The Royals, Braves, Marlins, Nationals, and Padres may be looking for center field help for 2011, but the free agent market is ugly and there are no interesting non-tender candidates. Let's take a look.
Could The Big Names Switch Positions?
Scott Boras is prone to exaggeration, but he touted Jayson Werth's ability to play center field in a September conversation with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Werth played 171 innings in center this year, 62.3 in '09, and 233.3 in '08. It's smart for Boras to position Werth as a center field possibility, given the market.
Carl Crawford has the speed for center but seems unlikely to make the move. He hasn't played 100+ innings in center field since '04.
Probably Not Available
Though Coco Crisp played only 75 games this year for the Athletics, his contract is looking decent because of his performance and the $5.75MM club option for 2011. Though Rajai Davis can play center too, the A's seem very likely to keep Crisp. Crisp is the only free agent who played 600+ innings in center this year. Only Jim Edmonds, who probably won't play center field next year, matched Crisp's offensive production.
Capable Of Playing Center Field
With Edmonds talking about a backup first base role for next year if anything, only Rick Ankiel and Melky Cabrera remain as free agents who logged 300+ center field innings in 2010. Both struggled offensively, though Cabrera was decent in '09.
Tony Gwynn could join the free agent ranks if the Padres non-tender him. He didn't do much with the bat but the speedy 28-year-old did play 701.3 innings in center this year. Non-tender candidates Scott Hairston and Reggie Willits can handle center on a part-time basis.
Corey Patterson has a case for a big league contract this winter. He hit .269/.315/.406 in 340 plate appearances for the Orioles, which would be acceptable for a part-time center fielder. Patterson hasn't played the position in the Majors much in recent years, though he did tally 67 minor league games in '09.
Gary Matthews Jr., Reed Johnson, Jody Gerut, and Willy Taveras played 300+ innings in center last year. They'll be signing minor league deals most likely. Same goes for DeWayne Wise, a non-tender candidate for Toronto.
Assuming Crisp is retained by the A's and Werth stays in right field, there are no free agents you'd want playing center field on a regular basis. We'll see later if the trade market offers anything.