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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Center Field Shuffle (Part 2)

This week we take a look at the NL:

Philadelphia Phillies

The recent trade for Brad Lidge reveals a great deal about the Phillies offseason plans. By sending Michael Bourn and Mike Costanzo to the Astros, Philadelphia unloaded their two best in-house candidates for the offensive openings in center and at third base. They also resigned J. C. Romero to bolster the revamped bullpen and allow Brett Myers to move back to the starting rotation. Although they still need to answer some questions at the back end of the rotation, I expect the Phillies will turn their immediate attention to either resigning Aaron Rowand, or acquiring a top-flight third baseman. Beyond A-Rod, who Philadelphia is unlikely to attract, possible matches could be Mike Lowell, Joe Crede, Chad Tracy, or Pedro Feliz. If the Phillies aren't willing to outbid the Rangers and White Sox for Rowand, expect them to pursue cheaper alternatives like Mike Cameron, Kenny Lofton, or Corey Patterson. Patterson, especially, might make a good fit in Philadelphia. He has the defensive talent to patrol the space separating club-footed Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino, and the depth of the Phillies lineup with take the pressure off of him offensively, possibly priming him for a breakout campaign. Another possibility might be moving Victorino to center and signing a corner outfielder like Geoff Jenkins or Jose Guillen.

Second Choice: Milton Bradley

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs also showed their hands a little by sending Jacque Jones to Detroit after giving them a very productive second half in center. Both Sam Fuld and Felix Pie appear to be on the verge of contributing at the major-league level. Both are excellent defensively, but may require more development at the plate. The Cubs definitely have more important holes to fill in right field and the rotation, but they might be a good candidate for a stop-gap option like Kenny Lofton. Lofton came to Chicago for the final third of the season in 2003 and put on one of the best performances of his career, batting .327, pounding twenty extra-base hits, and stealing twelve bases in 56 games. His speed, his left-handedness, his .372 career OBP, and his ability to put the ball in play all play well to the Cubs needs.

Second Choice: Fuld & Pie

San Francisco Giants

The Giants will undoubtedly make a concerted run for A-Rod. If they fall short, they may resort to desperate measures. With Barry Bonds leaving and Barry Zito coming off the worst season of his career, they Giants are without a bonafide star. What they should do, barring the acquisition of Rodriquez, is hang tight and see what develops from their promising rotation and the mid-level prospects Kevin Frandsen, Dan Ortmeier, Fred Lewis, and Rajai Davis. However, Brian Sabean may be tempted to overpay for marquee player with drawing power, like Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter, neither of whom can single-handedly carry an offense the way Bonds and A-Rod do. Signing a centerfielder would force them to bench Davis, and take playing time away from Lewis, both of whom have shown promise when given the opportunity to play everyday. The Giants best option is to give Davis, Lewis, Ortmeier, and Dave Roberts chances in center and left, while attempting to draw a strong player in the infield, like Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, or Hank Blalock.

Second Choice: Andruw Jones

San Diego Padres

I wouldn't be surprised if the Padres chose to bring back both Mike Cameron and Milton Bradley, both of whom would probably agree to stay for slightly under their market price. However, Andruw Jones also make a great deal of sense in San Diego, especially if he's willing to sign a short-term deal - one or two years - to bring up his value after an extremely sub-par 2007 season. San Diego's interest is raised by Jones spectacular numbers at the supremely pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Jones has .394/.477/.964 splits with 9 homers in fifteen games at Petco during his career, including .545/.615/1.000 in '07. Sounds like exactly the right place to jump-start Jones' hitting, and San Diego could definitely benefit from an influx of power and protection for Adrian Gonzalez.

Second Choice: Mike Cameron

Atlanta Braves

I believe that the Braves will regret letting go of Andruw, but I can understand how they might've become frustrated with his in poor performance this season. After coming back up to his career norms in July and August, Jones had quite possibly his worst month in September, when the Braves were trying to make their playoff push. His defense will definitely be missed, but his range has been declining consistently since 2001. Still, the only comparable defensive centerfielder on the market this season is Torii Hunter, who is more of a risky acquisition than Jones. Mike Cameron is similarly a premier defender on the decline, but he could provide compensation for Jones' power and he should come at a reduced price because of his age, injuries, and suspension problems, leaving the Braves with extra money to spend on their rotation and resigning Mark Texeira.

Second Choice: Aaron Rowand

St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Washington Nationals

Although the Nationals have been rumored to be wooing Jones, none of these teams are likely to make a big investment this offseason. Nonetheless, they all have question marks in center. Nook Logan plays spectacular defense in Washington and can steal bases, but his 649 OPS is a pretty accurate representation of his offensive potential. Jim Edmonds is desperately in need of the Ken Griffey Jr. treatment to protect his knees and back, but unless Colby Rasmus proves himself ready for the bigs during spring training, the Cardinals will be stuck playing So Taguchi everyday. Pittsburgh is waiting for Andrew McCutcheon, who they're hyping at the best Pirate prospect since Barry Bonds. Nate McLouth can hit, but doesn't field. Nyjer Morgan can field, but his hitting is in question (he did go .299/.359/.430 during his 100 AB trial this past September). They will probably fight for the spot until McCutcheon arrives in late 2008. The Marlins will test Alejandro De Aza and Todd Linden as replacements for Alfredo Amezega, who has great range, but at age 30 hasn't yet had an OPS over 700. While none of these teams are likely to be active on the free agent market, all of them have tradeable commodities. Some of them might chase expendable mid-level centerfielders like Coco Crisp, Dave Roberts, Willy Taveras, and Juan Pierre.

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