When Jordan Schafer and Michael Bourn swapped teams at the 2011 July trade deadline, both the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros were acquiring what they hoped was their center fielder of the future.
But as spring training draws near in 2013, here's Jordan Schafer looking slightly lost as a member of the Braves Caravan. Michael Bourn is nowhere to be seen as both teams' long-term plans for their new outfielder went by the boards, and Schafer, no longer the camp phenom at age 26, is not even assured of a job.
It's a strange new Braves world Schafer rejoins after being claimed on waivers almost immediately after the Astros tried to removed him from their 40-man roster. At the time, Frank Wren claimed the move was a virtual no-brainer for the Braves because they'd seen what a healthy and focused Schafer could do.
But that magical minor league season of 2007, when he hit .312 with 74 extra base hits and 23 stolen bases, is a distant image in the rear vliew mirror. Schafer is delighted to return to the organization that drafted him (or so he told Twitter in mid-January). But he noticed almost immediately that these are not the save Braves he remembered.
"It's very different," Schafer said. "I think this team will be a lot more athletic team all-around, a better team all around," he said during the Braves Caravan stopover in Dalton this week. "It's a team moving in a different direction."
That was a phrase Schafer heard when the Astros gave up on him after he started less than 90 games in 2012 (.211-4-23 with 23 SBs). That followed his 30-game tryout the previous September, when he hit .245 with seven steals. Some nagging injuries and an off-season pot citation were all likely contributing factors. At present, the whys and wherefores are still eluding him.
"They're goving in another direction," Schafer said, choosing his words carefully. "They have a couple of other young players that they wanted to get to a good look at."
Any hopes he entertained of being a key part of Atlanta's new look were diminished soon after his return when the Braves snatched up the free agent contract of another of the game's top center fielders, B.J. Upton from Tampa Bay. Just that quickly, his battle was to avoid being Gwinnett's everyday center fielder in 2013.
No one would consider Schafer a front-runner for the Braves' extra outfielder job, as former Cub Reed Johnson ranks among the National League's best pinch-hitters.
More than a couple of fans raised their eyebrows upon seeing Schafer among those signing at the Caravan signing. Ironically, he was probably the most qualified Braves player to inform fans and media about his new teammate, third baseman Chris Johnson. Acquired with Justin Upton for a five-player package headed by Martin Prado, Johnson was Schafer's teammate with the Astros for most of the 2012 season.
"He's a good player," Schafer said. "He's a good offensive player who knows how to hit. He can hit for power, but knows how to hit the ball the other way. Plus, he's a good guy and someone I'm excited to have on this team."
Follow David Jenkins on Twitter at DavidAJ4325