There doesn’t appear to be a ton of demand on the market for center fielders, in large part because no team in baseball has suffered through truly awful contributions from its present options. A number of clubs that have fallen back (including the Padres, Rangers, Mariners, Athletics, Phillies, and Braves) could potentially have interest in acquiring future-oriented pieces. But as the above link shows, center has been a position of relative strength for many contenders. The Twins rank at the bottom of the list, thanks largely to the since-departed Jordan Schafer, but seem likely to roll with the resurgent Aaron Hicks (with Byron Buxton also now available at the big league level). It’s a somewhat more interesting situation (at least in theory) for the Cardinals, who sport a controllable combination of Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos that has fallen flat after being rather good last year. On the whole, most deadline buyers seem likely to focus on adding center field-capable players to utilize in a corner spot or as fourth outfielders. Let’s turn to the potentially available targets:
Carlos Gomez (Brewers), Gerardo Parra (Brewers), Ben Revere (Phillies), Cameron Maybin (Braves), Will Venable (Padres), Charlie Blackmon (Rockies), Austin Jackson (Mariners), Rajai Davis (Tigers), Michael Bourn (Indians)
- Gomez has been slowed by hamstring and hip injuries in 2015, but he’s still produced a very strong .271/.338/.442 batting line, homering eight times and stealing 11 bases to go along with standout defense. Gomez has gone from looking like an all-glove center fielder to a solid regular to a borderline superstar over the past few seasons. He was worth about 6.5 wins above replacement in both 2013 and 2014, and he’d be close to that pace were it not for 2015 injuries. Gomez is the rare Scott Boras client that took an extension which bought out free agent years. As such, he’s controlled through next season — his age-28 campaign. He’ll earn just $9MM in 2016 and is owed $3.3MM through the end of the current season.
- Parra is better equipped to serve as a corner outfielder but is capable of handling center field. (He manned center much of the time that Gomez was sidelined.) Defensive metrics have soured on Parra over the past two seasons after ranking him as one of the best defenders in baseball, though his limited work in right field this year grades out quite well. His bat has erupted in 2015 as well, and while there’s some BABIP help at work, he’s also just hitting for far more power than he ever has. Parra’s batting .315/.352/.514 this season and is drawing appeal from many teams. He’s owed about $2.59MM through season’s end, but he’s a pure rental, as he’s eligible for free agency this winter.
- Revere’s another player that is probably best-suited in a the corner — specifically left field due to a poor throwing arm. Revere makes up for that lack of a throwing arm with plenty of range, though, and he’s handled all three outfield positions in some capacity this season. Revere offers virtually no power, but he has blistering speed and consistently hits for a high average. He swiped 49 bases in 2014 and is a career .292 hitter. Revere doesn’t walk much and probably never will, but his .296/.334/.377 batting line would look just fine atop many big league lineups. He’s a Super Two player that is earning $4.1MM in 2015 and is controlled through 2017.
- Maybin entered the season as a candidate to rebound in his new Atlanta digs, and he’s done just that. Maybin’s hitting .284/.350/.403 with eight homers and 16 steals. Defensive metrics are way, way down on Maybin in 2015, though he was generally regarded as a plus defender when healthy in previous seasons. Maybin’s owed about $2.9MM through the rest of the current season, plus $8MM in 2016 and at least a $1MM buyout on his $9MM option for the 2017 season. The Braves reportedly are at least open to moving him, though given the remaining control, I imagine they’ll be asking for a substantial package.
- Venable plays a better corner outfield than center field, but he’s seen a large portion of time in center this season following the additions of Justin Upton and Matt Kemp. He’s a rental that’s earning a very reasonable $4.25MM in 2015, of which about $1.77MM remains. Venable’s been just about league average with the bat in 2015 and throughout his career, when adjusting for the fact that he plays in Petco Park. He’s a career .251/.316/.412 hitter, but those numbers would trend upward if he played his home games elsewhere; Venable’s batted .233/.300/.389 at home and .268/.331/.433 on the road in his career.
- Speaking of home/road splits, Blackmon entered the 2015 season with a large discrepancy between his production at and away from Coors Field (like hundreds of hitters before him). However, he’s closed that gap significantly this season and, in fact, has hit nine of his 12 homers on the road. Blackmon still doesn’t hit lefties much, but he brings a nice combination of speed and power to the table. He’d probably be tough to pry away from Colorado, but he’s controlled through 2018. The Rockies desperately need pitching but do have a large number of promising outfielders in the minors, so perhaps a club with a large number of minor league arms could entice Colorado to move the 29-year-old.
- Jackson’s production at the plate has tanked since being traded to Seattle. He’s rebounded somewhat in 2015, hitting .257/.300/.353, but those numbers aren’t particularly close to the .277/.332/.414 line Jackson posted in parts of five years with Detroit. He’s still above average from a defensive standpoint, though, and a move to another team could help to rejuvenate his bat. He’s owed about $3.16MM through the end of the season and is eligible for free agency this winter.
- Davis’ name has only joined the mix of trade candidates recently, with the news that the Tigers may wind up going the way of seller this summer. The two-year, $10MM contract he signed has proved to be a bargain for Detroit, as Davis hit well in 2014 and is doing so again in 2015 with a .261/.321/.412 batting line to go with 14 steals. Davis has about $2.05MM to go on his contract, and a club looking for speed as well as a potent bat against lefties (career .302/.357/.447) would do well to add the 34-year-old to its ranks.
- Nothing’s gone right for Bourn since he signed a four-year, $48MM contract with the Indians. He’s had multiple hamstring injuries, one of which required surgery and cost him the bulk of the 2014 season. Bourn posted a six-win season with the Braves as he entered free agency, but he’s a shell of his former self now. His average, OBP and slugging percentage are all below .300, he’s not stealing bases, and the hamstring issues look to have caused his defense to deteriorate as well. He’s still owed a whopping $19.5MM through the end of the 2016 season. Bourn is a salary dump candidate for any club that wants to try to “buy” a prospect (as the Braves did with Touki Toussaint) or perhaps agree to take on his contract as a means of persuading Cleveland to part with one of its talented young pitchers. Shedding that contract probably has more value to a tight-budgeted Cleveland team than it would to many other clubs.
Sam Fuld (Athletics), Drew Stubbs (Rockies), Brandon Barnes (Rockies), Matt den Dekker (Nationals), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (Mets), Ezequiel Carrera (Blue Jays), Abraham Almonte (Padres), Melvin Upton Jr. (Padres)
- Fuld, Stubbs and Barnes all have extensive big league experience as part-time outfielders in the Majors. Each has decent platoon numbers against opposite-handed pitching (particularly the right-handed hitting Stubbs), although Barnes has curiously struggled against lefties this year. Stubbs and Fuld have five-plus years of service time and can be free agents at season’s end. Stubbs, in particular, is a pricey commodity, as he agreed to a $5.825MM contract this offseason on the heels of a big 2014 season.
- Nieuwenhuis, den Dekker, Carrera and Almonte have been up and down over the past few seasons. All hit left-handed and can handle center field relatively well, though they all offer less offense than the three center fielders listed in the previous bullet. Almonte’s probably the best defender of the bunch.
- Upton, of course, has seen his star fade since signing a five-year, $72.5MM contract with the Braves prior to the 2013 season. His contract is among the most burdensome in the game, and the Padres would undoubtedly be open to creative scenarios in which they could offload some of the commitment. That’s a long shot, of course.
Currently in the Minors
- Castillo and Bradley Jr. may have gotten longer looks in the Majors by now were they on a different team. The jury is out on whether or not Bradley will ever hit in the Majors, but he’s a premium defender with plenty of speed and enough upside that other clubs would love to give him a trial. Castillo signed a seven-year, $72.5MM contract with Boston last summer but hasn’t received consistent big league at-bats. He’s also looked injury prone in the minors, though that’s partially due to a very aggressive playing style. It seems doubtful that the Sox would really want to move him so soon after making such a strong commitment, but other teams may have some interest in plugging him into the big league outfield.
- Pompey opened the season as Toronto’s center fielder but struggled in the Majors. He was optioned to Triple-A and struggled a great deal there as well before being demoted to Double-A and getting on track. He’s an MLB-ready piece that could help Toronto land a much-needed rotation upgrade.
- Ozuna had a breakout 2014 season but hasn’t hit much in 2015. Some scouts questioned his conditioning early in the year. He was demoted to Triple-A after failing to show the same power or on-base skills he did last year. Ozuna and agent Scott Boras didn’t feel the time was right to talk extension this offseason — a decision that now looks questionable. The Marlins probably still hope he’s part of the future, but one would think he has to be more available now than he was this winter.
- Ruggiano’s a big league veteran that hits lefties well but is shaky in center field from a defensive standpoint. He’s raked at the Triple-A level since being outrighted following a disappointing run in Seattle’s offense-suppressing park.
- Alcantara’s future may be as a super utility player, but he’s not far removed from ranking as a top prospect. He got his feet wet with the Cubs in the bigs last season but has barely seen time at that level in 2015. He’s hitting for power in the minors but not showing much in terms of average or OBP (.249/.305/.464).
- Gentry is a defensive wizard who just didn’t hit much in his second season with the A’s. He typically handles lefties well, and he has plus speed. He’s similar to Bourjos and could help a club needing to patch a leaky defense.