Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Nats pursuit of a CFer; a complete analysis of options

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Conventional wisdom says the team will pursue BJ Upton. But what if there's a decent short-term alternative? Photo unknown via ajc.com

The Nats have not had a consistent, quality, and reliable center fielder since 2005 (and even then it was arguable).  When the team moved here, Brad Wilkerson played most of the season in center field, put up a 103 ops+ and hit a bunch of homers while running around pre-game with packages of Skittles in his pocket.  Jim Bowden traded Wilkerson with a couple other guys for one year of Alfonso Soriano.  Since, then, here’s some of the guys who have played CF for us on a regular basis:

Preston Wilson
Endy Chavez
Ryan Church
Nook Logan
Marlon Byrd
Alex Escobar
Brandon Watson
Ryan Langerhans
Justin Maxwell
Brandon Watson
Lastings Milledge
Roger Bernadina
Elijah Dukes
Nyjer Morgan
Willie Harris
Corey Patterson

Half these guys are out of the league now, most of the rest are marginal players or backup outfielders.  In 2011, we had innings from Rick Ankiel, Jayson Werth and even Laynce Nix (who managed to put in 8 innings in center field but somehow not have a single play, resulting in a neutral zero for UZR/150).  But none of these guys is a long term CF solution, each for different reasons.

Is this the off season we end the madness and finally get a long term solution in center field?

I put together a spreadsheet of every Center Fielder option in the major leagues, threw in their age, salary, contract details, and three measures of their 2011 performance (OPS+, UZR/150 and bWAR).  That spreadsheet is here, for reference.  I’ll pull out the relevant details for each section below.

I’ve divided the CF options to consider into several categories below.

1. Current Washington CF options in-house

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Bernadina, Roger 27 Washington Pre-Arb $414,000 82 -16.6 0.8
Werth, Jayson 32 Washington 7yr/$126M->2017 $10,571,000 97 3 2.1

Bernadina, despite his defensive reputation, was actually rather awful in CF this year while putting up an 82 OPS+.  He’s now had more than a 1000 major league at-bats to show his worth.  The team should DFA him and move on.  Werth actually had a decent UZR/150 in center, albeit in a small sample size, hence why the team seems to be considering using him there on a more regular basis.  We also have a couple of other internal options in the minors:

  • Corey Brown: though his successful designation to AAA says more about his future than I could say.  He’s gone from trade chip prospect to organizational guy in 2 seasons.
  • Eury Perez: just ADDED to the 40-man, but more for protection purposes than because he’s ready.  He’s an option perhaps in mid-season 2013.
  • Bryce Harper: I’d love to see Harper groomed to play CF and don’t understand why the team hasn’t taken more of an effort to do so.  His value as a power-hitting CF would far eclipse his value in a corner OF spot.  As it stands now though, he’s not a full time CF and he probably won’t be on the MLB roster until late June, IF he earns it.

So, we could stand pat, use Werth primarily in CF and pursue a corner outfielder in free agency.  But that still leaves a lead-off hole in our lineup and then probably also leaves a RF hole…

2. Franchise Players/Entrenched Starters/Longer Term Contract

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Ellsbury, Jacoby 27 Boston Arb 2nd yr $2,400,000 146 15.7 7.2
Granderson, Curtis 30 NY Yankees 5yr/$30M->2012 $8,250,000 138 -5 5.2
Hamilton, Josh 30 Texas 2yr/$24M->2012 $8,750,000 128 -3.3 3.6
Jones, Adam 25 Baltimore Arb 2nd yr $3,250,000 114 -8.5 1.7
Kemp, Matt 26 LA Dodgers 8yr/$160M->2019 $7,100,000 171 -4.7 10
McCutchen, Andrew 24 Pittsburgh Arb 1st yr $452,500 127 3.3 5.5
Pagan, Angel 29 NY Mets Arb 4th yr $3,500,000 93 -16 0.2
Victorino, Shane 30 Philadelphia 3yr/$22M->2012 $7,500,000 129 5.7 5.1
Young, Chris 27 Arizona 5yr/$28M->2013 $5,200,000 103 12.9 4.8

For the most part this is a list of the best CFs in baseball.  There’s almost no chance any of these teams are giving up these players in trade; they’re cornerstones, MVP candidates, or key players.

Angel Pagan isn’t a great CF, but he’s clearly the entrenched starter for the Mets, a team clearly in financial chaos.  Likewise, perhaps someone like Adam Jones could be put into the “franchise player” category (he’s not nearly the player as the rest of these guys), but he’s also entrenched in Baltimore.

Coincidentally, look at Ellsbury‘s stats.  Young, cheap, a 146 ops+, a 7.2war and a 15.7 UZR/150.  Is there a more complete player in baseball right now?  Matt Kemp certainly out hit him, but Ellsbury had the best UZR rating for any full time CFer in the majors while putting up his 30/30 season.

3. Recent Acquisitions

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Bourn, Michael 28 Atlanta Arb 3rd Yr $4,400,000 104 -6.2 5
Cabrera, Melky 26 San Francisco Arb 4th yr $1,250,000 121 -9.7 2.9
Jackson, Austin 24 Detroit Pre-Arb $440,000 89 8 2.4
Rasmus, Colby 24 Toronto Arb 1st year $443,000 89 -10.7 0.2
Schafer, Jordan 24 Houston Pre-Arb $414,000 74 -4.3 0.2

These guys aren’t necessarily the best CFs out there, but each of them was more or less just acquired, so presumably they’re not going anywhere ELSE this off-season.  Schaefer just got busted for drug possession, and seems to be in competition with Jason Bourgeois (listed later on), but both really underperformed this year and are not really good options for the Nats.

4. Younger Starters and Up and coming prospects

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Bourjos, Peter 24 LA Angels Pre-Arb $414,000 115 8 5
Cain, Lorenzo 25 Kansas City Pre-Arb $414,000 73 -38.8 0.1
Fowler, Dexter 25 Colorado Arb 1st yr $424,000 105 -6.8 1.2
Gomez, Carlos 25 Milwaukee Arb 3rd Yr $1,500,000 82 27.5 1.7
Jay, Jon 26 St. Louis Pre-Arb $416,000 114 3.2 1.3
Jennings, Desmond 24 Tampa Bay Pre-Arb $414,000 128 -7.1 2.3
Maybin, Cameron 24 San Diego Pre-Arb $429,100 103 11.6 2.9
Peterson, Brian 25 Miami Pre-Arb $414,000 105 13 0.5
Revere, Ben 23 Minnesota Pre-Arb $414,000 73 15.1 0.8
Stubbs, Drew 26 Cincinnati Pre-Arb $450,000 86 -2.2 2.9
Sweeney, Ryan 26 Oakland Arb 2nd yr $1,400,000 91 -5.9 0.8
Trout, Mike 19 LA Angels Pre-Arb $414,000 88 0 0.9

This is a list of mostly 2nd tier CFers in this league, but for the most part they’re pre-arbitration or still relatively affordable, and teams aren’t about to give up on them.  Peter Bourjos represents the Angel’s biggest problem in trying to find playing time next year for Mike Trout: he hits the ball well, he has great defense and he’s only 24.  However the Angels are dying for a catcher, which just so happens to be a strength for this team. Bourjos mostly batted at the bottom of their order, but seems like a natural leadoff hitter.

I put Sweeney in this list only because the entire starting Oakland OF hit free agency, and they’ll need to start SOMEONE in the outfield in 2012.   Lorenzo Cain looks set to be KC’s starter with the Cabrera trade, so I list him here despite his poor numbers in 2011 (besides that Kansas City isn’t exactly in a position to be trading away prospects right now).  Peterson looks like he could take over for Miami in center (see further down for a discussion on this effect on Chris Coughlan).

Best possibilities: The Nats sacrifice a catcher and a decent prospect haul for Bourjos.

5. Awful Contracts/Poor players/Veterans not interested in

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Davis, Rajai 30 Toronto 2yr/$5.75M->2012 $2,500,000 67 -17.5 -0.9
Gutierrez, Franklin 28 Seattle 4yr/$20M->2013 $4,312,500 53 27.1 -0.4
Hunter, Torii 35 LA Angels 5yr/$90M->2012 $18,000,000 115 -39.3 2.2
Milledge, Lastings 26 Chicago WS Arb 2nd yr $500,000 97 -82.2 -0.3
Morgan, Nyjer 30 Milwaukee Arb 1st year $450,000 111 13 2
Rios, Alex 30 Chicago WS 6yr/$64M->2014 $12,500,000 65 -7.4 -1.5

The list above includes two Washington castoffs (Milledge and Morgan), one of the worst contacts in baseball (Rios), two severe under performers (Davis and Gutierrez), and a guy who really doesn’t play CF anymore (Hunter).  There’s no appealing trade options here.


Ok. now that we’ve seen who is likely NOT going to be options for us in 2012, lets look at those that could be options.

1. Cleveland’s CF log jam

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Brantley, Michael 24 Cleveland Pre-Arb $421,800 96 -12.8 2.2
Carrera, Ezequiel 24 Cleveland Pre-arb $414,000 72 -1.5 -0.5
Crowe, Trevor 27 Cleveland Pre-arb $435,700 61 66.6 * -0.1

(Crowe’s 66.6 uzr/150 was a very small sample size and isn’t indicative one way or the other of his defensive prowness).

With Cleveland’s re-signing of Grady Sizemore to a one year incentive laden deal (guaranteed $5M, with $4M more in incentives), suddenly Cleveland has too many center fielders.  Sizemore, Carrera and Bradley all played about equal numbers of innings in center for the team last year, with Crowe throwing in a few more.  Brantley was essentially the starting left fielder but got 400-some innings in Center, and seems set to do the same this year with him and Sizemore switching back and forth.  That leaves Carrera and Crowe as “extra” outfielders for the team.  Crowe is a former 1st rounder who seems to have peaked as a 4-A guy, while Carrera just earned a callup for the first time in 2011.  For now both look like nothing better than 4th outfielders, so we’re looking elsewhere.

Best possibilities here: none

2. Veteran Trade Possibilities

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Borbon, Julio 25 Texas Pre-Arb $490,000 72 -9.6 -0.3
Bourgeois, Jason 29 Houston Pre-Arb $423,000 89 -6.2 2.3
Byrd, Marlon 33 Chicago Cubs 3yr/$15M->2012 $5,500,000 96 3.3 1.7
Coghlan, Chris 26 Miami Arb 1st yr $490,000 81 -12 -0.1
Gardner, Brett 27 NY Yankees Arb 1st yr $529,500 89 6.6 4.4
Gentry, Craig 27 Texas Pre-Arb $416,000 84 35 1.4
Quenton, Carlos 28 Chicago WS Arb 3rd Yr 5,050,000 124 1.7 * 3.2
Span, Denard 27 Minnesota 5yr/$16.5M->2014 $1,000,000 91 17.6 2.6
Torres, Andres 33 San Francisco Arb 2nd yr $2,200,000 82 17.3 1.3
Upton, BJ 26 Tampa Bay Arb 3rd Yr $4,825,000 115 1.4 3.8

It is from this list that most of the current Nats trade rumors come.  Here’s some thoughts, roughly in alphabetical order:

  • Julio Bourbon seems like a potential non-tender for now: Endy Chavez got most of the CF innings for the team but Hamilton can cover it well enough (as he did in the playoffs).  But they also have Craig Gentry.  Neither is that great an offensive player, but Gentry is a pretty good defensive player.  None of them solve our issues.
  • Jason Bourgeois was mediocre both at the plate and in the field, and now Houston has acquired Schafer in trade, so he might be available in trade.  But what does he bring that Bernadina doesn’t?  We don’t need a replacement guy.
  • Former Nat Marlon Byrd could be an interesting candidate; he wasn’t that bad in 2011, but is scheduled to get a salary bump in his last year.  He’s good in center, good at the plate, and plays in Chicago, which is going to be rebuilding and probably would take prospects in trade.  But, he’s 33, slowing down, and is a one-year solution.  Is that worth it?  Upton will be younger, better offensively, better defensively, and is reaching his peak, not going past it.
  • Coughlan may be spare parts to Miami, that they have discovered the decent Brian Peterson.  But, as with others on this list, he’s not exactly in high demand.  He’s similar to Bernadina as well; 80-ish OPS+ and sub-average defense in CF.
  • Brett Gardner is listed here since he’s a center fielder stuck in LF in New York, and since we think that the Yankees could be talked into a trade since they’re hurting in a couple of areas where we have prospect depth.  However, he’s also one of the few pre-arbitration starters on that team and even a team with $200M payroll sees the value in a cost contained player.  I think trading for him is an impossibility.  Someone suggested Peacock and Desmond for Gardner as a trade in a Keith Law chat and he openly laughed at it.  So the Nats have to ask themselves what it would take to get someone like Gardner before entertaining this question.
  • There’s only two guys on this list with an OPS+ over 100; BJ Upton and Carlos Quenton.  I included Quenton here because his name persistently pops up in various blogs as a trade possibility. However, a quick check of his Fangraphs page shows that he isn’t a center fielder.  He doesn’t have a single Major League inning in center, ever.  So he’s not a center fielder, and doesn’t solve our issues.  (His 1.7 uzr/150 is in Right Field, not center).  The only way he’d make sense is if we went with Werth full time in Center and put him in RF.  But even given that, he’s only under club control for one more year before hitting FA, so he’s essentially a rental.
  • Denard Span is signed to a very club-friendly contract, is a fantastic defender, and wasn’t half bad at the plate this year.  Why is he available?  Because he went down in June with what appeared to be a mild concussion, and was out 2 months.  And in his absence, the Twins promoted 23-yr old Ben Revere, who seemed to ably hold down the job.  The Twins might be in rebuilding mode after a 90 loss season and could entertain some longer-term moves.  We’ve traded with them in the past and they definitely have some needs (a closer for one)  Drew Storen for Denard Span?  Jon Heyman tweeted on 11/19 though that the Nats already asked about both players and were rebuffed.  We’ll see if that’s just a negotiating ploy.
  • Andres Torres just lost his job in San Francisco with their acquisition of Cabrera, and could be on the trading block.  He’s great in the field but can’t hit, as is our own FA Rick Ankiel, and if the team was going to settle you would think we’d re-sign one of our own.
  • BJ Upton, of course, is listed as our trade candidate #1, for the obvious reasons.  He’s easily the best centerfielder available.  Decent OPS+, better than average Uzr/150, and a pretty good 3.8 war.  He’s not going to be cheap, hence the reason that cost-conscious Tampa is considering a non-tender.  We could trade for him, to guarantee that we get him before the free-for-all that would occur if he hit the open market, but (rightly so) how much would we want to give up for a guy who probably wants to hit the open market in a year’s time?  Would we demand a negotiating window to try to extend him?

Best alternatives here: Upton, Span, Byrd, Gardner.

3. Free Agents; actual Cfers

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Ankiel, Rick 31 FA (Wash) FA $1,500,000 81 11.6 2.1
Cameron, Mike 38 FA (Mia) FA $7,250,000 74 17.7 -0.8
Cespedes, Yoenis 25 FA (Cuba) FA n/a n/a n/a n/a
Chavez, Endy 33 FA (Texas) FA $1,250,000 95 9.3 0.8
Crisp, Coco 31 FA (Oak) FA $5,250,000 91 -6.7 2.1
Hairston, Scott 31 FA (NYM) FA $1,100,000 112 6.1 1.6
McLouth, Nate 29 FA (Atl) FA $7,000,000 89 -28.9 0.7
Patterson, Corey 31 FA (STL) FA $900,000 70 5.5 0.9
Wise, Dewayne 33 FA (Tor) FA $414,000 44 22.2 -0.4

Here it is; the list of FA center fielders.

  • Ankiel is the known quantity; he hit .239 but was very good in center.
  • Mike Cameron may be 38 but he’s still an excellent CFer; unfortunately his offense was awful.
  • Cespedes is a complete unknown quantity; scouts compare him to a younger Sammy Sosa with power and speed.  But the Cuban leagues equate roughly to a High-A level of talent, so you’d be paying $30-$40M for a guy who’s still 2 years away.  This doesn’t help us in 2012.
  • Former Nat Endy Chavez put together an excellent season in Texas; I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him re-sign with the team and make another playoff run.  In fact, if I was Chavez I’d take less money to do so.
  • Coco Crisp: barely a center fielder anymore and a 91 ops+.  Stay away.
  • Scott Hairston had a 112 OPS+ as a 4th outfielder for the Mets, but in limited time.  Pagan was clearly the starter and Hairston bounced around the field.  He’s more of a utility player than a starter,but that didn’t hamper his brother this season.
  • McClouth has had such a bad couple of seasons I’d be surprised if anyone gives him a major league contract.  Maybe he really should be in the next category (for “cf’s that aren’t really center-field capable anymore).
  • Patterson was 8 for 56 after a mid-season trade to St. Louis.  He’s in the same boat as McLouth; he’s looking at a minor league contract for a team ready to take a flier on him.
  • Wise‘s bat is so bad, he’s got a career 62 ops+.

Where’s the long-term solution here?  Answer: there doesn’t seem to be one.

Best possibilities: pursue Chavez and get him to leave Texas, or to sign Hairston and hope that he can put together those kind of numbers for a full season starting in CF.

4. Free Agents: not really CFs any more

Player Age Team Current Contract 2011 Salary 2011 OPS+ 2011 UZR/150 CF only 2011 bWAR
Dejesus, David 31 FA (Oak) FA $6,000,000 93 -76.2 0.6
Johnson, Reed 34 FA (Chi Cubs) FA $900,000 122 -35.1 1.3
Jones, Andruw 34 FA (NYY) FA $3,200,000 122 -24.6 0.9
Pierre, Juan 33 FA (CWS) FA $8,500,000 80 -10.7 0
Ross, Cody 30 FA (SF) FA $6,300,000 105 -2.6 1.6
Sizemore, Grady 28 FA (Cle) 1yr $5M 2012 $7,666,667 95 -17.2 0.5

(Sizemore already re-signed for Cleveland to join their log jam of CF-eligible outfielders).

All these guys are listed as CF-capable by MLBtraderumors, but really none are CFs anymore.  A cursory glance at their UZR/150s should indicate as much.  Only Cody Ross really could still hold his own in Center.  I like Cody Ross; he’s used to the NL East, he’s a great clubhouse guy, and he’d improve his offensive numbers by getting out of San Francisco.   I’m not sure if Ross solves our problem; the rest of these guys are corner-outfielders mostly in the same category as our own corner-OF free agents Laynce Nix and Jonny Gomes.

Best Possibilities: Ross.


Conclusion

All signs indicate that the team is either going to work a trade.  But I wouldn’t mind a one-year stop gap signing either in order to not deviate from “the plan” in order to overpay for someone.

If we’re willing to burn some prospects, I’d say our priorities are (in order): Upton, Gardner, Bourjos and Span.

If we’re going for a one-year stop gap, I’d say our best options are Byrd, Ross, and Hairston.

If we’re willing to sacrifice offense to find a plus-defender in CF, then I say we just re-sign Ankiel and wait another year.  Or perhaps consider Chavez or Torres.

11 Responses to 'Nats pursuit of a CFer; a complete analysis of options'

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  1. Really nice piece of work Todd.

    BinM

    29 Nov 11 at 11:24 am

  2. Thanks man. I just notice how badly the cut-n-paste from XLS looks on the webpage. Grr. It looks far better in an RSS feed.

    Todd Boss

    29 Nov 11 at 1:12 pm

  3. Great stuff, Todd.
    I think by far the best option is Bourjos. He was completely untouchable last year, but maybe this year is different. The Angels have black eye right now regarding Mike Napoli and they’re under pressure to get a catcher that actualy knows what happens a bat touches a ball. We have just what they need.

    Span would be the second choice, but he’ll have to spend at least half a season to prove himself concussion-free.
    People keep getting B.J.Upton confused with his much better brother.

    Waiting is truly a excellent option, as long as the fans understand there no championship in 2012 to be had. Destin Hood has terrific in High A last year and right behing him is Michael Taylor, who is getting nonstop raves from scouts & the Nats F.O.

    Mark L

    29 Nov 11 at 3:44 pm

  4. By the end of doing this analysis, I had decided that my two favorite choices were either the Bourjos trade or signing Cody Ross.

    Todd Boss

    29 Nov 11 at 4:12 pm

  5. Not that he’s the answer, but I did note the absence of Erik Komatsu in your analysis. If you’re going to include Corey Brown and Eury Perez as internal candidates, Komatsu wants into the discussion as well :-)

    John C.

    30 Nov 11 at 11:22 am

  6. Yeah … I thought about Komatsu, but when the team didn’t protect him ahead of the rule5 draft I got really concerned. Here’s my questions about Komatsu:
    - is he really a CF? I know that’s where he played for Harrisburg, but he’s also played all three positions to a decent extent.
    - is he going to get picked up in the rule5 draft? Probably not based on how he finished the year.
    - Has he been too old for his level, his entire career? A college draftee, he played a full season in rookie ball, then a full season in low-A, 2010 in high-A and 2011 in AA. A good college draftee starts at the worst in low-A, most in high-A. Rendon for example projects to start in high-a. Its no surprise a 21-yr old draftee hit so well in the rookie league in 2008; he’s probably at least 3 years older than most of the competition there.
    - Lastly, biggest worry; where does he play next year? Perez and Hood are going to be in AA, as will Harper. There’s your 3 outfield spots. Is Komatsu bumped up to AAA? He didn’t really seem to merit it. If so, where’s he gonna play there? AAA looks to have Brown, Bernadina already. Maybe that’s the answer and jettison the MLFAs that played a ton there this year (Frazier, Valdez, Blanco, Whiting).

    I dunno. Maybe i’m underselling Komatsu. Lets see what he does in 2012. Maybe he IS the answer, at least in the short term.

    Todd Boss

    30 Nov 11 at 1:57 pm

  7. [...] NO.  Look at my CF-only post, where you find that Crisp had a 91 ops+ and a negative UZR/150.  So, he can’t hit AND [...]

  8. Very nicely done Todd. Well researched, well thought out, and well written post.

    I took a look at the Brett Garner idea in October. I never thought it would actually be a possibility but wanted to know what it might end up costing. Ultimately I concluded there was no chance a deal would be reached.

    http://districtondeck.com/2011/10/18/could-brett-gardner-be-a-fit-for-the-nationals/

    Aaron S.

    1 Dec 11 at 4:41 pm

  9. Thanks man. I think i linked to a Keith Law chat when someone asked him if the Yanks would pull the trigger on a theoretical trade Gardner for Desmond & Peacock and he laughed out loud (in a manner of speaking). So if it would take more than Desmond/Peacock, what would it take? And then at what point does the team say, “gee, do I need Gardner for that cost if I’ve got Harper coming up, Perez, Hood, Goodwin and Komatsu that could possibly help as well, with in the year?”

    I think i missed your Gardner post; i would have put in my 2 cents.

    Todd Boss

    1 Dec 11 at 5:33 pm

  10. [...] a ton of homers and is inarguably a good player.  Is he the best option out there?  I posited a number of options in this space and Upton was just one of them.  I wouldn’t be upset if we landed him frankly, [...]

  11. [...] if we wanted to focus on a center fielder (see this article I did in November talking about the CF market for the whole of baseball for some thoughts).  Barring a trade, it seems inconceivable but Lannan does still have a minor [...]

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