ATLANTA — Looking to land a possible replacement for Andruw Jones, the Atlanta Braves traded reliever Oscar Villarreal to the Houston Astros for speedy outfielder Josh Anderson on Friday.
Villarreal went 2-2 with one save and a 4.24 ERA in 51 games for the Braves this season. The right-hander turns 26 next week.
Atlanta decided against trying to re-sign Jones, who filed for free agency after spending more a decade as the team’s center fielder. The 25-year-old Anderson could be Jones’ replacement, along with holding down the leadoff spot in the batting order.
This past season, Anderson hit .358 in 67 at-bats for Houston after stealing 41 bases at Triple-A Round Rock.
"We felt like we had depth in the bullpen," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "And we really like Josh. We feel like he has the ability to play center field at the major league level."
Villarreal is 23-12 with a 3.71 ERA in two years with Atlanta and three seasons with Arizona. In 2003, he set an NL rookie record by pitching in 86 games for the Diamondbacks.
"Oscar Villarreal gives us another experienced, durable arm for the bullpen," Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "He has the ability to pitch late in a game, throw multiple innings and pitch back-to-back days."
Anderson was MVP of the Double-A Texas League All-Star game in 2006. He led that league in stolen bases for two years, and topped all of minor league baseball with 78 steals in 2005.
"He has that ability to get on base," Wren said, though he stressed that the Braves weren’t locking down Anderson as their next center fielder. "If there’s someone else out there that we feel is a good fit for our ballclub, we’ll do that, too."
The Astros also signed outfielder Yordany Ramirez, formerly of the San Diego organization.
The 23-year-old Ramirez hit .269 with four home runs and 43 RBIs for Class A Lake Elsinore. He played 30 games for Triple-A Portland, hitting .315 with four home runs and 18 RBIs.