Know Your Free Agents: Centerfielders are plentiful, value plays not so much
Teams are faced with some tough choices as they relate to centerfield this off-season. The name-brand players are there for the taking, but only at steep prices. Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand and Mike Cameron are all free agents, and all have track records as solid (even in down years) contributors for contending teams.
Time ticks, however, and given the defensive demands of the position, one would have to think long and hard about just how prudent it would be to take on any one of these players. Each is on the wrong side of 30. They all figure to regress defensively. And even if they all continue to notch strong offensive seasons, a move out of centerfield to one of the corner outfield spots or, say, first base would sap a great deal of their value.
There is another option who is most definitely on the market, but the trade market and not the free agent one. Let's see how he stacks up. We will start with three-year splits, and incorporate three-year averages for Win Shares and WARP3. Then you will see presented 2007 figures.
AGE AVG OBP SLG WS WARP3
Hunter 32 .279 .335 .487 18 6.3
Jones 31 .249 .341 .507 21 5.1
Rowand 30 .283 .344 .453 17 6.4
Cameron 35 .259 .342 .461 21 6.0
Non-FA 28 .279 .332 .415 16 6.7
AVG OBP SLG OPS+ WS WARP1
Hunter .287 .334 .505 122 24 5.5
Jones .222 .311 .413 88 16 4.6
Rowand .309 .374 .515 123 23 7.8
Cameron .242 .328 .431 103 22 5.1
Non-FA .268 .330 .382 83 16 6.0
The non-FA, as many of you might have guessed, is Coco Crisp. He had an off-the-charts defensive year and though he has been more or less anemic at the plate for two seasons running now, he came to the Red Sox after the 2005 season as a solid offensive option for a center fielder.
Teams in the center field market have some nice options to consider in the free agent market. Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand figure to continue to be solid players for a few more years. I fully expect a couple of bounce-back years from Andruw Jones. Mike Cameron, at 35, looks like more of a risk. The problem is that all of these guys would like long-term deals, and every one of them figures to decline. Anyone remember the end of Bernie Williams's run in center field for the Yanks? Even if you hover around an .800 OPS, if you can't field you are not of much use.
All of this makes Crisp an attractive option. He is owed $4.75 million in 2008 and $5.75 million in 2009. With the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury for Boston, Crisp is nothing if not expendable. For Boston's part, if the market is not as heated as they would like for Crisp's services, trading Ellsbury as part of a package for, say, Johan Santana or Miguel Cabrera should be considered an option. Crisp figures to be anywhere from useful to excellent for the two seasons he is under contract.
For teams capable of taking on the financial burden of a player they know will decline, this year's centerfield free agent crop offers a number of players who figure to offer nice return for the first couple of years of their contracts. For teams with shallower pockets, the trade market and more specifically, a good look at Boston's Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury will offer a better alternative.