It was early in spring training, and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was answering questions about some of the young prospects he had traded away in recent years.

He admitted that his goal at some point was to get a few of them back.

"There have been times when we've tried to get guys back in our organization, yeah," Amaro said.

"I think many of these guys stay in contact with people from the organization, and I've heard on more than one occasion that they really, really miss being with us. Somewhere down the line, when they become free agents, that may give us an opportunity."

Such an opportunity is on the horizon.

Amaro was not the general manager when the Phillies traded Michael Bourn to the Houston Astros after the 2007 season, but he was the GM who just cleared millions of dollars from the payroll for the explicit purpose of adding some elite free agents after the 2012 season.

Tampering rules, not to mention the fact that a third of this season remains, prevent the Phillies from talking about their free-agent plans, but we can safely assume that Bourn will at the very least be a topic of discussion when the bidding begins in the offseason.

Bourn, who will turn 30 in late December, said he's trying to suppress thoughts of free agency because he is far more concerned with helping the Atlanta Braves in their pursuit of a playoff spot and the first-place Washington Nationals.

"You think about it from time to time, but we still have two months of the season left," Bourn said. "I'm just trying to take it game by game. We're in second place in the division right now, and we're trying to move up that step, and it's going to take all our effort. . . . So that's where my concentration is right now."

Bourn and his agent, Scott Boras, decided before the season that they would not hold in-season negotiations with the Braves.

"We talked a little bit in the spring, but nothing major," Bourn said. "I'm going to wait until the end of the season for that to come along."

The Braves would love to re-sign Bourn, but he may end up being out of their price range.

His defensive brilliance was on display in the fourth inning Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park when the Phillies' Kevin Frandsen launched a fly ball to the deepest part of center field. Bourn tracked the ball and made the catch look routine before crashing into the unpadded part of the fence in front of the shrubbery.

The two-time all-star and two-time Gold Glove winner also has had an impact on the Braves' offense.

A year ago, Atlanta ranked 13th in the league in team batting average, 14th in on-base percentage, and 10th in runs scored. This year, they are eighth in team average, tied for third in on-base percentage, and third in runs scored.

Bourn, acquired by the Braves at the trade deadline last season, isn't sure how much he is responsible for the most improved offense in the league, but he knows he has had some impact.

"I know I've been part of it because I've been playing every day," Bourn said.

He has, in fact, played in all 110 of the Braves' games, starting 108 of them.

"Most of the time, offense starts from the top," Bourn said. "When I'm going OK, our offense is going OK. There have been some times where I haven't been going OK, and we've still scored runs. But when I'm going pretty good, we can really get things rolling."

Bourn is by no means the quintessential leadoff hitter. He has struck out more than 100 times every season since becoming a big-league regular and has a .337 career on-base percentage. That still represents an improvement over Jimmy Rollins' career .328 on-base percentage, and his .343 on-base percentage this season is significantly better than Rollins' .305 mark.

Still, caveat emptor was one scout's take on Bourn.

"He strikes out a lot and doesn't have a great on-base percentage," the scout said. "He's going to be 30 years old, and guys his age do not get faster. I'd be careful."

Despite the warning, the Phillies, Braves, and Washington Nationals are all likely to bid on Bourn this offseason. Bourn, a fourth-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2003, still has friends here, but he said none of them have begun the recruiting process.

"Ryan [Howard] and Jimmy are [my] friends," Bourn said. "I know Cole [Hamels]. I know Kyle Kendrick. I know they have a good team, but right now I'm worried about putting this 'A' on my head and going out and playing baseball. That's about it."

That will soon change, and it will be fascinating to see how diligently the Phillies pursue the centerfielder they traded away for Brad Lidge five years ago.