The upcoming offseason will feature roughly nine viable free agent center fielder options (2008 age in parentheses):
Ichiro Suzuki (34)
Andruw Jones (31)
Torii Hunter (32)
Eric Byrnes (32)
Corey Patterson (28)
Milton Bradley (30)
Aaron Rowand (30)
Mike Cameron (35)
Kenny Lofton (41)
There’s the Big Three, then second tier options with various flaws (not that the Big Three are without flaws). Of the second tier, Rowand and Byrnes have seen their stock rise this season.
Interestingly, Buster Olney believes that Cameron will draw heavy bidding. Olney sees Cameron landing in Atlanta; Ken Rosenthal reached the same conclusion back in April. I know Cameron is seen as the default CF bargain, the guy with a solid all-around game who will slip under the radar. However, we know Cameron wants three years. Assuming he doesn’t repeat his April performance, $30MM over 2008-2010 would be a reasonable prediction. Not sure that’s going to end well.
Olney also predicts Torii Hunter will land in Texas; we’ve discussed that here before and it seems reasonable. The remaining question: where do Ichiro and Andruw end up?
Olney sees Ichiro with the White Sox. I like the match. Fits their style, sparks fan interest. Do I think it’d be a smart signing? No. But I can see it happening. One would almost rather prefer Darin Erstad and his .685 OPS, as at least that comes cheap.
Buster’s prediction for Andruw is the Mariners. However, the Ms do have a fine prospect for the position in 21 year-old Adam Jones. Despite his age Jones is responding to the challenge of Triple A with a .302/.388/.503 line. I know the Mariners make some bad decisions but even they have to let the kid play. This could be the next Carlos Beltran or Vernon Wells (both land within Jones’ top ten comparables).
Olney eliminates the Mets, Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, Dodgers, and Cubs from next year’s CF suitors. Yet there should still be plenty of teams looking to fill the position. The Orioles will be looking for a replacement for Patterson and might spend some money. I have no idea what the Twins will do if Hunter walks. Maybe the Marlins will finally pony up some cash and get a center fielder. The Phillies and Padres could have vacancies if their current guys leave. The Brewers could shift Bill Hall to right. The Pirates could get in the game. The Giants have Dave Roberts and Fred Lewis, but could make a play for Ichiro nonetheless.
It’ll be fun to see where all these center fielders end up once the dust settles. I do agree with Olney in that there may be a bargain or two.