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Braves on the lookout for outfielder, bat off bench

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While the baseball world continues to wonder where free-agent outfielders Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn might land, the Braves feel even better about the fact that they signed their new center fielder, B.J. Upton, before arriving for this year's Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

Still, as Day 2 of this year's Meetings progressed on Tuesday, Braves general manager Frank Wren was still actively attempting to acquire another outfielder and fill out his bench with at least one experienced pinch-hit option.

The Braves are still attempting to bring Reed Johnson back to Atlanta to serve as a backup outfielder and right-handed bat off the bench. But while meeting with his peers over the past couple of days, Wren has put an emphasis on targeting potential trades that would net him another outfielder, preferably one that could serve as a leadoff hitter.

"I would say there is a little bit of getting here and finding out that teams are willing to talk about players that we had no idea about even three or four days ago," Wren said. "So I think we've had some of that. Then I think there have been some other players that we knew about coming in, and we wanted to go down the road with those talks. It's really been a combination of things that have kept us busy."

While many Braves fans have continued to monitor the possibility that the D-backs could trade Justin Upton to Atlanta, Wren and his staff have continued to evaluate a number of other potential trades. One of the players on their wish list is the Blue Jays' Emilio Bonifacio, a switch-hitter who would have the capability of playing left field and batting leadoff.

But there is certainly not any guarantee that the Blue Jays will end up trading Bonifacio, who was part of the significant 12-player trade Toronto and Miami made three weeks ago.

There is a chance Bonifacio could begin next season serving as a backup to second baseman Maicer Izturis. But the Blue Jays have placed great value on the speed and versatility provided by Bonifacio, who hit .258 and recorded 30 stolen bases in just 64 games with the Marlins this past season.

Once the Braves gain a better sense of who will be playing left field next year, they will be able to better identify exactly what they need to fill out their new-look bench. They have never shown any interest in re-signing Matt Diaz or Eric Hinske, who signed a one-year, $1.35 million deal with the D-backs on Tuesday.

But there is some definite interest in reuniting with Johnson, who hit .270 with a .625 OPS in the 105 at-bats he compiled after the Braves acquired him from the Cubs. The veteran right-handed-hitting outfielder batted .311 with a .798 OPS in 151 at-bats against left-handed pitchers this past year.

"There is a mutual like," Wren said. "I think he would like to come back. But at the same time, I think he would like to just explore to see what opportunities are out there. We've expressed an interest in bringing him back and he has expressed an interest in coming back. But we're just not quite there yet."

The Braves also seem receptive to the possibility of carrying Ernesto Mejia to primarily serve as a right-handed bat off the bench. While Mejia is limited to first base from a defensive perspective, he is a physically imposing figure who has shown great power.

Mejia, who was recently added to the 40-man roster, enhanced his stock as he hit .296 with 24 homers this past season with Triple-A Gwinnett. The 27-year-old first baseman has hit 10 more home runs in just 170 at-bats during the Venezuelan Winter League.

"Mejia has been really good," Wren said. "That's why we really felt compelled to put him on the [40-man] roster. He just keeps progressing as a hitter."

The Braves have also addressed another need by signing catcher Matt Pagnozzi to a Minor League contract. Pagnozzi will serve as Atlanta's backup catcher while Brian McCann misses at least the first few weeks of the season while recovering from right shoulder surgery. Gerald Laird will be the primary catcher while McCann is out.

When McCann returns, Pagnozzi will serve as a catcher with Triple-A Gwinnett. This signals that the Braves intend on giving Christian Bethancourt a chance to enhance his offensive skills while playing for Double-A Mississippi. One of the game's top catching prospects, Bethancourt is targeted to begin the 2014 season as Atlanta's starting catcher.

Pagnozzi has played 33 Major League games since the Cardinals drafted him in the eighth round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. Recognized for his defensive ability, he is the nephew of former big league catcher Tom Pagnozzi.

Atlanta Braves, Reed Johnson