After Coco Crisp and Jayson Werth, the free agent market for center fielders is barren. The Royals, Braves, Marlins, Nationals, and Padres may be looking for help at the position; let's see what the trade market offers.
Rasmus is seemingly untouchable after a .276/.361/.498 performance at age 23. Though Rasmus requested a trade earlier this year, GM John Mozeliak said on September 26th, "I can assure you, Colby's not going to be traded." It was reported on October 6th that multiple teams are preparing a push for Rasmus anyway, but I expect Mozeliak to keep his word.
Kemp, signed through '11 and under team control through '12, slumped to .249/.310/.450 with apparently poor defense this year. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti wasn't as firm as Mozeliak was about Rasmus, but Colletti's October 2nd comments to ESPN's Buster Olney indicate Kemp's also staying put. Colletti said he'll listen on any player, "But there's not going to be any shopping on our part. I view all of our core younger guys as people who are going to be here for a while." It appears the Nationals will kick the tires.
Upton has not been able to match his offensive production of 2007-08, but he still adds value defensively. He'll earn more than $3MM as a second-time arbitration eligible player, but even the cost-conscious Rays might prefer to keep him given Carl Crawford's expected departure. Highly-regarded prospect Desmond Jennings has mostly played center in his career, so he could replace Upton if necessary.
Should the Yankees or Red Sox win the bidding for Crawford, a center fielder could become available. The Sox have Mike Cameron ($7.25MM for '11) and Jacoby Ellsbury (team control through '13), while the Yankees have Curtis Granderson ($20.25MM through '12) and Brett Gardner (team control through '14). Darnell McDonald, who logged 450.6 center field innings for the Sox this year, could also be trade bait if a logjam develops.
Veterans Under Contract
Carlos Beltran ($18.5MM), Grady Sizemore ($8MM), Kosuke Fukudome ($13.5MM), Nate McLouth ($7.75MM), and Skip Schumaker ($2.7MM) are all signed through next season, with Schumaker arbitration eligible after that and the rest heading toward free agency. Aaron Rowand is owed $24MM through '12. Beltran and Sizemore must prove their health, though the former played a half-season and came alive in the final month. Fukudome and Schumaker were not primarily center fielders this year. McLouth and Rowand were major negatives offensively.
Nyjer Morgan, Rajai Davis, and Jordan Schafer could be viewed as expendable by the Nationals, Athletics, and Braves. Morgan's future may depend on whether the Nationals add an outfielder, while Davis' could rest on Coco Crisp's option and the team's corner outfield alternatives. Schafer, the Braves' 2009 Opening Day center fielder, had a lost year partially due to wrist problems.
Tony Gwynn, Scott Hairston, Reggie Willits, and Dewayne Wise could be on the non-tender bubble come December 2nd, and therefore might be trade candidates. You wouldn't consider any of these players a starting center fielder, though.
Rasmus and Kemp may be nearly impossible to pry loose, but the trade market for center fielders still offers more promise than the available free agents. Clubs willing to gamble on well-paid health risks will have more options.