding a shortstop who doesn't use the latin translation of "good field, no hit" on his family crest. But they need more. Upton makes them better offensively.
Reason #2 : Age.
5 years of Bourn : age 30-34
5 years of Upton : age 28-32
The trade off is Upton's age 28 and 29 years now for Bourns 33 and 34 later. On Upton's side, I think we are done with the "maybe he'll put it all together" segment of his life. It's been 5 years. He is who he is. That being said career years have to happen sometime. Maybe (probably) it was at 22 for him, or maybe he has one left in him. At 28-29 I can see it. Even if not, you don't expect a crash at these ages so Upton should be a reliable source of offense for the next few years, something you can't say about Bourn.
At 30 he's likely on the downside of his career. If he suffers any bit of drop off in his average he's pretty much done as a useful offensive player. That drop off will happen, it's a question of 'when', not 'if'. Will it be at 30? 33? 35? He's still a good enough defensive player that it may only matter significantly for his overall value if that drop off happens very soon, which you'd put at a pretty low risk. But for a team that needs offense, the Braves can't take that risk. (the Nats could)
The Braves didn't as much ensure that that they'd be better next year, as they ensured that overall they wouldn't be worse next year for losing Bourn. At the same time they secured a better 5 year future than if they had re-signed Bourn, who's more likely to drop into "not a good player" by 2017 than Upton is. It was a good deal, a necessary one, and one that keeps the Braves on the Nats heels for the forseeable future.
Now do the Nats try to separate or not? Do the Braves try to catch up? We'll know pretty soon. Hot Stove Action!