Whenever the lockout does end and transactions are allowed to restart, the Phillies are going to be in an interesting position. They’ll have two outfield positions available for someone to grab, both of them in need of serious upgrade. At this point, many people have figured that left field will be occupied by someone with thunder in their bat, someone in the mold of Kyle Schwarber or Nick Castellanos or Kris Bryant, but center field is going to be a spot the team needs to occupy as well.
It’s not really the spot many people are looking at right now as the one more in need of an upgrade. Is it because the team needs offense and left field is the place where bats go to fake playing defense? Maybe. Faking defense in center field, though, isn’t really an option since it’s more important of the three outfield positions when it comes to the leather. The team will not only have to make sure the person it acquires can play defense as well as swing the bat. Which one should they prioritize? Well, that largely depends on what they do with left field.
For this exercise though, let’s just assume that anyone is fair game. Regardless of who the team signs (or trades for) to play left, which players are still out there that can man center field best?
The trade options
At this point, you’re probably sick of hearing us harp on the fact that the best options to take over in center field are probably the ones least attainable. Bryan Reynolds and Cedric Mullins are the ones the team is most likely salivating over when it comes to the trade market and it is possible that they could swing a deal. It’s not for lack of prospects. Players like Mick Able, Bryson Stott and Andrew Painter are more than enough to headline any kind of deal for either player. The biggest issue is that whatever offer the team puts together could likely be topped by another team with ease. It would all depend on how other teams view the secondary pieces and that’s where the issues lie. The Phillies’ secondary pieces aren’t exactly highly thought of, likely topping out at 45, 50 FVs. Other teams can beat that. That’s why the Reynolds/Mullins trade wishes have always seemed like pipe dreams at best.
There are players like Randal Grichuk from Toronto, or Kevin Kiermaier from Tampa Bay, that might be an option, but they would come with significant payroll commitments. The team hasn’t shown much of a willingness to spend money and while we don’t know what the final CBT will look like when negotiations are finished, it’s likely that the Phillies won’t want to spend whatever they have left under that tax threshold on a player like those two.
One interesting name that the team could try to make a call on is Kyle Kewis from Seattle. With Jarred Kelenic about to be firmly entrenched in center field, perhaps the Mariners might be willing to discuss Lewis as a change of scenery guy. It’s unlikely, but Lewis does still have that pedigree of a first round talent about him.
The free agents
This is the area that is almost bereft of options. Using MLB Trade Rumors, here is a list of remaining free agent options that can “play” center field:
The highlight of this list, Bryant, isn’t really even an option in center field for longer than a week or two. He’s not going to be a player a team wants to put out in center with regularity, preferring to use him in either a corner or as a rotating player between positions. That leaves a collection of players that barely seem able to produce more than what the Phillies already have on hand. Faced with this list of players, Dombrowski is better off just going with a platoon of Mickey Moniak and Matt Vierling and hoping for the best.
The Rule 5 candidates
You thought the free agent pool was barren.
The two most interesting candidates are Gilberto Jimenez from Boston and Samad Taylor from Toronto. Jimenez might be a bit young to make the leap from Single-A to the majors (21 years old), so he may not be of interest, but Taylor at least is somewhat interesting. Having made it to Double-A last season, he had a .294/.385/.503 line in 374 plate appearances, homering 16 times and stealing 30 bases. He can play up the middle both on the dirt and in the grass, but as Fangraphs said in their bio about him as a prospect, you may want to temper any enthusiasm the Phillies might find a steal here:
We’d caution against taking his batting line at face value. His measurable power is much closer to Mallex Smith/Richie Martin territory, which means he simply isn’t strong enough at present to replicate his 2021 numbers in a big league environment...[h]owever, his speed and defensive chops — he started at least five games at five different spots, including the four hard ones — give him big league utility, particularly in the slim-bench era.
While he wouldn’t be a bad choice in the Rule 5 draft (supposing he lasts that long), depending on him to be the best choice on a team that needs to utilize every roster spot to make the playoffs wouldn’t be the wisest decision.
Of all the spots that still need an upgrade on the Phillies, center field may be the one the team deems least important. We’ll need to wait and see, of course, but until we know what the CBT turns out to be, we’ll have to just assume the team doesn’t want to spend too much money. We’d love to be proven wrong of course, but past precedent is hard to ignore. It’s just another job that Dombrowski and company have to address whenever they are allowed to.