Last week, the entire roster of The Good Phight contributors got together to give you their predictions for the 2013 Phillies' rotation and lineup. The most varied and interesting position in that post was, unsurprisingly, also the position that's likely to be the most interesting and unpredictable for the Phillies this offseason: center field.
Not being a Phillies fan or blogger (as I kind of went out of my way to remind you last time I was here), it's my job to give you an outsider's perspective on what the Phillies should do in center. Here's my take on each of the options the contributors tabbed, with two more of my own worked in:
Josh Hamilton: Clearly the most talented of the possibilities -- and maybe the most talented player in baseball, when you think about it -- he also carries the biggest risk. I'm not terribly concerned about his addiction issues (and I don't think any of us knows enough to be concerned about what that means for its future); I am worried about the fact that he's missed 157 games over the last four years, is about to turn 32, and is seeking seven years and $175 million. That's just a starting point for negotiations, of course, but Jim Bowden -- who was insanely good at this last year -- has him ultimately taking five years and $115 million. That's a lot of money to bet on an incredibly talented player who is also a really huge risk. Also, and maybe more importantly: Hamilton was always kind of a make-believe centerfielder, a guy who could hold his own there in a pinch but should probably (both for his health and his ability) mostly stay in left. He also hit just .252/.325/.493 in 117 games after peaking in mid-May of 2012. For a lot of reasons, I'd stay away from Hamilton unless and until his price came way down, and I'd never go near him if I'm a National League team looking for a center fielder.
Michael Bourn: I was a bit surprised that none of the TGP gang picked Bourn as the Phillies' 2013 center fielder. He's fifth at the position in Baseball-Reference WAR since 2011 (the top four are extremely unavailable - Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Matt Kemp, and Austin Jackson), having turned himself into an above-average offensive player to go along with what is possibly the best defense at the position in the league. He is 30, and may be starting to show signs of losing the blazing speed that makes up so much of his game, as evidenced by his stolen base percentage slipping from 81% to 76% in 20 fewer attempts from 2011 to '12. Even so, he's still a very, very good player. He's rumored to be asking for a $100 million contract, which would almost certainly be a mistake for any team. Bowden has him at five years and $75 million, which is much more palatable. I'd rather have the guy just below, but Bourn wouldn't be a bad way to spend $75 million, if you have it.
B.J. Upton: He's the third of the three big free agents at this position, and if you're dead set on making a big splash in free agency -- and it seems to me that after a disappointing 2012 and with so many veteran players, there's a very good chance that Amaro is -- I think that Upton is the (position) player to go for. He's still just 28 and dizzyingly talented, and while a number of obvious and troubling flaws in his game have shown themselves over the last few years, there's always the hope that a change of scenery and coaches will turn him around. Bowden has him going at five years and $70 million, which is just over 60% of Hamilton's price at the same length. If Upton merely holds steady for the next five years, he'll be more or less worth that contract, and any improvement is gravy. Assuming Bowden is in the ballpark here, Upton is someone the Phillies should strongly consider.
Melky Cabrera: In the TGP predictions post, TheOrangeCone wrote: "Cabrera can almost certainly be had for less than he's worth, and I sincerely doubt that him being off the junk is going to significantly diminish his play by much. I would imagine Amaro feels the same way." I think that's true -- I'm still waiting to see any reliable evidence that what we call "performance enhancing" drugs actually enhance, you know, performance -- but I don't think Cabrera is a center fielder. He didn't play an inning there in 2012, and he's consistently rated very poorly there (by your defensive metric of choice) whenever he has. Some team might get a bargain on Melky, but I don't think it'll be a team that's looking to put him in center.
Shane Victorino: I don't think I need to tell you about Victorino. He wasn't great in Philadelphia last year, and then he was worse in L.A. He turns 32 later this month, and as I wrote on True Blue LA a few weeks ago, his reputation and name recognition around baseball (and being just one year removed from an excellent 2011) may make him too costly to take the role for which his skills are likely best suited. Bowden puts him at three years and $28.5 million, which isn't too crazy, but I'd much rather spend that money somewhere else on this list.
Angel Pagan: Two different TGP contributors had the Phillies going with the oxymoronically-named one in center. He has, Chris Cwik points out, put up about as much value over the last three seasons as Upton has, and figures to be much, much cheaper (Bowden says three years and $33 million). He's a reasonable option ... but I think the Giants overpay a bit to keep him. Brian Sabean doesn't seem like the type to part with a World-Series/Taco-Bell hero.
Denard Span: Totally unmentioned in the predictions post, and by almost everybody else, the Twins' Span has been rumored to be on the trade market for some time now. He's under contract for two more years, with a team option for a third, totaling $20.25 million -- or 60% of what Bowden thinks Pagan will make, and much, much less than Span is likely to be worth. He's an average-ish hitter and is prone to getting picked off of first, but he's otherwise a very good runner, has good plate discipline, and he's one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. He has had injury problems (most notably concussion), but seems to be back, and in fact, now might be a good time to get him, before he proves to be completely recovered and the prospect price goes up. As a Twins fan, I'm very concerned about their trading Span, on the grounds that they're really unlikely to come close to the kind of return that he ought to be worth; as a writer on a Phillies site, then, I suppose that means I have to be honest and conclude that a trade for Span could be a very, very good move for the Phillies.
Synthesizing the above: I would stay the hell away from Hamilton, Cabrera, and Victorino. Bourn and Pagan would be fine options, and assuming they stay near Bowden's predicted prices, I'd be happy with either.
There are two options that rise above the rest, though, and the preferred one depends on the Phillies' plan for the rest of the offseason. If Amaro has a ton of money to play with or wants to make his one big splash in center field, I'd go for Upton at something like the five-year, $70 million deal Bowden projected. If money's a bit tighter, or if, say, he decides to go out and get Zack Greinke, the better move might be to pursue a trade for Span. I don't think they could go wrong with either option. I'm just not sure -- as tempting as going for the big prize always is -- that the team shouldering Ryan Howard's contract for the next four years could survive Josh Hamilton's contract for the next five to seven.