In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catchers, second basemen, shortstops, first basemen, and third basemen who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the offseason rolls around in several months. Next up: center fielders (players’ listed ages are for the 2021 campaign).
Top of the Class
- George Springer (31): After a relative down season in 2018, Springer bounced back to top form last year. He ended with a monster .292/.383/.591 batting line, 39 home runs, and strong grades on his glovework in center and right field. If teams feel they’ll be able to trust him up the middle for a few more campaigns, they’ll presumably be all the more motivated to bid.
- Starling Marte (32): Based upon performance to date, Marte is the only other potential star of the class. Trouble is, a high-end performance in 2020 would mean the Diamondbacks are sure to exercise his $12.5MM club option rather than paying a $1MM buyout. They gave value to get him this winter with just that scenario in mind. Marte is a career .287/.341/.452 (116 wRC+) hitter as well as a quality baserunner and defender (though metrics were less enthused with his work in the field in 2019).
Other Potential Regulars (based upon 2019 playing time)
- Jackie Bradley Jr. (31): Though he remains well-regarded as a fielder and baserunner, Bradley just hasn’t gotten it done offensively for some time now. He has settled in as a roughly ten percent below-average hitter over the past three seasons. If he can bounce back to his well-above-average form from 2015-16, he’d obviously stand to substantially boost his earning outlook.
- Brett Gardner (37): The grizzled veteran keeps grinding out useful seasons, filling in reliably when a need (seemingly inevitably) arises in the Yankees’ outfield. Whether the club will exercise a $10MM club option or instead pay him a $2.5MM buyout remains to be seen, but odds are the sides will work something out if Gardner remains productive and wants to go for a 14th campaign in the Bronx.
- Kevin Pillar (32): Pillar is to center field what Freddy Galvis is to shortstop. Neither has really performed to the typical standard of a year-in/year-out regular, but each has done just enough, stayed on the field, and landed in the right situations to gather up tons of playing time. That’s not to disparage Pillar’s value — like Galvis, he’s a gamer who’s worthy of a significant role on a big-league roster — so much as to say his future likely doesn’t lie in everyday duties. Pillar’s glove is no longer elite and he owns a lifetime .296 on-base percentage.
Top Timeshare Candidates
- Jarrod Dyson (36): Still a burner on the bases and in the field, Dyson’s bat has fallen off quite a bit over the past two seasons. Even as a very marginal MLB hitter he’s a useful player, but it’s tough to guess how much longer he’ll remain one.
- Enrique Hernandez (29): Though he couldn’t sustain a 2018 uptick with the bat, Hernandez remains a highly useful player. Much of the appeal lies in his versatility; last year, he appeared at every spot on the field except outside of the battery.
- Jake Marisnick (30): Outside of a career year in 2017, Marisnick has profiled as a speedy, glove-oriented part-time player. So long as he remains an elite defender who provides palatable offensive work, he’ll hold appeal.
- Cameron Maybin (34): The market didn’t buy fully into Maybin’s surprising showing last year with the Yankees (.285/.364/.494), as he rode a hefty .365 BABIP and benefited from a Statcast spread between results (.363 wOBA) and expectations (.337 xwOBA) based upon batted-ball quality. But the fact he trended up in hard contact shows that Maybin could yet have some more seasons in the tank.
- Michael A. Taylor (30): Tantalizing though his physical tools may be, Taylor just hasn’t consistently produced at the plate in the majors. He was buried in the minors for most of 2019 but ended up delivering when the Nats most needed it in the postseason. Taylor has had one roundly impressive MLB campaign (2017), so perhaps it’s not impossible to imagine him turning into an interesting open-market target with a strong showing in 2020.