The Athletics, Marlins, Mets, Nationals, and Giants are the key teams likely to seek center field help this offseason, and they'll be best served by the trade market.
Starting Center Fielders Available In Free Agency
Coco Crisp is likely to sign a multiyear deal, as he's the one viable everyday center fielder on the free agent market. This was his healthiest year since '07, but if his on-base percentage doesn't bounce back he's not an asset at the top of a batting order.
MLB.com's Jordan Bastian tweets that the Indians are expected to choose a $500K buyout over Grady Sizemore's $9MM club option Monday. That implies that Sizemore has little trade value on a one-year, $8.5MM deal. If nothing else, Sizemore showed some pop in 71 games this year, but his health is a huge concern. Since 2009 Sizemore has missed time due to injuries to his elbow, abdominal wall, and left knee, the last of which required microfracture surgery in June of 2010. He had surgery for a sports hernia this year, and a right knee injury culminated in an October arthroscopy. He's expected to be ready for Spring Training, and a one-year, incentive-laden deal with a base salary around $5MM makes for an intriguing gamble.
Thinking Outside The Box
With so few everyday center fielders available in free agency most years, teams with openings will have to be creative. One option would be to try Endy Chavez as a center field regular; he hasn't filled that role since 2003-04 with the Expos. His career was sidelined by a torn ACL operated on over two years ago, but his half-season with the Rangers this year was promising.
Agent Scott Boras said in March that Carlos Beltran could play center field effectively, but teams looking to invest in the 34-year-old probably won't count on that. David DeJesus hasn't played 500 innings in center since '08, but Cody Ross tallied over 700 just last year.
Assuming he doesn't retire, Mike Cameron's batting line with Florida suggests teams will have interest. Rick Ankiel and Nate McLouth are also candidates to get Major League deals to serve as part-time players.
The list of center field non-tender candidates is strong. The Mets' Angel Pagan may be deemed unworthy of a $4.7MM arbitration salary, but there's an argument he was worth almost five times that amount in 2010. The Giants' Andres Torres is an even more extreme example; he projects at $2.5MM through arbitration and was arguably worth over ten times that amount last year. If teams have faith in the 2010 seasons of Pagan and Torres, they'll be popular trade targets prior to December 12th. There's also a chance the Dodgers' Tony Gwynn Jr. is cut loose, though he projects to make only $1.1MM through arbitration.
Other Trade Candidates
Extending Matt Kemp is a top priority for Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, and Kemp doesn't want to talk contract during the season. With Kemp entering his walk year, trade rumors will pick up if the extension talks fail. Interest would be immense around the game for the MVP candidate.
Melky Cabrera projects at $4.4MM next year, and a multiyear deal with the Royals looks unlikely. He's a trade candidate this winter coming off a fine offensive season. The Rays' B.J. Upton is a fit for the more defensively-minded club, and he projects at $7.6MM in his last year before free agency. Marlon Byrd, set to earn $6.5MM this year, may be expendable for the Cubs. Denard Span, signed potentially through 2015, was often linked to the Nationals during the summer. Hopefully the dizziness and vertigo he suffered this year are behind him. Mitch Maier, Carlos Gomez, Chris Coghlan, Rajai Davis, and Alex Rios are other names to watch on the center field trade market.