Mailbag: Musical Chairs In Center Field

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Rusty from San Diego writes:

Given the large list of potential free agent CFs for 2008, which teams do you think are likely to replace from within the organization, which ones are likely to retain their current guy with a new deal, and which are likely to sign one of the many free agents? Who is going to make the biggest splash in the CF market? Who is going to make the biggest mistake?

Interesting question.  First, a review of available players who can play center:

Ichiro Suzuki
Andruw Jones
Torii Hunter
Eric Byrnes
Corey Patterson
Milton Bradley
Aaron Rowand
Mike Cameron
Kenny Lofton

At the least, we have to figure out what the Mariners, Braves, Twins, Orioles, Phillies, Padres, and Rangers will do in center field.  Other teams that could acquire a CF: Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox, Nationals, Marlins, and Pirates.  About 9 CFs (if you count Byrnes and Patterson), anywhere from 7-13 teams with a possible need.  A lot of different combinations.

Mariners – Bring up Adam Jones to play center field; let Ichiro go.  Jones, hitting .318/.388/.594 in Triple A before his 22nd birthday, is the real deal.  The Ms could always retain Ichiro and use him in right field, but I see them as more likely to invest in pitching this offseason as a reaction to their current staff. 

Braves – Sign Cameron, let Andruw go.  This has been speculated by Ken Rosenthal and others, and it makes perfect sense to me.  For the Braves’ sake, hopefully a two-year contract.

Twins – Sign Lofton, let Hunter go.  The first part is just a guess, but the Twins are never big spenders and I don’t see anyone who can step up from within.  Bradley could be another option here.  The Twins are still in a pennant race, so they can’t afford to trade Hunter for a prospect-type CF.

Orioles – Sign Andruw Jones, let Patterson go.  Could Andruw be the next face of the franchise?  Miguel Tejada may be on his way out, and acquiring/signing Mark Teixeira is no small task.  If the O’s get Matt Wieters signed, negotiating with Boras on a huge deal like Andruw’s seems more possible.  Plus, Andy MacPhail and the Cubs have never had issues with Boras.  I’ll call this one the biggest mistake.     

Phillies – Let Rowand go, fill internally.  The Phils have two solid center field candidates in Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino, so I think Rowand is a goner.

Padres – Sign Rowand, let Cameron go.  Just a guess here, I have to fit the pieces somehow.  We know the Padres have some interest in Rowand, and they seem unlikely to pony up for one of the Big Three.

Rangers – Sign Hunter, let Lofton go.  Will Jon Daniels use 2008 as a rebuilding year?  It seems unlikely to me, given some of the large unmovable contracts on the roster.  Why not add another in Hunter?  Vernon Wells is no longer an option, and the Rangers don’t have anyone in the pipeline.  Andruw could certainly make sense here too.

Red Sox – Continue using Crisp, promote Jacoby Ellsbury early in the season.  I think the pressure of being Boston’s Opening Day CF could be too much for Ellsbury, but waiting a month or two could alleviate the pressure.  That’s about the most the Sox could take of Crisp.  Slight chance of a stopgap insurance plan like Bradley or Lofton.

Yankees – Stick with Damon.  Not ideal, but the Yanks are locked in with Damon and may have much more pressing needs to fill this winter.

White Sox – Sign Ichiro.  This just seems right.  It would help bring some attention back to the South Side following what could be a very ugly second half.  Any kind of fire sale is going to leave fans bitter, and making a splash with Ichiro could help ease the pain of losing Mark Buehrle.  Of course, Rowand remains a strong option as well.  I’ll call this one the biggest splash.

Nationals – Sign Patterson.  Toolsy, Bowden’s type (assuming Bowden is still around).  My guess is that C-Patt’s awful ’07 coupled with the surplus of available CFs leaves him with a weak Ron Belliard type deal.  As a Boras client, he’ll probably be encouraging to sign for only one year as an attempt to re-establish value.

Marlins – Fill position without free agency.  It’s been a while since the Fish had a decent, regular CF.  I predict that by the end of this season, they’ll acquire a young player.  Could be Elijah Dukes, could be Matt Kemp via a Dontrelle Willis trade, who knows.

Pirates – I was going to conveniently slide Eric Byrnes in here, but that doesn’t make sense.  Byrnes is set to snag a three-year deal.  Let’s sidestep him by saying he signs on somewhere to play a corner position.  The Bucs will perhaps employ some sort of stopgap and hope Andrew McCutchen is ready by All-Star break ’08 or even sooner.  The kid needs to figure out Double A first though.  He’s only 20.

Weigh in below!  How would you sort this thing out?

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