Impact Outfielders Still Available with Choo, Beltran, Ellsbury Gone
Christmas is around the corner, but don't expect an impact outfielder under the tree from your favorite baseball team.
Unless Nelson Cruz is the apple of your eye, the outfield market is close to bone-dry before 2014 begins due to a flurry of activity at the top of the market.
With Shin-Soo Choo's arrival in Texas, the top outfielders, including New York Yankees imports Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, are off the board.
According to Yahoo! Sports' free-agent tracker, Choo, Ellsbury and Beltran, respectively, were the third-, fifth- and sixth-best free agents available this winter. When factoring in Marlon Byrd's signing in Philadelphia, Curtis Granderson with the New York Mets and Corey Hart's relocation to Seattle, the outfield market has taken shape quickly.
The following is a look at what is left for needy teams, an outfielder with potential to once again profile as an impact player and the best of the rest.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
2013 Stats: 109 G, .266/.327/.506, 27 HR, 123 OPS+
When it comes to evaluating the free-agent profile of Nelson Cruz, three separate routes can be taken: the good, the bad and the unknown.
Let's start with the good.
If a team invests in Cruz, he'll undoubtedly bring power to the lineup. Over the last five seasons, the former Rangers right fielder has hit 135 home runs, good for 17th best in the sport. Among the players below him on that list: Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto and Troy Tulowitzki.
During that same span, Cruz owns the 15th-best ISO (isolated slugging percentage) in MLB. According to Fangraphs, ISO is defined as a measure of a hitter's raw power.
Now, the bad.
Outside of power, there's little reason to bring Cruz aboard to a contending team. He's a poor defender, provides no speed on the bases and isn't a selective hitter at the plate. If his power deteriorates over the next few seasons, Cruz will be a replacement-level player.
Despite the impressive home run and raw-power marks, Cruz has been worth only 10.3 WAR to the Texas Rangers since 2009. Outside of a 4.3 WAR during a star-level 2010, the 33-year-old outfielder didn't surpass 2.3 WAR in any other of those years. Nearly 100 players, including luminaries like Mark Ellis and Brendan Ryan, have been worth more WAR over the last five seasons.
Power is in short supply, but one-dimensional players are a scary proposition.
The unknown, Cruz's 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, complicates the situation.
If Cruz was aided by PEDs, his power could disappear quickly. If he wasn't, his free-agent value took a hit for reasons that will not change his game over the next few years.
Of the remaining outfielders available in free agency, Cruz is clearly the best. Yet, there's a reason Choo, Ellsbury and Beltran all landed contracts before the former Ranger. Over the next few weeks, Cruz's name will pop up in rumors. Expect to hear the Seattle Mariners, per Richard Justice of MLB.com, connected to the former AL West slugger.
2013 stats: Injured
At one point, Grady Sizemore's eventual free-agent path seemed poised to result in a contract for more than $100 million. From 2005-2008, the former Cleveland Indians center fielder was one of the best all-around players in the sport.
The rising star posted a 128 OPS+ during those years, profiling as the 14th-most-productive outfielder in the sport. When factoring in his defense and speed, Sizemore was the gold standard for outfielders in baseball, besting Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki and Matt Holiday for total WAR.
By producing those outstanding campaigns between ages 22 and 25, Sizemore was on the path to becoming a superstar.
Of course, due to injuries, the story didn't turn out quite that way.
Since 2009, Sizemore has played in a grand total of 201 games. None of those contests have been in either of the last two seasons, 2012 or 2013. At age 31, Sizemore should be putting a bow on a peak that rivaled current and future Hall of Fame outfielders.
Instead, he's looking for a team to take a chance on his former stardom and future upside.
If, and it's a huge if, Sizemore could recapture a percentage of what he once was, there is an impact performer on the market.
During the winter meetings, the Astros checked in with Sizemore's representatives, according to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. If Sizemore lands anywhere this offseason, Houston, desperately needing an infusion of talent, is a perfect fit.
Best of the Rest
Cruz is a flawed but powerful hitter. Sizemore is the ultimate lottery ticket. The rest of the outfielders available in free agency range somewhere between unattractive, uninspiring and unable to generate a buzz.
The best of the rest includes Delmon Young, Andres Torres, Juan Pierre, Rick Ankiel, Jeff Francoeur, Jason Bay, Chris Coghlan, Laynce Nix and Austin Kearns.
Of that cast of characters, only Young may be in line for a major-league deal before spring training begins.
Last year, after an awful 80-game stint in Philadelphia (92 OPS+), Young latched back on with the team that originally drafted him, Tampa Bay, for a successful reunion. Across 70 plate appearances, the right-handed slugger posted a 117 OPS+ and slugged three home runs.
Of course, even if Young's bat would be of some interest in a bench or platoon role, his glove is predictably awful in the outfield. Last year marked the seventh consecutive season that the 27-year-old has posted a negative defensive WAR.
Undoubtedly aware of his limitations, Young has begun to work out out as a first baseman, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
He's far from perfect, but the options remaining actually could be worse. From Torres to Pierre to Coghlan, a group of fourth or fifth outfielders emerge from the best of the rest on the free-agent market.
If you're team still needs an impact outfielder, the trade market may be the best hope!
Are any of the remaining free-agent outfielders worth a significant contract?