Last summer’s trade market didn’t feature much in the way of center fielders on the move, though Justin Maxwell did head from Houston to Kansas City, and David DeJesus found himself traded twice. A year prior, names like Shane Victorino and Scott Podsednik had new jerseys as well.
With this summer’s trade deadline less than three weeks away, here’s a rundown of some center field options whose name could appear on the rumor circuit…
Dexter Fowler (Astros), Gerardo Parra (D’Backs), Denard Span (Nationals), Desmond Jennings (Rays), Drew Stubbs (Rockies), Cameron Maybin (Padres), Ben Revere (Phillies), Marcell Ozuna (Marlins), Peter Bourjos (Cardinals), Jon Jay (Cardinals), Andre Ethier (Dodgers), Matt Kemp (Dodgers)
- Fowler’s numbers are very similar to the ones he posted last season prior to being acquired by Houston, and while that might initially suggest consistency, in this case, it’s probably an improvement due to the change in home environment. Fowler’s .263/.369/.407 batting line translated to a 103 OPS+ and a 105 wRC+ — both of which are park-adjusted. His current .270/.377/.396 line translates to a 117 OPS+ and 122 wRC+, suggesting he’s been well above average at the plate. Earning $7.35MM, he’s arbitration eligible for the last time following the season.
- Parra has played more corner outfield than center in his career, but defensive metrics love him at every outfield position. He’s hitting just .253/.301/.353 this season, however, and his issues against left-handed pitching have long been a problem. Parra is controlled through 2015 and would be a good addition to a strong offensive club that needed a defensive boost.
- It seems counter-intuitive for a contending club to deal its starting center fielder, but Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder is a liability at third base now. They could go with an outfield alignment of Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth in the event of a Span trade. Span is hitting a respectable .269/.319/.385 and has long been considered a strong defender. He’s earning $6.5MM in 2014 and has a $9MM option for 2015.
- Jennings is hitting .246/.337/.391 and well on his way to another three- or even four-WAR season. He’s controlled through 2017, but as a Scott Boras client, a long-term deal for Jennings isn’t likely, and Kevin Kiermaier has looked the part of a capable replacement thus far. There’s no rush for the Rays to move Jennings, however, so the acquisition price would be very steep.
- The move to Coors Field has been kind to Stubbs, but his production isn’t solely a product of his new home park. He still struggles against right-handed pitching (.284 OBP), but he’s playing his best baseball since 2011. Stubbs is earning $4.1MM in 2014 and is arbitration eligible for the final time this winter.
- Maybin is still owed $18MM through the 2016 season and has almost as much time on the DL as on the field since signing an extension with the Friars. He’s still a plus defender, and at age 27, a team could buy low with the hope that he’s young enough to rediscover the form he had in his excellent 2011 season with the Padres.
- Revere is starting for the Phillies, but with a .295/.316/.354 batting line, some clubs may prefer to use him in a reserve role. Despite his excellent speed and penchant for highlight-reel catches, defensive metrics don’t love his work in center and feel he’s better suited for the corners (even with his poor throwing arm). Revere is controlled through 2017 as a Super Two player.
- Ozuna would represent a long-term piece for any club that acquired him, as he’s controlled through 2019 and is not yet arb-eligible. That gives the Marlins the right to ask for a lot, but with Christian Yelich in left, Giancarlo Stanton in right and a capable replacement in the minors in Jake Marisnick, the team could conceivably afford to part with the 24-year-old Ozuna.
- Bourjos is one of baseball’s best defensive players, and he’s shown glimpses of offensive potential as well, but he hasn’t found sustained success in the Majors yet. Inconsistent playing time in both Anaheim and St. Louis probably hasn’t done him any favors. With such a logjam in the outfield for the Cardinals, Bourjos could be moved to a club with a long-term center field need. He’s controlled through 2016.
- Jay could find himself on the block for the same reasons as Bourjos; St. Louis is trying to find a way to get Bourjos, Jay, Oscar Taveras, Allen Craig and Matt Adams playing time between center, right field and first base, and there just aren’t enough at-bats to go around. He’s under control through 2016 as well and comes with a lesser defensive reputation but more offense than teammate Bourjos.
- There’s no way for the Dodgers to move Ethier without eating a significant chunk of the roughly $62.5MM that remains on his contract. He’s hitting a pedestrian .253/.315/.379 with four homers on the season and has long had platoon issues.
- Like Ethier, Kemp’s contract is a massive deterrent for any club with interest in acquiring the former MVP candidate. Kemp has spent a good deal of time in left field this year and his hitting .269/.330/.430. He’s owed about $116MM through the 2019 season, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported last month that any trade involving him was unlikely during the season.
Ryan Sweeney (Cubs), Justin Ruggiano (Cubs), Chris Young (Mets), Alex Presley (Astros), Sam Fuld (Twins), Brandon Barnes (Rockies), Jose Tabata (Pirates), Grady Sizemore (Phillies), Alejandro De Aza (White Sox)
Most of these players come with either defensive question marks, platoon issues, or both. Sizemore has already been released once this year and is probably better suited to play an outfield corner at this stage of his career. De Aza has seen his stock drop with a stark offensive decline in 2014, and he, too, is a better fit at a corner outfield spot.
The cost to acquire any of these players would figure to be relatively inexpensive, though Fuld and Barnes could be viewed as long-term reserves and therefore carry a bit more value to their current clubs. Others, such as Young (DFA candidate) and Tabata (already outrighted) could probably be had simply by taking on some of the remaining salary.
With the exception of Pederson, each of these players has already reached the Majors at some point. Grichuk may be better suited to handle a corner spot in the long run (he has more minor league experience in right field), but he’s played a good deal of center field as well. Pederson could likely only be had in a blockbuster-style trade in a bold move for the Dodgers. Marisnick isn’t as well-regarded but comes with a sterling defensive reputation, and could be deemed expendable if the Marlins decide that Ozuna is their center fielder of the future. Gose has about a season’s worth of big league at-bats and is also an excellent defender, but he’s currently refining his swing in the minors.
In addition to all of the names mentioned in this post, several of the players highlighted by Charlie Wilmoth in MLBTR’s look at the trade market for corner outfielders could step into center in a pinch. Will Venable, Alex Rios and Marlon Byrd are just a few examples of such players.