LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After having a two-hour discussion on Friday night about whether to keep Michael Bourn, Braves president of baseball operations John Hart and manager Fredi Gonzalez continued their conversation over text message at 4 a.m. Saturday morning. Bourn is a left-handed hitter -- which doesn't fit so well with the Braves' roster -- but the two were restless about bidding adieu to such a high-character veteran.
Still, the Braves stuck with the decision that was made in the best interest of the team. Shortly after arriving at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex on Saturday morning, Bourn entered Gonzalez's office and learned that he had been designated for assignment in order to create a roster spot for Drew Stubbs, the right-handed-hitting outfielder who signed a Minor League deal on Wednesday.
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"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Gonzalez said. "You all know how we feel about [Bourn] in this organization and what he brings. It was really tough. There were a lot of hours meeting yesterday and a lot of hours talking back and forth. It just seemed like Stubbs was a fit. It's a fit because one is right-handed, and the other is left-handed."
Along with saying goodbye to Bourn, the Braves also designated Emilio Bonifacio for assignment. They selected the contracts of Stubbs and right-handed reliever Alexi Ogando. The Opening Day roster was scheduled to be announced on Saturday, after the Braves had a chance to evaluate who will fill the final spot on the pitching staff.
Bonifacio signed a guaranteed one-year, $1.25 million deal in December. But his fate was determined when the Braves decided earlier this week that they would rather carry Jeff Francoeur as a backup outfielder, strengthening their bench with his right-handed power potential.
"I think [Bourn and Bonifacio] will be fine," said Gonzalez, who was Miami's manager when Bonifacio debuted with the Marlins in 2009. "Whoever wants to talk about those guys' characters, I'd be more than happy and willing to do something."
The Braves are aiming to build and strengthen their roster with versatility, and they spent this week proving they would stick to their plan despite financial commitments. Atlanta has essentially eaten the salaries owed to Bonifacio ($1.25 million), Bourn ($14 million) and Nick Swisher ($15 million), who was designated for assignment on Monday.
Some of the financial windfall was softened by the $15 million the Braves received when they swapped contracts with the Indians in August. The deal, which brought Bourn and Swisher to Atlanta in exchange for Chris Johnson, will allow Atlanta more financial flexibility in 2017.
Bourn also played for the Braves during the 2011 and '12 seasons. Gonzalez developed a bond with Bourn during that span and credited him with serving as a valuable mentor to Jason Heyward.
"At the end of the day, it's hard to take your heart away from it," Gonzalez said. "But it's about what's best for our team and what's best for [center fielder Ender Inciarte]."
When the Braves acquired Bourn, they felt he could fill the center-field spot until prospect Mallex Smith was ready to jump to the Majors at some point during the upcoming season. But Bourn's value was significantly reduced when the Braves acquired Inciarte, another left-handed-hitting center fielder, from the D-backs in December.
Though the Braves do not plan to utilize a strict platoon with Inciarte in center field, they will occasionally sit him against tough left-handed starting pitchers. Thus, they targeted Stubbs after he opted out of his Minor League deal with the Rangers earlier this week.
"There were a lot of feelings," Gonzalez said. "It just came down to what is a better fit for our team. "