If it seems like outfielders and, specifically, center fielders have been on the move a lot this offseason, it’s because they have.
Andrew Simon on MLB.com recently wrote that as many as 14 teams could have a different player in center field on Opening Day than they did last season when minor league call-ups and offseason acquisitions are taken into account.
MLB centerfielders combined for a .265 batting average last season—the highest average for the position since the 2009 season. The recent spike can be largely attributed to center fielders such as Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout and Austin Jackson having big offensive years.
However, these players may have also caused teams to re-evaluate where they stand in terms of their own center field situation. Whether it means finding a player to add more power to the lineup, a leadoff hitter capable of getting on base at a high rate or improving on defense, a number of teams have made changes to the heart of their outfield this season.
Although some teams have decided to move players currently on the roster over to center field or called up a minor league prospect to take over, this list will rank only center fielders who were newly acquired this offseason. The player’s ability, what his new team had to give up in order to acquire him and the pieces already in place were used as the criteria for these rankings.
With that in mind, here are the rankings for those center fielders who will be wearing new uniforms on Opening Day.
With less than three weeks to go until spring training, Michael Bourn remains a free agent.
His stay on the free-agent market, which is now approaching three months, can likely be attributed to his being represented by agent Scott Boras, as well as the draft-pick compensation that is tied to him.
A high-dollar amount and a first-round draft pick is a lot to give up for a player whose best attributes include defense and base running, but some team will be willing to bite sooner or later.
Bourn batted .274 with 57 RBI and 42 stolen bases last season for the Atlanta Braves, while hitting a career-high nine home runs. However, he also had a career-high 150 strikeouts and batted .225 following the All-Star break.
Regardless, Bourn has still stolen more than 40 bases in each of the past five seasons and has a combined .344 OBP from the leadoff spot during the past three seasons.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently wrote that the New York Mets have serious interest in Bourn, although, with the 11th pick in the first round of this year’s draft, the team would have to forfeit their draft pick to the Atlanta Braves unless MLB makes some sort of exception.
Despite the amount of money that Boras is likely looking for from interested teams and the draft compensation tied to him, Bourn could be a great addition for a team in need of a leadoff hitter and with players already in place who are capable of providing power.
Just a few days ago, it appeared that Cody Ross would be the starter in center field for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
But after nearly six months of speculation, the Diamondbacks traded Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves, clearing some room in their outfield and possibly moving Ross to right field if Adam Eaton can even come close to matching his minor league numbers from last season.
Signing Ross allowed the Diamondbacks to move an outfielder this offseason without creating a hole, but moving a 25-year-old former MVP candidate certainly comes with its shares of risks.
Ross used a solid 2012 season, in which he batted .267 with 22 home runs and 81 RBI, to earn a longer deal this offseason than the one he received from the Boston Red Sox last year.
However, giving Ross an annual average value (AAV) of more than $8 million, including a yearly salary of more than $8 million in the second, third and possibly fourth years of the deal, after he batted .240 just one season ago, could be a stretch.
Ross could spend the majority of his time in right field this season, but the contract that the Diamondbacks signed him to would have hurt his ranking in comparison to others.
Drew Stubbs was acquired along with Trevor Bauer by the Cleveland Indians in a three-team trade that also sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds.
According to Fangraphs, Stubbs had the third-highest UZR among qualified center fielders last season, meaning that the Indians were able to at least nab a solid defender while giving up one more season of Choo’s offense.
However, Stubbs batted just .213 with 166 strikeouts and a .610 OPS last season while with the Reds. Among qualified batters, this strikeout total was the 10th highest in the major leagues.
Trading Choo was a smart move by the Indians, as the Scott Boras client is entering the final year of his contract. With Boras representing him, chances were slim that Choo would forego free agency or sign a team-friendly deal next offseason.
But Stubbs’ defensive value will only make up for his potential lack of offense if players such as Nick Swisher, Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera provide a solid punch at the top of the lineup.
Stubbs’ batting average on the road during the past three seasons combined is just .223. At 28 years old, Stubbs could be entering his prime and about to improve offensively.
Until then, the Indians will be paying $2.825 million to a player with a career .312 OBP and someone whose batting average has declined in every one of his major league seasons.
The Philadelphia Phillies were in need of a center fielder, since trading Shane Victorino at the non-waiver trade deadline in July, and decided to pass on paying big money for one of several free-agent options.
In looking to the trade market, the Phillies were able to land Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins in a three-player deal. Revere doesn’t give the team’s lineup a right-handed batter or much power, but his .294 average from last season will be a nice addition to a lineup with few players who neared that mark in 2012.
Revere, 24, batted .294 with 150 hits and 40 stolen bases last season, while striking out just 54 times in 511 at-bats. Although question marks exist around his arm strength, Revere’s glove should make him one of the Phillies' best defenders this season.
However, the extent of Revere’s impact is tied to the pieces already in place on the Phillies roster. If Revere bats leadoff, it will mean that Jimmy Rollins has been moved down in the lineup. Since 2010, Rollins has batted from the three-hole primarily when not leading off and has a .238 average while doing so.
If Revere bats lower in the lineup, his ability to provide RBI opportunities will be dependent on players such as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Michael Young remaining healthy and having improved offensive seasons.
The Phillies gave up Vance Worley and minor league prospect Trevor May in exchange for Revere, creating a hole in their starting rotation and taking themselves out of any future major trade opportunities by dealing one of their few remaining tradable prospects.
If key players remain healthy, Revere could turn out to be a great addition manning center field for the Phillies for at least several more seasons.
The Washington Nationals struck quickly after the Atlanta Braves signed free agent B.J. Upton, acquiring Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins to fill their center field need.
At $4.75 million this season and for the price of Alex Meyer, a talented prospect but one who is still a few seasons away from being major league ready, it’s difficult to argue with the Nationals’ acquisition of Span.
Span won’t provide much power to the Nationals lineup, but with players such as Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth likely batting behind him, a lack of power won’t be an issue.
The soon-to-be 29-year-old batted .283 with 146 hits, 41 RBI and a .342 OBP last season. According to Fangraphs, Span’s UZR ranked behind only free agent Michael Bourn among qualified center fielders, slightly ahead of Drew Stubbs of the Cleveland Indians.
Span is coming off a season in which he had his highest batting average since 2009 and batted .303 following the All-Star break.
After the type of season that the Nationals had last year, few holes existed that required attention this offseason. However, finding a center fielder who could bat leadoff, allowing Harper to move to left field and moving Werth out of the top spot in the lineup, would have made for the ideal acquisition for the Nationals.
Fortunately for the team, Span fits that description.
B.J. Upton could very well turn out to be the best center field addition from this offseason, eventually, especially with the Atlanta Braves also acquiring Justin Upton to take over the area next to his brother.
At the start of the offseason, B.J. Upton was arguably the best center fielder available (if Josh Hamilton is considered more of a corner outfielder), and the Braves wasted little time signing him even before the start of the Winter Meetings.
Despite batting just .246 with 169 strikeouts last season, Upton was able to use his 28 home runs, 78 RBI and 31 stolen bases to earn a five-year, $75.25 million deal from the Braves.
Considering the deals given to other free-agent outfielders, such as Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino, Upton’s new AAV of just over $15 million is large, but justifiable, if his age, at 28 years old, is taken into account. Additionally, the Braves’ payroll had the room required to make this type of deal.
Once a team signs Michael Bourn, the Braves could even still find themselves with a first-round draft pick, despite signing Upton, who received a qualifying offer from the Tampa Bay Rays, if Bourn’s new team has a first-round pick outside of the first 10 selections.
Although it’s difficult to gauge, there’s a good chance that Upton’s performance could receive a positive impact from his brother’s addition, meaning that Upton’s free-agent deal could look even better for the Braves following their trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
However, it’s also difficult to gauge whether Upton is a big improvement over Bourn in center field and just how much more power in the lineup can outweigh exceptional defense and a higher average.
Either way, the Braves have taken as much risk out of a long-term deal in excess of $75 million that a team can take.
While B.J. Upton’s addition, when the rest of the Braves' lineup is taken into consideration, looks good, Shin-Soo Choo’s addition to the Cincinnati Reds roster gives a team that nearly won 100 games last season the missing offense that could make all the difference this season.
After winning 97 games and being one win away from advancing to the NLCS, the Reds acquired Choo and Jason Donald in a three-team trade that sent Drew Stubbs to the Cleveland Indians and Didi Gregorius to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Choo is a Scott Boras client, which makes his stay in Cincinnati past this season unclear and, at the least, the cheapest it will be, but this one season could be a big one for the Reds.
The Reds won the National League Central by nine games last season, despite ranking in the middle of the pack in the NL in terms of total home runs and toward the lower half of the league in OBP.
Choo brings with him a .283 batting average, 16 home runs, 67 RBI, 21 stolen bases and a .373 OBP from last season. Choo, who will turn 31 during the season, made just under $5 million last season.
Although Choo batted .283 in 2012 and .259 in 85 games in the season prior, he had back-to-back .300 seasons in 2009 and 2010 while hitting a combined 42 home runs and driving in 176 runs.
But what could help Choo have the biggest impact of any of the newly acquired center fielders this offseason is the supporting cast that the Reds have in place. Choo will be batting leadoff in front of Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, the newly re-signed Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier.
With a high on-base percentage at the top of the lineup and a great deal of power behind him, Choo could turn out to be the piece that helps the Reds’ lineup match the success of the pitching staff and send the team even further past the NLDS.