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 BrownJohn Mayberry, Juan PierreLaynce 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 HamiltonMichael BournB.J. UptonMelky CabreraAngel 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.

Player fWAR rWAR
Michael Bourn 6.1 5.8
Melky Cabrera 4.6 4.6
Angel Pagan 4.3 3.9
Josh Hamilton 4.9 3.7
B.J. Upton 3.2 2.1
Shane Victorino 2.9 2.1

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
2012-09-19 2012-09-24 5 5 General Medical Illness Sinus
2012-09-13 2012-09-14 1 1 Left Knee Soreness
2012-07-06 2012-07-06 0 0 Low Back Soreness
2012-06-15 2012-06-19 4 4 General Medical Illness Intestinal
2012-05-28 2012-05-29 1 1 General Medical Illness
2012-05-25 2012-05-25 0 0 General Medical Illness
2012-04-30 2012-05-04 4 3 Low Back Stiffness
2012-04-03 2012-04-03 0 0 Head Migraine
2012-03-31 2012-04-04 4 0 Left Groin Tightness
2012-03-14 2012-03-14 0 0 Right Foot Contusion Heel
2011-11-11 2011-11-11 0 0 Left Surgery Sports Hernia
2011-04-13 2011-05-22 39 35 Right Upper Arm Fracture Humerus
2011-01-10 2011-01-10 0 0 General Medical Respiratory Pneumonia

In the past, Hamilton has also had issues with drugsalcohol, 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 HowardRoy 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:

twitter.com/CoreySeidman/status/255743778265104385

twitter.com/CoreySeidman/status/255744487198953473

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.

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40 comments

  1. Smitty

    October 11, 2012 07:27 AM

    Pagan is far and away the best Cf available and I wouldd submit is anything but off the radar. I would think the Giants will be tenacious in retaining him. Otherwise the only other choice is Melky if you think there is life after peds ? The others will be far too expensive or have serious shortcomings. Span will cost an arm and a leg and Washington will go for him and has the farm system to give up 3 + players for him. The Phils need to come to grips with the team to the south of them that is building a juggernaut – and has the Boras capital and farm system to do whatever they want.

  2. Ryan

    October 11, 2012 08:40 AM

    I’d be happy with Vic or Pagan–good enough players, won’t break the budget in $$ or term, and won’t cost a draft pick. I don’t think that Cody Ross is good enough in CF. I’d like to see Ruf get some time–maybe as a platoon with Brown/Schierholtz? Then use Mayberry to spell Brown/Schierholtz/Howard some. Heck, I wouldn’t mind moving Schierholtz to center against tougher righties sometimes and playing Nix if we end up bringing back Vic.

    I’m still not sure about signing an 8th inning guy unless we can get someone on a short term contract like Madson who would be a clear upgrade. Signing someone coming off of Tommy John surgery at ~30 years old is still a gamble though.

  3. tomg

    October 11, 2012 09:40 AM

    “Hamilton has also had issues with … religion.”

    Haha! This, to me, is the money quote in this post. It appears God told Hamilton to quit using smokeless tobacco or risk being put on His Naughty/Disobedient List and then Nolan Ryan ripped Hamilton for not going cold turkey during the off-season as opposed to doing so in the middle of the baseball season.

    This left me even more confused because I was under the impression that, in Texas, Nolan Ryan was God.

    Maybe they’re polytheists in Texas? But … which God do I obey then becomes the question. (Personally, I think the God who pitched the most no-hitters should get the nod.)

    But, yeah, to be serious for a second – but ONLY a second – I consider Hamilton the most toxic of the CF options out there – even more toxic than Cabrera (<–tho' that shouldn't be read as an endorsement of signing Melky).

  4. AntsinIN

    October 11, 2012 09:41 AM

    I’d rather just put Brown in center, accept the defensive downgrade, and go after Swisher for RF. Granted, that would be one hellaciously terribly OF defensively, but Swisher’s patience is something this lineup sorely needs.

    If not Swisher, I’d rather go after Upton. Strikes out a bit too much, but I’d much rather go with him than Bourn or Hamilton (especially Hamilton).

  5. nik

    October 11, 2012 09:42 AM

    Don’t forget Hamilton, Bourn and Upton are going to be getting qualifying offers, so in addition to cost they’ll also cost us the 15th overall pick in the draft. Additional trade rumors recently involved Dexter Fowler, Peter Bourjos and Chris Young.

  6. Phillie697

    October 11, 2012 09:52 AM

    Brown in center??? I refuse to believe I just read that.

    And Swisher wants nine figures, or have you not be following the news? You actually made me glad RAJ is our GM for about 15 seconds.

  7. AntsinIN

    October 11, 2012 10:08 AM

    Bourn and Hamilton are going to get 9 figures as well. I think Swisher’s offensive skills will age the best out of the three $100mil+ men.

    Plus, even if that’s what he wants, I’m loath to believe that he’ll actually get that.

  8. Tony Dantzler

    October 11, 2012 10:20 AM

    Listen guys, anyway you look at it, the Phils need an upgrade. Hamilton is definitely a long shot given what he’ll command, his age and ability to stay healthy. I think B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan even Shane makes sense. Getting 1 or may 2 of these guys would be an immediate improvement over what we currently have. No disrespect to Brown & Mayberry.

  9. Phillie697

    October 11, 2012 10:47 AM

    I’m still stuck on the “Brown in center” comment… Atrocious defense in the corner OF spots is defensible if you got some bats, but putting Brown in center is like putting Ryan Howard at SS…

  10. Pencilfish

    October 11, 2012 11:04 AM

    Another trade target may be Peter Bourjos. He’s the Angels OF who lost the job to Mike Trout. The Minor League system was somewhat
    improved with the Blanton, Pence
    and Victorino trades, and we would
    be trading for a 25-yr old, though I suspect the Angels would ask for a MLB-ready pitcher, like Worley or Kendrick in return, instead of Minor League prospects.

  11. Ryan

    October 11, 2012 11:25 AM

    Hamilton is simply crazy talk. We don’t need another old guy with a monster contract that is more likely to be a sinkhole within well before the end of the contract. There’s no way Bourn is worth nine figures as he has no power and isn’t some on base machine. Peter Bourjos would be a good get as he is young.

    I’m definitely down with a short term solution in center. Maybe one of our minor leaguers like the guy in Reading from the Cliff Lee trade can fill it. Big money long term contracts to anyone over about 27 or 28 are a huge risk and usually don’t pan out in the long run.

  12. Scott G

    October 11, 2012 11:48 AM

    Is Kendrick now considered an MLB-ready pitcher? Not quite sure the Angles would be willing to get rid of a 25 yr old player, who is good enough that we should want, for Kendrick.

    Phillie,

    I want 9 figures too, but I don’t think anyone is going to give it to me.

  13. Phillie697

    October 11, 2012 12:12 PM

    @Scott G,

    I bet if you can get Scott Boras to represent you, your chances would go up a bit.

  14. Harley

    October 11, 2012 12:14 PM

    Pencilfish — Lovelovelove Bourjos. Superfast, *potential* to be a 15/15 or 20/20 guy if he gets the opportunity. He’d be a TON cheaper (salary-wise) than all these other guys.

  15. Michael

    October 11, 2012 12:40 PM

    I have to say I don’t really like any of the guys on this list. Hamilton is troubled and old and will never be worth what he gets this time around. His best season was now 3 years ago when he won the MVP. He’s on the decline everywhere except in his power this year. When you look at the stats whether it’s Swisher, Upton or Bourn they are all flawed and with the exception of Upton, they are all old(over 28). Check any player you like in baseball history and you’ll see their best seasons come somewhere right around age 28(non steroids). So why pay big money for players past that age, you are paying for past perfromance which you will never get again.
    The only names I like even a little are Cabrera and Fowler. Cabrera, in the right contract like a one year deal or a two year deal where he can rebuild his reputation might work but no way I’d go long term with him either. If you could get Fowler I’d prefer him to Span. Either way it’s not a great group of choices, just some familiar names. Certainly no one on this list I’d endorse for big money and longterm.

  16. AGH

    October 11, 2012 12:49 PM

    Does Upton’s OBP bother anyone else? Where would he hit in the lineup? You can’t lead him off, can you? Maybe slot him third behind Rollins and Utley?

    If he’s available, I would love to see Fowler in CF. Does Brown, Cloyd and one of our minor league catchers get that deal done?

  17. AGH

    October 11, 2012 01:12 PM

    Ick.

  18. Pencilfish

    October 11, 2012 01:56 PM

    Scott G,

    The Angels have Trout, Trumbo, Wells
    and Hunter in the OF. Bourjos is a 25-yr-old who will ride the bench or go to the Minor Leagues, at least until 2014, unless they trade Vernon Wells AND let Torii Hunter walk. The reason they may want a back-of-the-rotation pitcher like Kendrick is that Greinke is a FA, and Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have expensive contract options that must be picked up or they become FA’s, too.

  19. hk

    October 11, 2012 02:07 PM

    Pencilfish,

    Hunter is a free agent and Wells sucks. Bourjos generated 1.9 fWAR in 195 PA’s whereas Wells generated 0.6 fWAR in 262 PA’s and the club’s insistence on trying to get some value out of Wells by giving him PA’s possibly cost them a playoff birth. If they again insist on giving Wells playing time, I assume it would come at Hunter’s expense, not Bourjos’s. If they do decide to trade Bourjos, re-sign Hunter and give playing time to Wells again next year, one would think they could get more than Kendrick for Bourjos.

  20. hk

    October 11, 2012 02:16 PM

    AGH,

    Due to his power, Upton’s wOBA is the same as Michael Bourn’s over the last full seasons. He’s also younger than the other free agent options, so if his hot August and crazy hot September did not drive his price up too high, he’s worth considering.

  21. Ryan

    October 11, 2012 03:23 PM

    Bargain bin, please, Rube… Please…be patient!! Look at how good waiting out Jimmy Rollins’ demands looks now.

    @hk

    The main problem with Upton is that his OBP is low. We need people who get on base consistently i.e. someone to balance out Rollins, Howard, potentially Gavlis, etc. I expect Howard, Brown, Utley, and maybe Ruf to all have significantly better years power-wise than they had this past season (for whatever reason be it limited game time, injuries). We could sure use the greek god of walks. I’m not sure if he’s available or if he would sign a short term contract, but he would look good in our lineup at third.

  22. Smitty

    October 11, 2012 03:32 PM

    The greek god of walks is available except he’s alot older, a little travel worn, and injury prone. For a one year deal you can have the original thing – Kevin Moneyball Youklis…..at 3B

  23. Scott G

    October 11, 2012 03:47 PM

    pencilfish,

    hk pretty much summed up my counterpoint. I’m not saying the Angels will necessarily keep Bourjos (although they PROBABLY will), the argument is that Phillies shouldn’t be the only ones interested. Kyle Kendrick isn’t the most attractive bargaining chip

  24. Phillie697

    October 11, 2012 04:20 PM

    So how much would we have to give up to get Trout to come back home?

  25. hk

    October 11, 2012 05:38 PM

    Ryan,

    While BJ’s OBP was definitely low this year, it is .336 for his career. Maybe this year was a bit of an anomaly. Excluding Hamilton, BJ’s in the same ballpark as Victorino (.341), Bourn (.339) and Pagan (.333). Being that he’s the youngest of the group and most likely to command less than Hamilton or Bourn, he seems like a good option (again if the price is right).

  26. Matt C

    October 11, 2012 08:43 PM

    Phillie697 — hilarious question.
    Seriously tho: How many teams have ANY set of players that you could actually trade for Trout? Would you swap him for Longoria + Price? Robbie Cano + Granderson? Posey + Cain? If not, then who?

  27. Pencilfish

    October 11, 2012 09:58 PM

    Scott G, hk,

    True. Kendrick alone may not entice the Angels to hand over Bourjos, but I’m saying that the Phillies should pursue Bourjos for Kendrick as a starting point. It may require other pieces, but if there’s one commodity the Phillies have that the Angels may want are back-of-the-rotation SP (Kendrick, Worley, Cloyd come to mind). Bourjos is a young, cheap, controllable and a good alternative (at least defensively) when compared to the available FA.

  28. boredjake

    October 12, 2012 04:24 AM

    I like the idea of trading back end of the rotation pitching for Bourjos if the Phillies are willing to commit to buying some more power at either third base (possibly impossible) or at a corner spot (more reasonable). Bourjos isn’t regarded has having much pop but certainly has a great glove.

    Whatever they do, it better not be commit big $$ to any centerfielder. None are worth it. I’d wait out the market and find value with Pagan or Melky.

  29. Ben

    October 12, 2012 08:28 AM

    A few things:

    1) Bourjos will require a huge haul to acquire. Think Biddle, Pettibone, Joseph, and a fourth guy to start. The Angels still think highly of him (rightly so) despite his contact issues.

    2) Brown can play center field, or at least he did some in Lehigh Valley this year. Sandberg seemed to think it was more comfortable for him and he could just react to the ball rather than try to play the spin and break of it.

    3) The farm system is much improved over this time last year — I wouldn’t call it barren anymore. I imagine they will find themselves in the middle third of team rankings this offseason. Big seasons from guys like Morgan, Quinn, Asche, Ruf, and Gillies and the additions of Ethan Martin, Kyle Simon, Tommy Joseph, and Gabriel Lino mean both more high-upside talent and a good group of guys in the high minors who could reasonably contribute by 2014.

  30. Phillie697

    October 12, 2012 01:58 PM

    @Matt C,

    I probably wouldn’t trade Trout unless you give me the version of Barry Bonds that the Giants got when they signed him away from Pittsburgh, and even then I’d demand a guarantee that Bonds can continue to use the juice.

    Yeah, it was meant to be a joke question, but I’m kinda sad no one else commented on it, LOL.

  31. Seamus O'Neill

    October 12, 2012 03:21 PM

    Justin Upton was in the block in July, the Tigers were in the mix, the D Backs wanna fill SS (Left by Drew) and a few Other holes in there team, I’d give Galvis, Brown, Cloyd, basically anyone but Ruff, maybe deal Lee and get a team like Baltimore involved w Dillon Bundy, Im sure RAJ can figure it out.. Anyway Upton in RF ( who has 4 years remaining on his Team Friendly Contract ( signed in 2010 @ 6yrs $51 mill) see the market for Victorino or BJ Upton ( who is a possible clubhouse problem, but with his Brother im sure that wld be positive experience for the both of em) try and pry Aaron Hill outta Ariz hands too, or go After Kelly Johnson in Toronto ( who has 25HR-20 steal potential) and get a good glove at 3rd base… Id rather see Justin Upton as a Phillie thru 2016 and trade away a bunch of Hopefuls then spend on Hamilton who will not Fare well in a BIG CITY w all its Temptations !

  32. Richard

    October 12, 2012 03:23 PM

    As a lifetime Phillies fan and Dallas resident until this season, I doubt Hamilton is the guy for us. Very injury-prone, at first from over-hustle (running into walls, hard slides, etc) but lately from fear of getting hurt, and the fans accused him of jaking this past season. When he’s healthy he’s some hitter, but this past year he was only ordinary after a superheated start.I’ve never liked Upton, always liked Victorino and Cabrera. But I’d get protection from juice use if it’s Melky.

  33. Brent

    October 12, 2012 05:47 PM

    Can not believe that no one is talking about Tyson Gillies solid glove great bat and blinding speed most likely the best CF in the Phillie’s system

  34. hk

    October 12, 2012 07:08 PM

    Seamus,

    Galvis, Brown and Cloyd is not enough for Justin Upton? Are you serious that you wouldn’t “sweeten” that offer with Ruf?

  35. Bigfootnells

    October 12, 2012 08:23 PM

    hk lmao I was thinking the same thing. Ruf has little trade value. Neither does Cloyd or Galvis. These are the type of players that may get you the extra bat at the trade deadline like Thome/Ryan Ludwick. Brown no longer has Justin Upton trade value either. Any deal for Upton starts with names like Pettibon/Biddle etc

  36. Bigfootnells

    October 12, 2012 08:27 PM

    But for a still way young OF who already has had MVP mentions like Upton it would be worth it. These are the type of players to “give up the farm” for. Since we would not be tempted to trade him because you expect him to soon get a better contract than he is worth i

  37. Bigfootnells

    October 12, 2012 08:33 PM

    Although a still way young budding superstar with like Upton who already has had MVP votes and a multy year team friendly contract is a definitely worth it no brainer. These are exactly the players that you “give up the farm for”. One that you won’t have to turn around and trade the next year in anticipation of that player getting more money than they are worth ala Hunter Pence. Although the problem with Pence is not so much what we gave up for him or even that we traded him the next year. It is the pittance we got back for him.

  38. Bigfootnells

    October 12, 2012 08:36 PM

    Sorry I am not sure why the last one was kind of double posted

  39. Eric Holt

    October 13, 2012 10:18 AM

    I personally would get the melky talk “outta here” using the old HK terminology. If you look at his stats, there was a significant jump in almost all of them from ’09 to ’10…maybe when he started using PED’s perhaps? Other than the past 2 seasons, he was never a .300 hitter, at his highest he was .280. Not that .280 is horrible, but that was years ago. His last season (’09) before I suspect he started juicing, he hit .255. The year before, he hit .274. I just don’t think I would take a chance on a guy that very well could have had his only REALLY good production when it’s possible was all PED’s.

    Other than that, wouldn’t mind Pagan, BJ Upton (I know, I know, I just have a gut feeling about him), or even taking Vic back. I really like having great speed in center, personally. Those aren’t the only fast guys available, but that would be my short list.

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