Free agent center fielder Michael A. Taylor is drawing interest from the Angels, Padres and Pirates, reports Robert Murray of FanSided. Murray adds that the Halos are also considering Adam Duvall as a free agent outfield target.
Taylor should have the broader market of the two veterans. His ability to play an excellent center field makes him a strong fit on a number of teams. He could operate as a glove-first regular for clubs without a strong in-house option in center or serve as a high-end fourth outfield target for others. The Dodgers, Reds, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Mets have also been linked to Taylor earlier in the offseason. Toronto and New York subsequently signed Kevin Kiermaier and Harrison Bader, respectively, likely taking them out of the mix.
Boston acquired Tyler O’Neill as a right-handed hitter with the ability to play anywhere in the outfield. That could reduce their urgency on Taylor, but Murray suggests they’re still involved. He adds that a return to the Twins, with whom Taylor spent the 2023 campaign, also remains a possibility.
For teams that aren’t going to entertain a run at Cody Bellinger, Taylor is the top center fielder on the open market. He remains a high-end defender even as he enters his age-33 season. Taylor has been a below-average hitter for the bulk of his career, but he’s coming off one of his better offensive showings. He popped a career-best 21 home runs in just 388 plate appearances. Taylor still struck out in more than a third of his plate appearances and hit .220 with a meager .278 on-base percentage. Yet the defense and the ability to run into 15-20 homers while hitting in the bottom third of a lineup makes him a serviceable regular.
The Angels have a projected outfield of Taylor Ward, Mike Trout and Mickey Moniak. Ward missed the final couple months of last year after sustaining facial fractures on a frightening hit-by-pitch. Trout hasn’t reached 120 games or 500 plate appearances in a season since 2019 because of various injuries. Moniak posted solid bottom line results last year, hitting .280/.307/.495 through 323 plate appearances. However, that came with a 35% strikeout rate and a 2% walk percentage that are even worse than Taylor’s career baselines.
Moniak is a clear regression candidate who is better suited in a fourth outfield capacity. Even if the Halos are optimistic about his ability to produce against right-handed pitching, the former #1 overall pick has a .172/.200/.230 slash in 91 career plate appearances versus lefties. The righty-hitting Taylor has been better against southpaws than against right-handed pitching, as one would expect. Since the start of 2020, he’s a .257/.317/.455 hitter with the platoon advantage.
Duvall also hits from the right side. While he has had reverse platoon splits in recent years, he’s a better overall offensive player than either Moniak or Taylor — albeit with a similar low-OBP, power profile. He hit 21 homers in 353 plate appearances for the Red Sox last season, running a .247/.303/.531 slash. Duvall can play some center field but is better suited for a corner spot entering his age-35 season.
As for the other clubs recently linked to Taylor, each of Pittsburgh, San Diego and Minnesota are viable fits. The Padres need to bring in multiple outfielders after trading Juan Soto and Trent Grisham. They’d seemingly prefer to keep Fernando Tatis Jr. in right field rather than moving him up the middle. José Azocar (a career .249/.292/.341 hitter) and prospect Jakob Marsee are the top internal options in a center field position that requires an outside pickup.
Minnesota leaned heavily on Taylor last year as knee injuries kept Byron Buxton to designated hitter. While the Twins have expressed hope that Buxton could handle outfield work again in 2024, they can’t count on him to make 120+ starts at the position.
The Pirates could turn center field back to Jack Suwinski, although public metrics were mixed on his defensive performance. Bryan Reynolds can handle center on occasions but fits best in left. Right field is a question mark, with trade pickup Edward Olivares likely battling Joshua Palacios for work. Andrew McCutchen will see the majority of his time at designated hitter while rotating through the corners. Signing Taylor could allow the Bucs to kick Suwinski to right field and boast a strong defensive outfield.
Kiermaier and Bader each signed one-year pacts worth $10.5MM. Taylor could be in line for something similar, although it wouldn’t be a surprise if he landed a two-year deal at a lower annual value but a slightly better overall guarantee.