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TGP mailbag: What to do about center field?

You might sense a theme here

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We asked, you answered the call. Let’s jump right in.

If you sense a running theme when searching our mentions, it’s center field. It was an issue in 2020, it was an issue in spring training and in the early going, it’s an issue this year. In a year where anyone could have had the job by simply playing consistently well, no one wanted to take it. So now, we have to wonder what possibly could be done to get better at the position.

One of the solutions could be to promote Odubel Herrera and see if he can have success before they make the decision what to do with him in the organization, but his not having a 40-man roster spot makes that very difficult. The team would have to designate someone for assignment in order to give him a spot and the obvious choice is Roman Quinn. Yet for some reason, Joe Girardi’s affinity for Quinn makes that decision a little more complicated. So it’s unlikely that Herrera gets the call up any time soon. Instead, the team would be more likely to promote Mickey Moniak, but they seem intent on getting him at bats in the minor leagues for the bulk of the season instead of his working at the major league level.

So let’s look outside of the organization. Scott Lauber of the Inquirer already took a look at some players who might be available and came up with three names - Mark Canha, Michael B. Taylor and Randal Grichuk. Taylor has gotten off to an alright start with Kansas City, but he’s never really been more than a fourth outfielder and he’s probably not much better than what the team has. Canha isn’t really a center fielder and Grichuk is owed a little more than $10 million, meaning he might be a little too rich for a team that doesn’t want to go over the luxury tax threshold.

The problem is that if the team wants to take that step and get into the playoffs, it’s looking like they will have to cross that number. San Diego, even in this young season, looks likely to have one wild card spot sewn up and if they somehow dethrone the Dodgers, Los Angeles would likely have the spot. So the Phillies will need to lock down the division, meaning they’ll need more than just a marginal upgrade. What players might represent that big ticket item they could add?

  • Kevin Kiermaier - He’s currently hurt and actually hasn’t hit hardly at all the past three seasons (OPS+ of 80, 80 and 93 the past three years), but he would be a big defensive upgrade over Haseley and Quinn. He’d have two more years of team control beyond this year so he’s not a rental. He wouldn’t block anyone offensively and could shift to left field in 2022.
  • Lorenzo Cain - Cain is in a weird spot in Milwaukee. He’s making a ton of money for that market ($17 and $18 million this year and next), he doesn’t have a place to play now that the team signed Jackie Bradley, Jr., and doesn’t look long for their lineup. The Brewers currently employ Christian Yelich, Bradley and Avisail Garcia from left to right, so Cain looks like he’s been nudged to the curb. The Brewers might be enticed to get out from under his contract next season if they were looking to move on, but Cain is also 35 years old (today actually!) and hasn’t really been productive at the plate in a few years (he sat out most of 2020). A lot of his Statcast numbers are holding up, so perhaps he just needs some regular time at the plate. Defensively, if he loses a step at his age, he might not be a center fielders anymore, but he might be the most realistic trade target for the team when considering the possible availability and potential impact he could have.
  • Ramon Laureano - Playing in Oakland, it’s likely people don’t know much about Laureano, but just glance at his Baseball Reference page and you’ll like what you see. He’s got power, patience and a very good glove, three things this team values. He’s cheap now and has three years of arbitration after 2021, so the price tag on him will be high, but if the team was going to splurge on someone at the deadline (assuming Oakland is not in a position for the playoffs themselves), taking a run at Laureano wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.
  • Charlie Blackmon - Blackmon has two players options beyond this year for $21 and $10 million respectively for his age 35 and 36 seasons, so you know he’ll exercise those. He’s struggling to start this year, but he’s been productive the past few years even if he called Coors Field home. He’s been a right fielder the past three years, so moving him into center field could make an already dicey defensive situation that much worse, but he’d give the team a good left handed bat that would make the lineup quite deep.
  • Ketel Marte - This one is the pipe dream. Arizona doesn’t have much of a chance this year in the West, but could dangle Marte as a way to restock their system and prepare for the next few years of taking a run at the top. Marte is a severely underrated player that could handle center field with the ability to come on the dirt if necessary. He’s got a very team friendly deal too, so his price tag would likely be very high. Couldn’t hurt to ask though.

If the team wants to add any of the higher priced players, they’ll have to go over the threshold, something they may only want to do for pitching judging on what we’ve seen early this season. These are a few ideas for what could solve the problem, but for now, Girardi will continue to mix and match with Haseley and Quinn to try and get some kind of production from them.

Vince Velasquez isn’t good anymore. Any hope of his salvaging himself in the eyes of the fans were shredded when his first appearance of the season produced the first time ever where a reliever ever had an appearance where he threw less than two innings, gave up no hits, walked four, struck out four and allowed four runs.

But who else are they going to use now? Velasquez will never be counted on to throw any meaningful innings this year, serving only in a mop-up role. If that wasn’t hammered home by now, it should be at this point. If one of the back end rotation guys ever goes down, Velasquez is likely next man up. Down on the farm, they have arms like Bailey Falter and Adonis Medina to bring up if needed. Spencer Howard isn’t going to be used as a starter this year, so that idea is out. So as much as we want to get rid of him, he probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon because in a weird, twisted way, they need him.

The team’s defense is the clear weak point of the roster right now. The infield gets the job done for the most part, but they do not have that guy who you can be sure will make the play every time he gets the ball in his direction. The outfield is not that good at tracking balls down, but again, they get the job done for the most part. As a whole, this defense is probably just below average, but there isn’t really anywhere to improve without taking the player out of a lineup that cannot afford to lose the offense. Any removal of any of the current players for a more defensive oriented player would hurt the lineup. They’re already using data to shift and try and compensate for the lack of range the defense has, but there is only so much they can do.

If Hoskins were to head to the IL, the most obvious and immediate move would put Alec Bohm at first. That would leave a hole at third base that move either Ronald Torreyes there, or possibly Jean Segura with Torreyes manning second base. The promotion of a player from the minors would mean discussing names like Darick Hall (if they wanted to use someone at first base exclusively) or Nick Maton, who had an outstanding spring and wouldn’t need to be used solely at third. He’s got some versatility to move around the infield if Girardi needed to get creative. The team could take an offensive step back were Hoskins to get hurt, but if Maton were to keep his hot hitting from the spring going, they wouldn’t be that bad off.