Adding an outfielder or two is an offseason priority for the Philadelphia Phillies and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
Now, as the offseason begins, Philadelphia is looking for a center fielder, and some big names are available. Josh Hamilton is the flashiest name, with Michael Bourn close behind him. Angel Pagan boosted his value with a strong postseason. And B.J. Upton might have the most upside of the bunch.
But there's yet another center fielder available who plays good defense, has some pop in his bat and can provide a lineup with some speed. The Phillies need all of those things. So could they possibly bring back Victorino next season?
Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News posed that very question in a recent article. For the right price, he feels, bringing back Victorino is an option the Phillies should consider.
Though Bourn might be the ideal fit in terms of giving the Phillies batting order a leadoff hitter with speed who also plays spectacular defense, he and agent Scott Boras may be looking for a more expensive deal than Philadelphia is willing to pay.
A high price tag would also take Hamilton out of consideration. He'll be the most expensive center fielder on the market. Besides, the Phillies don't need his left-handed bat when they already have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
Personally, I feel like Upton is the best fit for the Phillies.
He's right-handed and could slot in between Utley and Howard. He has the speed for the top of the order, though his low on-base percentage (.289 this season) might not suit him for that role. He has the power to bat in the middle of the lineup. And Upton's defense is on par with each of the other center fielders mentioned here.
But Victorino could be a very attractive option. The Phillies certainly already know what they have in him.
Trading Victorino at midseason wasn't necessarily an indictment of his skills. It was more a concern that he was seeking a significant raise over the $9.5 million he made this season. Rather than risk losing him as a free agent, Amaro at least got a quality reliever in Josh Lindblom and a promising prospect with Ethan Martin.
Though Victorino struggled this season, batting .255 overall with a .704 OPS, he did play better in Philadelphia than before he was traded to the Dodgers. In 101 games with the Phillies, he hit .267 with a .724 OPS, nine home runs, 40 RBI and 24 stolen bases.
More than any other team, the Phillies should be familiar with the numbers Victorino put up in 2011. He batted .279 with an .847 OPS, adding 16 triples, 17 homers, 61 RBI and 19 stolen bases in what was arguably his best season.
Is he capable of providing that kind of production again? That's the question hanging over Victorino during free agency.
Has he lost bat speed? Is he a step slower in center field? He stole a career-high 39 bases, which seems promising, but does he get on base enough to really utilize that speed?
Those are questions the Phillies would surely ask while judging Victorino against the other center fielders on the market. The team probably had the same concerns before trading him at midseason.
Would the Phillies be willing to go into next season with an outfield of Domonic Brown in left, Victorino in center and Nate Schierholtz in right? That sentence just sent Phillies fans into fits of screaming, running around the house while knocking all of the books and picture frames off their shelves.
If Amaro is looking to upgrade his outfield, that collection of players won't do it.
However, if Victorino is willing to accept a shorter contract for less money—perhaps because the market has determined his value for him—it seems plausible that the Phillies might be able to sign him in addition to another outfielder.
Let's say that Victorino can be had for a two-year, $20 million sort of deal. ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick talked to four MLB executives about the contract Upton might attract in free agency. Estimates ranged from three years, $27 million to five years, $70 million.
Even if Victorino wanted a three-year deal and the Phillies were willing to give it to him, while Upton ended up getting the five-year, $70 million contract one executive projected, would $100 million for two outfielders suit Philadelphia's payroll?
Amaro wants to keep the Phillies below the $178 million luxury tax threshold for 2013. But a combined salary of $24 million for Victorino and Upton—and that's presuming they would even be paid that much—seems to fit under those constraints.
But would that leave enough money to also address the Phillies' needs at third base and in the bullpen? That's the dilemma Amaro faces.
The Phillies can't build their offseason around Victorino. He's just not that kind of player. Amaro surely knows that's not good enough, and the Philadelphia fans wouldn't stand for it. But Victorino could complement other moves Amaro might make, such as signing another outfielder and/or a third baseman.
Both sides parted amicably in late July, so there's no reason to think either Victorino or the Phillies have moved on and want to try something else. It would surely be a popular move among the fans and Victorino himself admitted to MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom late in the season that he'd love to return to Philadelphia.
Bringing back Victorino is certainly not the worst move the Phillies could make this winter.
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