The Nationals are in the market for a centerfielder, and a leadoff hitter, although they aren’t necessarily the same person. This week, both Keith Law at ESPN and Ben Reiter at SI released their top 50 free agents list. How about we take a look through that list to shop for a CF, and see what we come up with? While there are possibilities, like moving Werth to CF and picking up a corner guy, let’s just look for now at those guys who are or having been out there in center.
Carlos Beltran (#9 Law/#7 Reiter) – Beltran can still hit, as he showed at least in the first half last year. He really isn’t a centerfielder anymore, between his injury risk and his age. His range isn’t there anymore, and the Nats probably aren’t in the business of signing a 35 year old at this point anyway.
David DeJesus (#21/—) – Last year was a terrible season at the play for DeJesus, which might be why he didn’t even make Reiter’s list, but some of that might have to do with moving to Oakland. If you believe he can still hit enough, you have to convince yourself he can still play CF. I am not so much a believer of either, considering he hasn’t been a regular there since 2008, and he fell off a cliff against lefties this past season. At this point, he could be a platoon guy who can’t play CF.
Grady Sizemore (#25/#21) – Sizemore still gets some credit for being one of the best players in baseball in 2007-2008, and he deserves it. But for a guy who was never a great CF who is now a huge injury risk, why would you want to play him there? He’s a high risk guy who once was a star, so he might be able to do something special, but even if you get a great contract with him, sticking out in CF seems like folly.
Coco Crisp (#26/#17) – Not only did Reiter rank Crisp much higher than Law, he actually predicted the Nats would sign him. What would they get? A 32 year old who is probably an average fielder at the position for now, and isn’t a top of the order guy. If he continues to post a .314 OBP like last year, he’s not an anywhere in the order type of guy. Law points out that he can’t hit offspeed pitches anymore, and while a move to the NL usually helps, I’m not sure about this at all. If he can only hit fastballs, but doesn’t have the power to make pitchers pay when they make mistakes, I don’t think he’s a full time starter anymore. As a 4th guy who can play some CF, he’s worth it, but that’s not what the Nats are looking for.
Johnny Damon (#27/#25) – Ol’ Noodle Arm hasn’t played much CF since about 2008, and he’s now 37. He can probably hit better than Crisp, but he doesn’t belong anywhere in the field except LF. And seriously, he’s 37, why do the Nats want to sign that.
Andruw Jones (#37/—) – Jones is only 34, which is kinda surprising since he had a great 1996 World Series. He’ll be 35 in 2012, and is just too slow and too big to play CF anymore. He also is a platoon player, who can’t hit righties anymore. He’s got power and patience against lefties, and could be useful in a corner outfield spot because he’s got such a great glove, despite his diminished range, but a starting CF job shouldn’t happen again for him.
Juan Pierre (—/#47) – Pierre was at one point a hugely overrated player, then transitioned to being perhaps slightly underrated. His OBP isn’t as bad as you might think, with a career mark of .345, but he is completely devoid of power. If last year’s .329 OBP is an indication of things to come, the stolen base guy who gets caught stealing more than anyone else in today’s game is even less useful. He also hasn’t played CF more than briefly since 2007, despite his speed, which should tell you something about how well he can do it. Another non full time hitter who can’t play the position.
If you read that and thought I really wasn’t excited about any of the choices, you were correct. There just aren’t guys out there that I’d like to see the Nats sign as their full time CF. Sure, some of these guys might qualify as slightly better than their in house options, but even that I’m not sure about. If they want to get creative, they could move Werth to CF and try to see what Sizemore can do in a corner spot. Or a Jones/Nix platoon could work, if you think Nix can hit righties enough. Nothing strikes me as particularly “the” answer.
So What’s a GM to Do?
Perhaps the best route for Rizzo is to make a trade. Joe Sheehan wrote a possibility that makes sense. Tyler Clippard, while spectacular in the bullpen this year, is probably overvalued. Yes, it’s great to have two guys who might be able to close, but it the long run, most people would rather have one guy and a full time centerfielder. He writes, “Could Clippard bring in a Dexter Fowler, a Denard Span, a Drew Stubbs…someone undervalued by his current team? That’s a trade the Nationals should pursue, as an eighth-inning guy is much more replaceable than a true centerfielder” and I have a hard time disagreeing with him.