We’re less than three weeks from pitchers and catchers beginning to report to Spring Training. While the offseason is theoretically winding down, there are still a number of noteworthy players on the open market. The top unsigned position player headlines the group of remaining center fielders.
- Cody Bellinger: Bellinger rejected a qualifying offer from the Cubs at the beginning of the offseason. That was an easy call as he sought a long-term deal after a successful rebound campaign in Chicago. The 28-year-old is coming off his best season since his 2019 MVP campaign. He hit .307/.356/.525 with 26 home runs across 556 plate appearances. Bellinger’s batted ball metrics (a 31.4% hard contact rate, 87.9 MPH average exit velocity) aren’t as impressive as one might assume from his 25+ homers and early-career power impact. That said, he seemingly made a concerted effort to put more balls in play. His 15.6% strikeout rate last season was a career low, a marked improvement after he fanned in a quarter of his plate appearances between 2020-22. The Cubs are most often linked to Bellinger, who has also been loosely tied to the Blue Jays and Angels at points this offseason.
- Michael A. Taylor: Taylor is a solid glove-first regular. Even as he nears his 33rd birthday, he continues to post well above-average defensive grades. Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast estimated he was between five and seven runs better than the standard center fielder in a little under 1000 innings for the Twins last year. Taylor paired that with one of his better offensive showings. He hit a career-high 21 home runs and swiped 13 bags in 129 contests. That came with a subpar .220 average and .278 on-base percentage, as he struck out more than a third of the time. The whiffs are part of the package with Taylor, but he has enough power to profile as a bottom-of-the-lineup regular so long as he continues to defend at this level. The Angels, Padres, Pirates and Red Sox are among the teams that have been linked to Taylor.
- Adam Duvall: It’s debatable whether Duvall qualifies as more than an emergency option in center field. He’s been a left fielder for the majority of his career. The Red Sox moved him more frequently into center last year, an odd choice for a player in his age-34 season. Duvall’s defensive grades in 478 innings of center field work were predictably below-average. He’s still a solid defender in left who can moonlight up the middle, however. More importantly, Duvall had a rebound year at the plate. He blasted 21 homers in only 353 plate appearances, running a .247/.303/.531 slash. As is the case with Taylor, teams looking at Duvall will have to live with some strikeouts and a low OBP. He has a trio of 30-homer seasons on his résumé and might have gotten a fourth last year had he not missed a couple months with a wrist fracture. The Angels and incumbent Red Sox have been tied to Duvall this offseason; Jon Heyman of the New York Post suggested last week the bidding may come down to those two clubs.
- Aaron Hicks: By late May, it wasn’t clear how much longer Hicks would remain in the big leagues. He was released by the Yankees as he seemed en route to a third straight poor season. The Orioles somewhat surprisingly added him on a big league deal. From that point, the switch-hitting Hicks had a resurgence. He closed the year with a .275/.381/.425 slash over 236 plate appearances in Baltimore. Hicks walked at a massive 14.8% clip while striking out only 20.8% of the time. That won’t erase the memories of his struggles toward the end of his tenure in the Bronx, but it should land him a guaranteed MLB roster spot again. He’d be essentially a free pickup for whatever teams signs him. The Yankees are still on the hook for next year’s $9.5MM salary and a $1MM buyout on a 2025 option. A signing team would only pay Hicks at the $740K league minimum rate for whatever time he spends on the MLB roster, which would be subtracted from New York’s obligations.
- Travis Jankowski: The lefty-swinging Jankowski had a nice year as a role player for the World Series champion Rangers. He hit .263/.357/.332 and stole 19 bases in 20 attempts over 107 games. That should be enough to land him another MLB deal on a low base salary. Jankowski’s offensive upside is limited by bottom-of-the-scale power. He has excellent contact skills, a patient approach, and enough speed to factor in on the bases and at all three outfield positions. He’s a solid bench piece.