5 Center Fielders the Philadelphia Phillies Must Target This Offseason
While their needs are many, the Philadelphia Phillies must prioritize filling their hole in center field above all else this offseason.
The Phillies ranked at or below Major League Baseball averages in batting averages, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs scored. They certainly hope that full, healthy seasons from Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will give the slugging and runs scored numbers a boost.
Ultimately, though, this is still a pitching-first roster, with three starters scheduled to earn more than $20 million apiece in 2013. It would be senseless to spend that sort of money on starting pitching and then entrust the most important outfield position to John Mayberry Jr.
None of this is intended to suggest that signing a premium center fielder will "fix" the Phillies' problems. Third base is still a huge question mark. Unless you really believe in both Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown, the corner outfield spots look, well, spotty. They still do not have a trustworthy setup man.
But an above-average center fielder, one who can cover defensive deficiencies of his outfield counterparts and help with the bat, is a necessity for the Phillies as they are currently constructed.
The arguments against Josh Hamilton as a big-money free agent are plentiful. Can you remember an established superstar hitting free agency with more questions surrounding him than Hamilton?
Put aside (if you can) his troubled past with drug use. In the past four seasons with the Texas Rangers, Hamilton has missed an astonishing 157 games. Couple that with his underwhelming postseason numbers (.227 batting average, .414 slugging percentage) and the thought of guaranteeing Hamilton generational money looks as dubious as some of his life choices.
Here's the thing, though: These arguments are essentially the jeweler finding flaws in a spectacular gem.
In the past five seasons, Hamilton has made five All-Star teams, won two Silver Slugger awards and a Most Valuable Player award. His team went to two World Series.
The considerable fretting about his age (he will turn 32 in May) and the missed games ignores what he would bring to Philadelphia for the shorter term, something they do not have right now.
Hamilton would give the Phillies a hitter opposing pitchers fear.
Former Phillie Michael Bourn is out there in free agency, too. He is a two-time All-Star (most recently this season with the Atlanta Braves). Granted, a lot of his value is tied up in his speed. He stole 42 bases this season; he was also caught a league-leading 13 times.
However, he won Gold Gloves in 2009 and 2010, and it is not as though he has forgotten how to field his position. Similarly, he has scored between 84 and 97 runs in each of the past four seasons.
Is he worth what he will likely ask for? Probably not to most teams. But the Phillies are in one of those terrible positions that poker players often find themselves in: They are pot-committed. With so much money already committed to 2013's payroll and a fanbase that is unlikely to accept another losing season, to the Phillies, Bourn may be worth overpaying.
B.J. Upton will be available. He piles up three things: home runs, stolen bases and strikeouts (1,020 of them in 3,568 at-bats). His .256 career batting average compiled over seven seasons suggests that is what he is. Is he worth five years and $80 million?
Upton is one of those players who carries his potential around his neck like an anchor. Fans see the strikeouts (1,020 of them in 3,568 at-bats) and the iffy batting average (.255 career) and lament "what he could be."
The Phillies are better served this offseason focusing on what Upton is: a legitimate power/speed threat at a premium position. At 28, Upton is coming into his prime right now, and his 28 home runs and 31 steals in 2012 prove that point.
Upton is going to cost some team a lot—a lot—of money. But he figures to cost less than Josh Hamilton or Michael Bourn and the Phillies cannot survive any longer with John Mayberry Jr. faking it in center.
The Phillies should take a serious look at Upton.
The smartest course might be to convince Shane Victorino to come back to Philadelphia. The decline in his production in 2012 can be attributed to his involvement in trade talks that eventually led to his departure from Philadelphia followed by playing two months' worth of home games in cavernous Dodger Stadium.
That said, there is just something about the thought of bringing Victorino back that feels regressive. Phillies fans are already being asked to get behind one more season of the aging Ryan Howard/Chase Utley/Jimmy Rollins/Carlos Ruiz core. Seeing Victorino in center field again may actually be more unsettling than reassuring.
Which is too bad, because if he did not have the history here and if he was not returning with the same name and profile, he would be a sensible option for the Phillies coming off a season where he stole a career-high 39 bases.
His return just feels unlikely.
Peter Bourjos must wake up every day and wonder what he ever did to deserve his present fate.
Bourjos' first full season as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2011 could not be called anything but successful. At age 24, Bourjos hit. 271, showed some pop with 12 home runs, legged out 11 triples and stole 22 bases.
Then Mike Trout showed up, and now Bourjos is wasting away as a utility guy on Mike Scioscia's bench. If that wasn't bad enough, he is not even arbitration-eligible until 2014 and he will not be a free agent until 2017. So if Bourjos is going to play every day any time soon, someone is going to have to pry him out of Anaheim.
It is hard to say what the Angels would demand from the Phillies in a trade. But look at it this way: Whatever the Phillies would give up in trade would figure to have less ultimate value than the dollars they would spend on Hamilton, Bourn or Upton.
Bourjos does not have Hamilton's upside, but he could definitely be a facsimile of Bourn or Upton in the next two seasons, particularly as those players decline and Bourjos enters his prime.