Position-by-position trade deadline preview: Center field

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This is the seventh in a series of articles looking at players who might be available in the days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.
B.J. Upton (Rays) – Upton has frustrated the Rays with his lack of effort at times and this makes two straight years in which he hasn’t hit much at all, but it looks like the team still isn’t ready to give up on him. While his name came up in the Cliff Lee rumors and he’s been mentioned in connection with the Nationals, Phillies and Dodgers, the belief is that he’s staying. The Rays aren’t ready to turn center field over to top prospect Desmond Jennings just yet.
Chris Young (Diamondbacks) – Young certainly would have been a lot easier to acquire over the winter. With a .269/.334/.468 line, 17 homers and 63 RBI in 98 games, he’s currently living up to the contract that will pay him $5 million next year, $7 million in 2012, $8.5 million in 2013 and either $11 million or a $1.5 million buyout in 2014. The Diamondbacks as a whole, on the other hand, have continued to disappoint and want to cut back payroll, which is why Young might be available. It’d still be quite a surprise if he were dealt.
Cody Ross (Marlins) – Ross fits better in a corner, but he remains an option in center field. It’s where the Marlins have been using him since they called up Mike Stanton to take over in right. After back-to-back years of 20 homers and OPSs right around 800, Ross is currently hitting .270/.325/.404 with nine homers through 374 at-bats. The Phillies, Braves, Red Sox and Dodgers have expressed interest in him anyway, though the Dodgers would seem to be out of the mix after picking up Scott Podsednik. Because of the Chris Coghlan injury, the Marlins are leaning towards keeping him, at least for a couple of more months. He’ll be a prime non-tender candidate in the offseason if he fails to put up a strong second half.
Coco Crisp (Athletics) – Crisp has had big problems staying on the field the last two years, but he’s the one legitimate leadoff-hitting center fielder potentially available and that would seem to give him some trade value. The Padres bid on him in the offseason and still have a need for him now, and he’d be quite a weapon as a part-timer for the Braves, White Sox, Yankees or Rays. The A’s could choose to retain him and exercise his $5.75 million option for 2011, but as much time as he’s missed, he should come cheaper than that next year.
Jim Edmonds (Brewers) – Back after a year off, Edmonds has posted an impressive .289/.353/.513 line in 197 at-bats for Milwaukee this year. He’s no everyday center fielder at this stage of his career, but his bat makes it worth living with his diminished range, at least when the opponent is throwing a right-hander. He can also serve as a backup first baseman. This is probably his last season, but he hasn’t expressed a desire to finish his career with a World Series contender. The Brewers figure to keep him unless he requests a move next month.
Corey Patterson (Orioles) – Patterson filled in admirably as the Orioles’ leadoff hitter with Brian Roberts on the shelf, and though his production has tailed off recently, he’s still at a respectable .274/.325/.404 in 223 at-bats. He’s also stolen 17 bases in 20 attempts. No contender is going to want him as a regular, but he’d be awfully useful off the bench if he could maintain that kind of line. Too bad most suspect that he can’t.
Willie Harris (Nationals) – Not that he would have brought a king’s ransom in return, but the Nationals missed out on their chance to sell high on Harris a year ago. After three straight seasons in which he proved quite valuable while racking up about 350 at-bats a year, he’s fallen all of the way to .184/.287/.355 in 141 at-bats in 2010. Given that he plays left and right very well, center adequately and second and third if necessary, he could still be a fit for several contenders. A return to Chicago with the White Sox would make some sense.
Chris Dickerson (Reds) – Dickerson, who has been on the DL since the end of April with a broken hamate bone, is hitting .429/.515/.821 through nine games in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Louisville. The strong showing might prompt the Reds to have him replace Laynce Nix on the bench, but they’d likely still be willing to send him elsewhere in return for a prospect. Dickerson is out of options, so sending him down until rosters expand isn’t an option.
First base
Second base
Third base
Left field & right field

Yadier Molina’s new backup: Cardinals sign Brayan Pena to two-year deal

Brayan Pena Reds
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Veteran catcher Brayan Pena has agreed to a two-year contract with the Cardinals, who’re investing much more than usual in their backup for Yadier Molina.

After bouncing around for a decade without getting even 250 plate appearances in a season Pena signed with the Reds and topped 350 plate appearances in both 2014 and 2015. His production didn’t improve any, as Pena hit .263 with five homers and a .652 OPS in 223 games as a regular.

Pena’s best skill is rarely striking out, which enables him to hit for a decent batting average, but he has very little power and swings at everything. He struggled to control the running game this season at age 33, but has a decent throw-out rate for his career.

Making a multi-year commitment to Pena suggests the Cardinals are no longer counting on Molina being the same type of workhorse behind the plate, which certainly makes sense given his age and injury history. Pena will replace Tony Cruz, who’s been Molina’s understudy since 2011 while hitting just .220 with five homers and a .572 OPS in 259 games.

While we wait for free agent signings: Andrew McCutchen stars in a one-act play

Andrew McCutchen
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It’s a pretty slow offseason so far. We’ve had a couple of minor signings. I guess Jordan Zimmermann is sort of a big deal. But it’s a lot more quiet so far this year than it was this time last year. I suppose there’s no real rhyme nor reason for it. Baseball offseason is long, there is no salary cap and thus there’s no rush to do things too quickly.

So, while we wait, here’s Andrew McCutchen doing his best to kill time until spring training starts:

Red Sox sign outfielder Chris Young

Chris Young Getty

Veteran outfielder Chris Young thrived in a platoon role for the Yankees this past season and now he’s headed to the rival Red Sox to fill a similar role, signing a multi-year deal with Boston according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.

Young was once an everyday center fielder for the Diamondbacks, making the All-Star team in 2010 at age 26, but for the past 3-4 years he’s gotten 300-350 plate appearances in a part-time role facing mostly left-handed pitching. He hit .252 with 14 homers and a .773 OPS for the Yankees, but prior to that failed to top a .700 OPS in 2013 or 2014.

Given the Red Sox’s outfield depth–Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Brock Holt even with Hanley Ramirez back in the infield–Young is unlikely to work his way into everyday playing time at age 32, but he should get another 300 or so plate appearances while also providing a veteran fallback option. And it’s possible his arrival clears the way for a trade.

David Price said to care about more than just the money

David Price

Every year free agency brings with it its own set of politics and talking points and spin. Factors which are said to be more important to players than the money being offered.

And, to be fair, there is one big factor that is likely more important than money for many of them: winning. I truly believe players want to win. They say it all the time and there’s no reason to think they’re being disingenuous about that, especially the ones who have been around the game a long time.

I’ll note, however, that given how success cycles work in baseball (i.e. teams that aren’t close to being true contenders aren’t likely to be spending big in free agency anyway) that consideration often washes out of the system. Every year you hear of one or two losing teams making a big, competitive offer to a free agent, but it’s not that common.

What I’m talking about more here are the truly soft factors. Factors which often anchor hot stove rumors, but which rarely if ever truly stand out as determining factors when it comes to where a free agent ends up. Examples of these include geographic proximity to where the player grew up, his wife grew up, he went to college or what have you. Remember how CC Sabathia was going to play in California? And Mark Teixeira was going to play for Baltimore? Heck, I’m so old I remember when Brandon Webb was gonna break the bank playing for the Reds.

It’s pretty rare, though, for that to pan out. Sabathia and Teixeira went to New York. If Brandon Webb’s shoulder had cooperated it’s not likely he would’ve ended up in Cincinnati. Money talks for free agents, much louder than any of the soft considerations. Even when, like Mike Hampton and his Denver-public-school-loving self claimed that he signed with the Rockies for reasons other than the fact that they unloaded the money truck for him.

I think we’re seeing a new soft factor emerge. Today Peter Gammons reported this about David Price:

Cities are fairly strong as soft factors go, I reckon. Somewhere south of money and winning but north of “my wife’s family lives there.” Money can make up the difference between a fun city and a lame city, but if things are equal, going someplace you want to be likely is a factor.

But that second one — being able to hit — seems a bit suspect. This is not the first time I’ve heard that this offseason. Zack Greinke was said to prefer the NL because he likes to hit. I’ve heard this about other pitchers too. I question how important a factor that truly is — the actual hitting part actually affecting a free agent decision — as much as I suspect it’s a negotiating tool designed to get AL teams to pay a premium to get the guy to “give up” hitting. Or, more likely, that it’s code for “it’s WAY easier to pitch in the NL because I get to face a pitcher who can’t hit for crap 2-3 times a game.”

On some level I suppose this is all unknowable. I doubt David Price or some other free agent pitcher is ever going to hold a January press conference in which he says the following:

“Well, the money was absolutely equal between the final two suitors and, as you know, both made the playoffs last year and play in cities with copious cultural resources for my family and me. And, having plotted the two cities on Google Maps, I discovered that the two cities are each EXACTLY 347 miles from my Aunt Tilly’s house! What are the friggin’ odds?

Ultimately, though, I signed here so I could bat.”

Like I said, not likely. But wouldn’t it be something if that happened? If so, I’d probably cast a 12-inch statue of Mike Hampton and start giving out an annual award or something.