MLB Rumors: Carlos Beltran and the Top 20 Outfielders Who Could Leave After 2011
The free agent class of 2012 will be rich everywhere except in the outfield, where nearly every player of value is locked up or under contractual control. In some cases, those contracts are long-term deals. In others, they’re collectively negotiated. In a few cases, they’re crazier than the deal CBS gave Charlie Sheen.
That means that teams looking to add outfield depth after this season will have to get creative—perhaps consider a different type of sod, maybe a nice fescue. It means that fans looking to strengthen their punchless outfield offense should probably root for another team (I’m looking at you, Mariners fans). It also means that columnists mining for free agent outfielders should probably get to know Coco Crisp.
The outfield stars entering the final year of their deals are more faded than acid wash jeans—indicating a high level of turnover around the league after this season. Continue reading to see if your team’s outfield will have a new look after 2011…
No. 1 Grady Sizemore
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
With Sizemore still unable to run the bases or play in the field and the start of the season only four weeks away, the likelihood that the cash-strapped Indians will pick up his $8.5 million option for 2012 is growing more remote. Sadder still, Sizemore would likely be the most attractive free agent heading into the offseason, assuming he can play a full nine-inning game.
Let’s just say Sizemore’s financial timing is a little poor. He signed a bargain basement, six-year $23 million deal just before exploding as a fantasy monster in 2006 (.907 OPS, 134 runs). That was back when the Indians had money. Now, at the end of the same deal, he’s had micro-fracture surgery after two other knee surgeries, which is just way too many surgeries.
Still, Sizemore is only 28, and many GMs salivate over his breakthrough potential and five-tool ability. Certain GMs have money to spend, while certain other GMs seem to have no sense of fiscal responsibility or conscience (I’m looking at you, Mike Rizzo). This means Sizemore could languish on the Tribe’s DL for the bulk of the 2011 season and still cash in.
No. 2 Nick Swisher
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Swisher has a $10.25 million option for 2012, which would constitute roughly 1/25of their 2012 payroll if it approaches $250 million (which is reasonable to assume). That means the Yankees would only decline to re-sign Swisher if he suffers a serious injury or decides to grow facial hair (kiboshed by the Yankee brass)…
…or if the Yankees decide to pursue another outfielder through a trade, making Swisher expendable. I think we all know Swisher is a little too smiley for the Yankees. His 2010 BA and OPS were both career highs and well above his career average. Should his numbers drop back to earth (as his .335 BABIP in 2010 indicates they might), the Yankees might decide his bright enthusiasm and hot-footing antics are a little too infectious for the straight-laced pinstripes.
No. 3 Carlos Beltran
Al Bello/Getty Images
Beltran is the poster boy for not giving outfielders seven-year contracts. If the Nationals are curious as to how the Jayson Werth contract might turn out, they should examine the case of Carlos Beltran. Carlos, who, unlike Werth, was actually a star at one time, is now limping (literally) to the end of his mammoth seven-year, $119 million deal.
You think you had a rough 2010? Beltran’s year went something like this: belated knee surgery, FBI interrogation about PEDs, tedious rehab, massive knee brace, shell of former self in center, and a .768 OPS. He has agreed to waive his no-trade clause seemingly out of spite. A suitor for the final year of Beltran’s contract, at $18.5 million, would have to be more desperate than Charlie Sheen’s PR guy. Beltran has agreed to play in right this year, only because he can’t agree to DH.
That Beltran is the key to the Mets’ 2011 hopes should make you feel better about yourself as a person. The pay cut Beltran sees for 2012 should be something like the one Cam Newton’s dad sees now that his son doesn’t play for Auburn.
No. 4 Nate McLouth
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Sure, here is where the list gets a little rough. You think Beltran had a rough 2010? McLouth hit .234 last year with a .768 OPS—in Triple A Gwinnett. A reasonable man might call McLouth’s numbers in Atlanta sub-par (.190/.620), and a different reasonable man might ask how he still has a job (where he’ll make an unreasonable $6.5 million for 2011).
Nevertheless, McLouth will likely start the season in center. Unless he manages only six hits in a full spring training, as he did last year (he has four already!) or if he can’t hit lefties, or gets hit in the head, or gets sent down, or one of the many other pitfalls he ran into last year.
McLouth is two years removed from a season in which he compiled a .853 OPS with 26 HRs and 23 steals. A rebound year, or even just a rebound couple of months, could land him a multi-year deal for 2012.
No. 5 J.D. Drew
Al Bello/Getty Images
Drew enters the final year of a five-year $70 million deal, after which he will be told to do as that song Closing Time says—you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here (I had to Google that one).
Drew doesn’t strike out too much or miss much in the field. He also doesn’t drive in runs too much, hit for power, or even play a lot. He compiled 478 ABs and 68 RBIs last year, both his highest totals during the span of the contract with the Red Sox.
The contract would have been more appropriate if it were given to his brother in Arizona. Given his vulnerability to minor injuries and his paltry power numbers playing in a potent lineup, this is almost certainly Drew's last year in Boston.
No. 6 Lance Berkman
Marc Serota/Getty Images
If you’re excited about Berkman, you’re either crazy or Tony LaRussa. More troubling about Berkman than his age or health concerns is the sudden absence of power. Only 2.7 percent of Berkman’s fly balls in 2010 left the yard, compared to a 14.7 percent average for his career.
Berkman hit 133 bombs between 2006 and ’09, making him one of the elite power hitters in the game. Remember that? You do, don’t you? It was just the year before last year. In 2010, Berkman hit 14 bombs and ended the season as a back up in the Bronx.
The Cardinals have him slated to play every day in right. Will he Jim Thome it back to relevance with the return of his ABs? Or will he Manny Ramirez his way out of town?
No. 7 Bobby Abreu
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Abreu has always been a numbers guy, giving him huge fantasy value over his career. He earned his ninth 20-20 season last year. But the most important number now for Abreu is 38, which will be his age heading into free agency at the end of this season.
A few other numbers: .255 BA last season, .228 against lefties, and 132 Ks. His days as an everyday OF are over, and his time DH-ing against lefties is dwindling. Abreu has less of a chance winning a full-time job in 2012 than Sarah Palin.
No. 8 Michael Cuddyer
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
It might be that no Twin was hurt more by the move to Target Field than Cuddyer, who followed his monster 32 HR/.869 OPS 2009 campaign with only 14 HRs in 2010. He also moved from the outfield to third and finally to first to replace Justin Morneau; the changes of scenery clearly didn’t help.
Cuddyer is a gritty, team-first run producer with versatility. At just 31 at the end of 2011, he will likely be in line for a multi-year deal and could be among the most highly regarded free agent outfielders. He also could be the Twins’ fourth best outfield option as the season goes on, especially if his power numbers don’t return quickly.
No. 9 Jason Kubel
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Kubel will be the second most attractive free agent outfielder under 30 at the end of this year if he doesn’t re-sign with the Twins before then. He posted career lows in BA and OPS last year (.249/.750) but finished 2009 as one of the emerging AL outfield stars, batting .300 with a .907 OPS.
Sure, he’s a below average fielder who seems to be all-or-nothing at times, trying the patience of Twins’ fans and management. Sure, he struggles against lefties enough to suggest he should play part time. Sure, he disappears for stretches during the season, and some of those stretches happen in the postseason, where he has one hit in 22 ABs over the last two seasons.
For what it’s worth, David Ortiz was all of those things as a Twin. Trust me.
No. 10 Hideki Matsui
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Here’s where it gets ugly. I mean, largest porn collection in Japan ugly. Matsui will be 38 at the end of the year. Best case scenario for 2011 involves 20+ HRs and a .800+ OPS, followed by a World Series MVP after getting traded to a contender.
Because Matsui is clutch, as everyone knows, he’ll only provide value on a contender, which Oakland may or may not be. He’ll make just $4 million in 2011 to DH everyday in Oakland’s cavernous stadium and wear off-yellow alternate jerseys. There is an above-average chance this will be his last year as an everyday major leaguer.
No. 11 David DeJesus
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Coming off an injury-plagued 2010, DeJesus was sent to Oakland, where he’ll play center everyday at the top of the order. What he won’t do is hit for power or steal bases, facts only mitigated by his age (31). He’s an average outfielder who doesn’t walk or run enough and kind of makes me yawn when I watch him.
Otherwise, he’s a serviceable major leaguer. DeJesus batted .318 playing half the season in Kansas City and could be a commodity after the year if he follows it up with another .300 season.
No. 12 Juan Pierre
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Feel good for Juan Pierre. After playing part time for the Dodgers for two years, the White Sox acquired him to steal bases, score runs, and steal more bases. He did all three, leading the league with 68 swipes and finishing 10th in the AL in runs scored.
Pierre is like Dennis Rodman in the ‘90s—he fills only two categories. Pierre is like Scott Podsednik, but faster and with his cap tilted a little sideways.
What’s to prevent Pierre from compiling a .350 OBP with 50+ steals again and cashing in for a multi-year deal in the NL to play everyday? At least three of his former teams could use him.
No. 13 Josh Willingham
Nick Laham/Getty Images
After this one, I’ll stop touting A’s outfielders who are likely to walk after the year. Promise. If Willingham could ever stay healthy, he could be a really good player. He was batting .268 with a .848 OPS before shutting it down with a knee injury in 2010 after missing time with back issues the two prior years.
The only scenario in which Willingham remains in Oakland after this year would be to stay healthy and put together a fantastic season. The only other scenario would involve a move to first base if Daric Barton doesn’t work out. The only other other scenario would have him DH after Matsui is traded to a contender (two slides ago).
The A’s have more outfielders than my seventh grade little league team did after we found out girls would come to the games.
No. 13 Cody Ross
Rob Tringali/Getty Images
Ross is part of the Giants’ future now that he has become an indelible part of their past. It’s easy to forget that Ross was claimed by the Giants in a move designed to prevent the Padres from picking him up. He didn’t play everyday until the postseason started, when Jose Guillen went AWOL and the laser show began.
Ross averaged 23 HRs and 89 RBI in Florida in ’08-’09, which is probably where he’ll track as the everyday right fielder in San Francisco. That should be enough to keep him playing everyday, but it also could be enough to get him placed on waivers, as it did last season.
Ross’s best chance of staying in San Francisco for the long term would be to win another NLCS MVP and lead the Giants back to the promised land.
No. 14 Ryan Ludwick
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
If your team’s success hinges on Ryan Ludwick’s bat, you’re either in bad shape or you’re the Padres. I won’t say the Padres offense will be anemic this year, but I will say they have iron-poor blood.
Ludwick’s career arc is like a giant bell curve, and now he’s at the end of that curve. He went from protecting Pujols in the heart of the Cardinals’ order (with a .966 OPS two years ago) to batting .211 with a .631 for half a season in San Diego. He battled a calf injury for much of last year and could rebound with a full year in Petco.
No. 15 Vlad Guerrero
J. Meric/Getty Images
Where’s the downside to Guerrero? He has yet to see his numbers decline, has only seen his ABs dip below 540 once in the last five years, and topped 115 RBI for the sixth time in his career last year. Just two more years like his 2010 season, and he’ll be right around 500 career HRs with nearly 1600 RBIs—pretty much seeming like HOF numbers.
Maybe the downside is that he’s 36 and he batted just .278 with nine bombs in the second half. Not too good for a player who can’t play the outfield anymore.
There are two scenarios for Vlad, and neither involves him being there past this year. If he gets hot and the O’s are last in the AL East, they’ll have to trade him to a contender for prospects. If he struggles and the O’s are last in the AL East, they’ll let him go at the end of the year or release him to get younger guys' ABs.
There are no scenarios that don’t involve the O’s not in last place.
No. 16 Jack Cust
Harry How/Getty Images
Cust will likely DH everyday for the Mariners and, if he does, I’m on record as saying he’ll break the all time record for strikeouts in a season. The current mark was set by Mark Reynolds at 223. So, there is something to look forward to in Seattle this season after all!
Cust’s best season was 2008, in which he struck out 197 times in 481 ABs. He has more ABs with no chance than any major leaguer I’ve seen.
In the same 2008 season, he also smacked 33 HRs and walked 111 times for an .851 OPS, and if he could approach the same numbers, he would instantly be the best hitter in Seattle.
No. 17 Melky Cabrera/Jeff Francoeur
Rob Tringali/Getty Images
The Royals have prospects galore, including a few in the outfield who will squeeze out Ankiel and Francoeur eventually. Until then, the 2011 Royals might be historically bad.
Picture a car sinking slowly into murky water, gradually submerging until only the roof remains, and then it disappears too, leaving a storm of bubbles and circles of waves in its wake. That is the 2011 Royals.
Then picture the next scene, in which the car is being wrenched from the water by a tow truck to be taken back to the lab to collect forensic evidence. That is the 2012 Royals. Ankiel and Francoeur won’t be around for that.
No. 18 Milton Bradley
Harry How/Getty Images
In real life, people get fired from their jobs when their salary exceeds their value. In baseball, people are forced to keep their jobs when their salary is in excess of their value. Milton Bradley will make $12 million in 2012, most likely to pinch hit and platoon in left field. Presumably, the work load won’t contribute to his stress-related issues.
The Cubs gave Bradley a three-year $30 million deal, which would be among the worst in recent years if they hadn’t found a taker for him in the Mariners. In the year since his acquisition, Bradley left the team to battle stress, batted .205, injured his knee, and got arrested for making criminal threats. And you thought McLouth had a bad year.
Even if things were going well in Bradley’s Mariner career, it would be unlikely he would return. Bradley has played for five teams since 2007, and the M’s could be his last.
No. 19 Jonny Gomes
Norm Hall/Getty Images
Gomes is another player whose success will likely land him elsewhere and whose failure will do the same. Dusty Baker says Gomes will play everyday for the Reds in left field, providing limited defense and little punch against righties. Take a moment to try to imagine a worse corner outfielder who plays for a contender in a hitter’s park. I can only come up with Domonic Brown, who is entering his first full season with the Phillies.
If Gomes surpasses expectations, including Baker’s, he will likely sign a multi-year deal elsewhere. If he struggles, he’ll likely platoon in left and be released at the end of the year.
No. 20 Kosuke Fukudome
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
While Fukudome is no longer anyone’s homey in Wrigley, he’s not a total bust either. He’s a decent defender with a high OBP and a little pop. It is likely he’ll yield ABs to Tyler Colvin and other Cubs' prospects as the season rolls on. It’s also likely he’ll wind up elsewhere in 2012.