The Center Field Mine Field
Having traded away both Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at the end of July, the Phillies now have a need for a center fielder going into 2013. The outfielders currently on the roster include Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Juan Pierre, Laynce Nix, and Nate Schierholtz. None of them are legitimate center fielders, so the Phillies are heading into the off-season thinking about one of the many free agents. In particular, six names stick out: Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, and Victorino.
Hamilton and Bourn are expected to be the most highly-sought after, and there are some very good reasons the Phillies should avoid them. They will likely be the first two to be signed, which means that if Ruben Amaro wants to sign either, he will have to set the market. It is better from a GM’s perspective to display patience because the more you wait, the more options close for the players, reducing their leverage in negotiations.
With Hamilton, the Phillies would likely need to commit at least five years and nine figures for a player that will be 32 years old in May and tends to miss time due to questionable health issues. This table, via Baseball Prospectus, lists Hamilton’s injuries since the start of 2011:
|Date On||Date Off||Days||Games||Side||Body Part||Injury||Severity|
In the past, Hamilton has also had issues with drugs, alcohol, and religion. Hamilton may lead all center fielders in wOBA since 2008 at .387, but he has plenty of other issues that should scream “somebody else’s problem” at the Phillies.
Once a top prospect in the Phillies’ system, Michael Bourn could become the Phillies’ new center fielder. Most of his value, though, comes from his legs and he turns 30 in December. His .329 wOBA in 2012 is just a hair above the league average for center fielders at .320, so the Phillies would be gambling on Bourn’s legs staying in tact over the next four or five years at a steep price. The Phillies have taken risks on old players not getting injured or slowing down before and it hasn’t worked out well (Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley).
Hamilton and Bourn are tempting because they had great 2012 showings, but they are ticking time bombs. The Phillies would be better served sitting back while other teams fight over the two premier center fielders, then making a play for a second-tier center fielder like Cabrera, Upton, or Pagan. Due to his recognition, Upton will likely be heavily sought after as well, but the Phillies would do well to attempt to capture the 28-year-old. Pagan will likely fly under the radar, but he would be a great Plan B for the Phillies assuming a short, relatively cheap contract. Those two will likely be taken off the board after Hamilton and Bourn, meaning that fewer teams will have CF needs and thus there will be fewer teams to compete against, dropping prices of the remaining players.
The Phillies aren’t necessarily committed to signing a free agent centerfielder, but it is the easiest solution to their very obvious problem. If they get creative, the Phillies could pry Denard Span away from the Minnesota Twins, as CSN Philly and Phillies Nation’s Corey Seidman suggested:
A trade, however, would require further diminishing of an already-barren Minor League system — one that ranks among the bottom-third or worse among almost every prospect expert. At any rate, it would be foolish to be inconsiderate of any trade opportunities.
It would be extremely easy for the Phillies to latch onto Hamilton or Bourn, especially since they own the league’s largest payroll, but the past few years have provided the Phillies all the evidence they need to conclude that throwing money around indiscriminately is no panacea. In the past, Amaro has shown the tendency to burst onto the market first (see: Howard, Ryan; Ibanez, Raul; Papelbon, Jonathan), but this off-season, perhaps more than any other he has seen, would punish him for displaying such impatience.