The corner outfielder often gets lumped into the mix with the first basemen / designated hitter types. You might call that part of the market the ‘last piece saloon.’ But, Raul Ibanez aside, corner outfielders need to be able to run a little bit, too.
Oh, would you look at that, Ibanez is a free agent. But who needs a corner outfielder at all? Depending on how they put their team together, the Braves could maybe use another outfielder. The Red Sox have an opening, but after their last high-priced acquisition in the outfield, and their plethora of in-house options, it might not be a priority. Both Chicago teams are a maybe, with the NL version more probable. Do the Dodgers have any money? The Giants will sign one for sure. The A’s will wait for a bargain, as they always do. The Mariners have to be considered dark horses for any piece of offense. The Nationals could try again. That pretty much defines your market, and it’s a pretty decent one in terms of demand.
What does the supply look like?
It looks about as plentiful, if lacking in upside. Okay, there are lots of… dudes. Whether you’d be excited about this pool of talent is another thing.
The 34-year-old former center fielder with brittle knees is the jewel of the market. Carlos Beltran ain’t what he used to be, but he’s still more than most. He managed a 153 wRC+ on rates that looked a looked a lot like his old self, but he also came up two PAs short of 600 after two injury-riddled years. He had a nice .225 ISO in 2011, but his power is more double-heavy these days. That 12.9% HR/FB was a three-year high for him. He’s reaching more and adding less value on the basepaths and in the field every year, but at least he proved he still has four-win upside. He should join a contender that can afford to nurse him through the year, and as long as his knees hold up, his excellent plate discipline and and above-average power would make him a decent acquisition.
Josh Willingham is only two years younger than Beltran and that might surprise a few people. He did put up his second-best power year in a pitcher’s park and in the more difficult league last year, though, so he makes a decent consolation prize. His glove was never good (-22.1 runs fielding over his career), and he was never fleet of foot (-4.5 runs on the basepaths), so he is falling from a lower peak (three WAR in 2008 and 2010). It’s also sort of worrisome that he just set a career high in strikeouts. With his shortcomings with the glove, the AL might be the best fit for him.
The Twins have a pair of older free agent outfielders, and they might just let both go. Jason Kubel is the younger of the two, at 29 years of age, but he has a glove for the designated hitter position. He’s also only once had an ISO over .200, and doesn’t add value on the basepaths. So he’s sort of a doubles and walks young DH in the making. The 32-year-old Michael Cuddyer also has only crossed that .200 ISO threshold twice in his career, doesn’t have a great glove (-44.5 runs fielding career), and also doesn’t add value on the basepaths. But he did put up his career-best WAR (3.1) at the right time, and played all over the diamond in 2011 with decent results (everywhere but second base). Cuddyer may cost more, and is a Type A to Kubel’s Type B, but there are too many similarities here to get too comfortable reaching for one over the other.
With his poor home run, RBI, and stolen base totals, the 31-year-old David DeJesus is a dark horse buy, perfect for a team that values defense, baserunning and patience at the plate… like the Athletics. Considering that he is a corner outfielder that just came off a season in which more than half of his (about average) value came away from the dish, he just might return. The position isn’t known for defense-first stars, and at his age he’s not about to start putting up league-average power or steal a bunch of bases. He’s looking like a fourth outfielder on a contender or a second-division starter.
Now we come to the rest of the best, or a bunch of outfielders that may not be starters for one reason or another. Juan Pierre might seem like a starter, and he did start all last year, but the 34-year-old just put up his first below-replacement year. With his complete lack of power and iffy defense, he hasn’t been above-average since 2006, so his upside isn’t that great either way.
J.D. Drew looked all of his 35 years in putting up 286 below replacement PAs last year. Both of his hamstrings, his shoulder, a finger, and a neck might have been the obvious culprits, but who’s to say he’ll be any healthier next year? A short-term make-good contract might be his only shot.
Kosuke Fukudome is 34 and has been bad with the glove and below scratch on the basepaths for two years. Oh yeah, his career wRC+ is 101 too. Johnny Damon had a decent fantasy year for a 37-year-old, but his legs are starting to fail him in the field and on the bases. Will someone make him a starter? 277 hits short of 3000, he’ll probably keep trying to hang on, but he also probably won’t manage two wins of value next year, either.
Felix Pie was two wins worse than replacement last year, but his true talent is probably not worth negative double-digit runs on defense going forward. He’s 26, so a rebuilding team might give him another shot… but that would describe the Orioles. Even if you gave him his best Baltimore ISO (.171), walk rate (8.5%), and fielding runs (+4.4 runs), he might not manage much better than the 1.2 WAR he had with those stats in 2009. And that seems much longer than two years ago.
Cody Ross is 30 and his best full-year wRC+ (106) came in 2008 and was modest. He could platoon for someone. Back to Ibanez: He is going on 40, is worse than scratch on the bases and is a terrible defender these days. Maybe he can DH for someone.
And then, if you really just want a bench bat or DH, you could grab into the bottom of the grab bag for one of these fellows. We’ll list them in order of descending upside, more or less (with their ages next season in parentheses):
Conor Jackson (30), Ryan Ludwick (33), Scott Hairston (32), Jonny Gomes (31), Reed Johnson (35), Travis Buck (28), Milton Bradley (34), Magglio Ordonez (38), Marcus Thames (35), Juan Rivera (33), Jay Gibbons (35), Laynce Nix (31), Xavier Nady (33), Scott Podsednik (36), Jason Michaels (36), Pat Burrell (35), Mark DeRosa (37).
You know, one of these guys might end up with a decent role on a decent team if a few injuries and some luck bounces their way. Good luck guessing which one.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.