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Who would you rather trade for: center field edition

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Two All-Starts might be available. Which is the better fit?

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Once the lockout ends, the Phillies will need to upgrade themselves in centerfield. Try as they might, the ability to do that upgrade via free agency just isn’t the path to take right now as the dearth of actual quality players at the position that would cost only money means they have to use other avenues of player acquisition. A long winded way of saying: they need to make a trade if they want to upgrade.

Prior to the transaction freeze, a name frequently mentioned as a possibility was Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays. A solid defensive contributor, Kiermaier would be a solid option since he’s making a significant amount of money in 2022, which likely translates into a smaller prospect package in return for his services. That could be one, and possibly the more likely, route the team takes as they looks to make center field a better place defensively.

The issues with a Kiermaier trade is that his salary might take a large bite out of the remaining budget the team has to spend. Spending that much money, but not really improving offensively (a stated mission of the offseason) might not be the best use of funds for this roster. The holy grail would be to upgrade center field offensively and defensively while also saving some salary to spend elsewhere on the roster. That would mean Kiermaier and the idea of trading for him isn’t going to work.

So, to solve this quandary, the team might look to other players that would fit the mold of gifted offensive players in center field that would also give them a defensive boost while at the same time not costing a tremendous amount of money. Two players that fit that mold have been whispered in trade rumors and are the one we’re going to discuss today.

Bryan Reynolds and Cedric Mullins have been talked about as two center field options that are potentially on the trade block, but would cost the team a pretty large prospect package in return. We’ll get to that part later, but for now, let’s look at the two players and try to figure out which would be a better fit for the Phillies.

Basics

Reynolds: 27 years old, switch hitter, throws right-handed
Mullins: 27 years old, bats left, throws left-handed

If you think about, the initial logic might say that Reynolds would get the edge here because switch hitters are so valuable. It’s a thought that probably hold sway in any argument, but one thing the Phillies don’t have a lot of in their lineup is left-handed hitters that can hit with power. We’re all hoping that Didi Gregorius can come back and at least approach his pre-2021 numbers, but if he cannot and Bryson Stott stumbles out of the gate, this team gets very righty heavy. Having that designated left-handed hitter looks pretty nice in the lineup.

Mullins being a left-handed thrower means his glove is on his right hand, something that might not seem like a big deal, but if the team is serious about getting Kyle Schwarber or Nick Castellanos to play left field next year, having someone to that left fielder’s left that is left-handed himself could grab an extra out or two. Is Mullins’ defense that good? We’ll get to that in second, but all of these factors make this ever so slightly a push between the two.

Advantage: push

Offense

Reynolds: .302/.390/.522, 24 HR, 90 RBI, 18.4 K%, 11.6 BB%, 142 wRC+, 3.0 BsR, 5.5 fWAR
Mullins: .291/.360/.518, 30 HR, 59 RBI, 18.5 K%, 8.7 BB%, 136 wRC+, 4.8 BsR, 5.3 fWAR

Yeah, there isn’t much separation here either. Both players hit for power and average and they don’t strike out much. Reynolds might walk a better rate, but Mullins is the better baserunner (and base stealer). Mullins’ RBI total is a little skewed because he was atop an atrocious Orioles lineup, meaning no one was there to drive in, but Reynolds’ lineup was just as bad. He just had more opportunities to drive players in.

Digging in a little deeper, the differences in the two begin to get a little more stark. When you’re looking for players who have broken out to be able to sustain that level of production, you look at how hard they hit the ball. Reynolds’ barrel rate (10.4%) and hard hit rate (40.8%) were several percentage points higher than Mullins’ barrel rate (8.1%) and hard hit rate (39.4%). The difference in these numbers might not look all that much, but Reynolds has been maintaining these rates for a few years while Mullins is just coming into these numbers. True, we could be looking at a Cedric Mullins breakout and while that might be enticing to want to get (it should be!), the fact that Reynolds has been doing this for a bit longer gives him a slight edge here.

Advantage: Reynolds (slight)

Defense

Reynolds: +9 OAA, Outfielder Jump - 38th percentile, Catch Added %: 2%
Mullins: +10 OAA, Outfielder Jump - 64th percentile, Catch Added %: 2%

There isn’t much difference here between the two players. Both of them were in the upper echelon as far as center field defense, finishing in 95th percentile or higher in OAA. They both were better than their expected catch percentage, so they’re getting more outs than they should. Neither has been the beneficiary of some advantageous positioning by their teams - they’re just really good at tracking down flyballs and turning them into outs.

Advantage: push

Contracts

Reynolds: $4.5M (est.) in 2021, arbitration eligible for three more seasons
Mullins: $0.570M in 2021, arbitration eligible first time in 2023

$4.5 million is nothing for a player that is putting up the kinds of numbers Reynolds is putting up. Since the Pirates decided to play around with his service time numbers as well, he’s currently projected (under the current rules) to be a Super Two player, so he still has three more years of team control left.

That’s equal (as of now) to what Mullins has left on his contract. What Mullins has as an advantage is that he’ll be making the league minimum still in 2022, then he’ll enter arbitration. Should he continue to put another season like he did in 2021, he’ll probably approach something like what Reynolds is projected to make, only a year later. Over the course of their remaining team control, absent extensions, Reynolds will likely be more expensive, something that always has to be factored into the equation. That pushes the edge toward Mullins here.

Advantage: Mullins


This shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Were the Phillies to be able to pry loose either one of these players, they would be improving their center field situation dramatically. It really doesn’t matter which one since they’re both young and good, so an acquisition of either would boost this team tremendously. The issue, of course, will be the cost in prospects.

Mullins’ advantageous contract means he’ll likely be exceedingly expensive, perhaps more than what Reynolds will command. We all know that any trade chatter for either player will begin with Mick Abel and/or Bryson Stott, the consensus top two prospects in the system. The Phillies will have to surrender one of these top two prospects to acquire one of these players, possibly two if you wanted to include Andrew Painter in the conversation.

Of the two, Reynolds might be slightly cheaper since he is more expensive right now, so for that reason, personally, I’d be more inclined to go after him than Mullins. Would I trade Stott for him? Probably not since the cupboard is pretty barren as far as hitting prospects go, but if the team had to dangle Able and/or Painter, I’d probably pull the trigger on a deal. Including both would be a stretch, particularly since if they are including one of those, they might be able to supplement with enough attractive pieces to get something done. But yes, were either of these two come available, I’d be willing to trade one of the pitching prospects. It would be close, but Reynolds is the pick over Mullins right now.