Braves focus on defense, sign Flaherty, Bourjos to one-year deals

Peter Bourjos is a strong defender who can back up any of the three outfield positions for the Braves.

Combined ShapeCaption
Peter Bourjos is a strong defender who can back up any of the three outfield positions for the Braves.

The Braves made official the signings of outfielder Peter Bourjos and utility man Ryan Flaherty to one-year major league contracts Monday, which doesn’t add any offensive punch but provides more roster flexibility and improved depth in an area that general manager Alex Anthopoulos has prioritized: Defense.

Bourjos, an eight-year veteran who was released by the Cubs on Friday, got a $1 million deal. Flaherty, a six-year veteran with the Orioles, got a $750,000 deal after being released last week by the Phillies when he triggered a clause in his contract that required him to be added to their major league roster by the end of spring training or be made a free agent.

Bourjos, who’ll turn 31 on Saturday, is sound defensively at all three outfield positions, and 31-year-old Flaherty is an above-average defender who can play all of the infield positions and both corner-outfield spots.

Both are expected to open the season on a Braves bench that could also include outfielder Lane Adams, who is out of minor league options and utility infielder Charlie Culberson. The Braves’ two catchers, Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki, share the starting duties and they’ve considered carrying a third catcher to start the season, especially since Flowers has dealt with a sore groin for part of spring training.

Rio Ruiz is expected to open as the Braves’ third baseman until Johan Camargo returns from a strained oblique, which could be as soon as the second week of the season. Ruiz would likely be sent to Triple-A when Camargo returns.

Among others competing for bench jobs before the Bourjos and Flaherty additions were a few outfielders who can be sent to Triple-A without being exposed to waivers: veteran utility man Danny Santana and outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, who are on minor league contracts, and outfielder Preston Tucker. 
While Tucker would provide a power boost to the bench, he's not out of options and can be sent to Triple-A. Also, he's not a good defender.

If the Braves had started the season with Carrera or Santana on the opening-day roster, they would not have been able to send them to the minors at any point without clearing waivers since both are out of options. By not adding them to the 40-man roster now, the Braves can call up either player during the season in case of injury or any other reason.

The Bourjos and Flaherty additions gave the Braves a full 40-man roster, though it doesn’t mean necessarily mean Anthopoulos is done making moves before opening-day rosters must be finalized on Wednesday.

This is the time when other teams are finalizing rosters and players become available via waivers or release. The Braves, with limited remaining payroll funds for this season, are watching the wires closely for bargains.

Bourjos gives the Braves a right-handed-hitting backup on a team with two left-hitting starters, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis. He’s a .241 career hitter with a .680 OPS in eight seasons for the Angels, Cardinals, Phillies and Rays.

Bourjos hit .271 and led the American League in triples (11) in 2011 in 502 plate appearances in his second season with the Angels. That was the only year he had as many as 300 PAs until 2016 with the Phillies, when he hit .251 with seven triples and five homers in 383 PAs.

While he hit just .223 with a .272 OBP in 100 games (203 PAs) with the Rays last season, Bourjos hit a decent (for a defensive-minded backup) .260 with a .752 OPS in 113 plate appearances against left-handers.

Flaherty hit well this spring, batting .351 (13-for-37) with three doubles, one homer, a .390 OBP, .514 slugging percentage and only three strikeouts. The Orioles tried to bring him back on a minor league contract before the Braves entered the picture with a major-league offer.

His glove is what’s kept Flaherty in the big leagues: He’s just a .215 career hitter with a .284 OBP and .639 OPS and 35 home runs in 1,270 plate appearances over six seasons with the Orioles, though he did have 10 homers in 271 plate appearances in 2013.

Flaherty filled in for injured shortstop Manny Machado late in the 2014 season and playoffs, turning in several highlight-reel defensive plays in the postseason and going 4-for-12 with a homer and three walks in the American League Championship Series against the Royals.

Besides having experience at all the infield and corner outfield positions, Flaherty was Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s emergency catcher, though he never had to use him in that role. More than half of Flaherty’s 318 career starts have come at second base (162). He also has 78 starts at third base, 39 at shortstop, 27 in the outfield and 12 at first base.