The Outfield of the Future
Quick, name the five most valuable outfielders in the National League in 2011. Let’s see… Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Justin Upton… who else was in there? Would you believe Shane Victorino? That’s right, the Flyin’ Hawaiian, if you don’t remember, was a legitimate NL MVP candidate through August last year. The Rule-5 pick finished with 5.9 fWAR, fourth-best in the league, despite missing 27 games due to a thigh strain and a thumb sprain.
The chatter throughout the off-season centered on the Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon situation, as well as the still-unfinished Cole Hamels contract issue. Perhaps just as importantly, 2012 could be Shane Victorino’s last year in Philadelphia. The center fielder, now 31 years old, will earn $9.5 million this year in the last year of a three-year, $22 million contract. Since becoming a Phillie in 2005, Victorino emerged from a bit player to a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, providing value in all facets of the game. His bat was vital in the 2008 NLCS as the Phillies trampled through October competition en route to their first championship since 1980 and he became a premier base runner under the tutelage of former first base coach Davey Lopes.
PECOTA expects Victorino to regress in 2012. Victorino projects to go from a .301 true average (TAv, where .260 is the baseline) to .276. In terms of WARP (the Baseball Prospectus version of WAR), Victorino projects below 3 WARP each. That isn’t bad by any means, but it’s not at the 2011 echelon. Despite the drop-off in production, though, Victorino is far better than any other options the Phillies have.
In the event Victorino is unable to be signed to a contract extension, the Phillies will have to pick from players currently with the organization such as Domonic Brown (presently learning to play left field), John Mayberry, and Tyson Gillies (who played in just three games last year). Otherwise, the Phillies would be forced to draw from an uninspiring free agent class with B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn at the top, or acquire an outfielder via trade, something that will be difficult to do with the 25th-best farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law.
Logically speaking, it is just as important for the Phillies to retain Victorino. Roy Halladay is under contract through at least 2013 and most likely ’14 as well, while Cliff Lee will be around through at least 2015. With an easier ability to patch the back of the rotation via free agency and minor trades, as well as the emergence of Vance Worley and the expected emergence of prospect Trevor May, the starting rotation is less of a priority. Of course, there is some risk involved with Halladay and Lee that is much less present with Hamels as mentioned here.
That is not to say that these issues are mutually exclusive. The Phillies have $108 million on the books for the 2013 season according to Cot’s Contracts, so they could certainly fit in $20 million for Hamels and $15 million for Victorino without hamstringing themselves in other areas. However, it does illustrate that the one issue that seems to be overlooked is the potential changing of the guard in the outfield — it is a very big deal, and something that will have a profound effect on the Phillies’ competitiveness as their so-called window shrinks.