While Melvin Upton left the market before I could wrap up this post, there are still plenty of names to cover in the center field market. There’s obviously quite a lot of overlap between this and the corner outfield market, which we’ll cover separately. Many of the players listed below, like Upton, aren’t necessarily strictly identified as up-the-middle defenders — but their established ability to hold down such a role distinguishes them from their generally slower-footed brethren.
There’s cause to expect continued movement in this area of the market, even with the acquisition of Upton seemingly taking the Blue Jays out of further consideration. The Nationals haven’t received what they hoped for out of the position, and certainly could look to improve. You could argue the same for the Cardinals, though Randal Grichuk has turned it up at the plate of late. While the Indians may now feel covered with Rajai Davis and Tyler Naquin both producing, the team could still prefer to find a center-field-capable addition to increase its flexibility. And there are always teams that will prefer to add a fourth outfielder who is capable of playing center even if they have a quality regular — the Orioles, for instance, were said to be the runners up for Upton. It’s possible to imagine teams like the Giants, Dodgers, Cubs, Mets, and Astros having that sort of interest, though all could conceivably chase a bigger strike than might be expected.
Here are some center field options who could end up changing hands over the next several days (or, if not, then potentially during the revocable waiver period that will follow starting August 2nd):
- It didn’t look this way for much of the year, but Bourjos is probably the top rental player as an up-the-middle outfielder. He’s cheap and doesn’t hold any future value to the Phils, and makes perfect sense as a bench piece for a contender that can make good use of his glove and legs down the stretch. Though he has fallen back to earth at the plate, and won’t reap any major return, there’s function there.
- De Aza has never made much sense for the Mets, but could still hold a role as a bench piece who can still play a bit up the middle. Likewise, Bourn and Crisp are showing enough life — with the added benefit of being sturdy veterans — to warrant consideration (though Crisp is a bit banged up at present and remains a long-term health risk).
- Gomez has resumed his stunning decline after a brief uptick in June. It’s not clear who’d want to take a chance on him, or whether Houston would have any interest in moving him for some meager return, but it’s not out of the question that he ends up moving.
- The remaining two names in this section are not fit for action at the moment. Jay was playing himself into a nice chip before his unfortunate injury, while Jackson has the youth and defensive versatility to feature as a trade piece despite his struggles. They could both feature as August movers.
- We’ve heard chatter on Blackmon, though no clear market has emerged for his services with the Nationals denying reports of interest. He’s not as good as his Coors Field-inflated stat line would suggest, but remains a highly appealing player with two years of cheap control remaining.
- Though he’s still a useful player, Ellsbury isn’t worth what he’s earning. But we haven’t heard him mentioned at all, and it isn’t clear what kind of scenario would facilitate a trade.
- You have to figure that the next four names on the list — Gardner, Inciarte, Martin, Hamilton — are available at the right price, but none seem very likely at all to be dealt. Gardner is still a useful piece to the Yankees with at-market control left on his contract. The Braves would probably rather allow Inciarte to re-build his value before striking a deal, or simply utilize him as part of a hoped-for turnaround in the years to come. And Martin is not only a nice value for the M’s, but represents a solid coup for still-new GM Jerry Dipoto — who has said he’s not interested in selling.
- As for Hamilton, it’s anybody’s guess how his career will progress from this point. He’ll only have three years of control remaining after 2016, and though he has returned to being a useful player after an ugly 2015, he still doesn’t profile as an optimal everyday solution. Perhaps some contender will fall in love with the idea of deploying his game-changing speed down the stretch and will put in a call to Cinci.
- Rumor has it that the AL Central rival Royals and White Sox are at least willing to entertain proposals for their cornerstone center fielders, but neither is likely to change hands at the deadline. K.C. is hoping to give it one more go in 2017, and dealing Cain probably won’t help that cause. And Eaton — who has actually been more valuable in right — comes with plenty of cheap control and certainly isn’t being forced out by internal options.
CF-Capable Reserve Outfielders
- Jennings and Guyer could both hold appeal as reserve outfielder who are capable of playing in center, though neither looks to be a starting-caliber option up the middle. The former hasn’t hit much since 2014 and could be a non-tender candidate after the season, while the latter has been a nice and affordable asset but has been used sparingly up the middle.
- I realize that Nieuwenhuis is pretty much the regular guy for the Brewers, but we’re going to consider him here. He is hitting a bit below league average while playing a solid center field, though it remains to be seen whether a contending club likes him enough to make an offer that will entice Milwaukee. It shouldn’t take much, but the Brewers will value having a reasonably steady player at this stage in their rebuild and could end up tendering him a contract in his first season of arbitration eligibility.
- Things haven’t gone smoothly at all in 2016 for Gose, who had a decent showing last year — when he was somewhat over-extended in a near-everyday role — but was optioned after a rough start. The ugliness came to a head with a dispute with his Triple-A skipper, leading to a further demotion to Double-A. He’s a change-of-scenery candidate at this stage.
- Robinson is hitting right at his career average, which is around 30% below league-average production. But he carries a good glove and has a place as a depth piece.
- Barnes was just placed in DFA limbo and has struggled mightily at the plate. He’s more likely to end up joining a new organization on a minor league deal, though a waiver claim can’t be ruled out entirely.
No, Mike Trout Isn’t Available
- As should be apparent, I created this category specifically for the Angels’ Mike Trout, who is not only the best player in baseball but remains a screaming value despite his pricey extension. We’ve heard discussion of whether the Halos should consider dealing him, but absolutely no indication that the large-market club has even thought of parting with a player who is well on his way to being an inner-circle Hall-of-Famer.