LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When the Braves acquired Michael Bourn before the 2011 Trade Deadline, they viewed him as a potential difference-maker who could provide value with his legs both as a center fielder and leadoff hitter. Once they had a chance to employ the upbeat, likeable outfielder for a season and a half, they came to gain a genuine appreciation for his ability to influence his teammates in a positive manner.
Thus, it might be easier to understand why the Braves have not shown any interest in parting ways with Bourn, despite the fact his on-field contribution will likely be diminished by the offseason acquisition of Ender Inciarte, another left-handed hitter who is projected to serve as Atlanta's everyday center fielder.
"Bourn does a lot of things for you both on and off the field," manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the veteran, who went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored in the Braves' 5-3 loss to the Astros on Thursday. "You feel good whenever you have him out there on the field, and you know what kind of man he is in the clubhouse. I was happy when we got him back last year, and I'm happy to have him around again this year."
Gonzalez's appreciation dates back five years when Bourn joined the Braves and immediately began serving as a valuable mentor to Jason Heyward. The veteran outfielder's presence was again felt in 2012, when he continued to serve as one of Atlanta's clubhouse leaders and earned an All-Star selection.
A swap of bad contracts that was completed with Cleveland in August brought Bourn back, along with Nick Swisher, to Atlanta in exchange for Chris Johnson. While the Braves have spent the past few months knowing they will likely need to release Swisher if another team is not willing to assume at least a minute portion of his $15 million salary, they seem comfortable with keeping Bourn around for a little longer.
Though Bourn's 33-year-old legs might not be what they once were, the Braves believe he can provide some value as he helps them move through their next phase of a rebuilding process -- primarily as a backup outfielder, who can mentor No. 11 prospect Mallex Smith in center field during Spring Training and help create a positive clubhouse atmosphere during the regular season.
"This is my 10th year playing, I'm not really into the rebuilding thing," Bourn said. "When you've got a young player who is preparing to play and likes to see what you're doing, I'll help them out. But I prepare to win. That's the only way I know how to prepare.
"It's always good to be a part of this organization. I like this organization. It's always been a winning organization. Certain teams win in the big leagues for a reason."
As the Braves attempt to get back to their winning ways, they recognized the importance of carrying Bourn, whose central role might be to serve as a left-handed pinch-hitter and late-inning defensive replacement for Hector Olivera in left field.
"I prepare to play, and I feel like I've still got some years left," Bourn said. "That's how I prepare for the season. I know they want to get prepared for the young players to play. I'll help them out the best I can. But I prepare to play. That's the only way I know how to do it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.