The Coming Shortage of Available Outfielders

A few days ago, the Giants lost Hunter Pence to the disabled list, weakening an already thin outfield, and making it likely that the team will have to start looking to the trade market to fill the hole at some point this summer. Then, Marlon Byrd got suspended for using PEDs, taking an outfielder off an Indians roster that was already weak in the outfield, forcing Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti to admit that they’ll probably start surveying the trade market for outfield help.

The problem, though, is that they’re going to join a pretty large number of contenders looking for outfielders. The Nationals are likely to be looking for an OF this summer, as Michael Taylor and Jayson Werth haven’t exactly inspired much confidence to this point. The Cubs could be in the market for an outfielder if Jorge Soler doesn’t start hitting fairly soon. The Red Sox probably won’t go with Blake Swihart or Brock Holt as their regular left fielder down the stretch, so they could be in the market for an outfielder as well. The Mariners probably wouldn’t mind a better option than Nori Aoki if they could find one. The White Sox could pick up an outfielder and move Melky Cabrera to DH, or move Austin Jackson to a fourth outfielder role if they found an upgrade in center field. The Orioles seem to not trust Hyun-Soo Kim, so when he cools off, he might get displaced as well.

Point being, there are a lot of potential buyers for outfield upgrades this summer. But the list of available outfielders, right now, looks pretty short.

The Brewers would move Ryan Braun, but first he has to prove he can stay in the line-up on a regular basis, which has been a problem lately. The contract, age, and PED history will likely scare off a number of buyers as well. Carlos Gonzalez should be available, but the Rockies have declined to move him the last few times he should been available too, so who knows what they’re going to do.

Jay Bruce is out there, but he’s a DH at this point of his career, and shouldn’t interest any team that cares about their pitchers. Ditto Matt Kemp, who is also running a .250 OBP and owed a crazy amount of money. Maybe the Braves would move Nick Markakis, except he’s not very good, and also overpaid. On the buy low side of things, the Rays could probably be talked out of Desmond Jennings, but he hasn’t hit in a couple of years now, and injuries seem to have sapped him of some of his athleticism.

Josh Reddick would probably be the best available outfield option for most teams, but he’s currently hurt. He should be back in time to serve as a decent July trade chip, but there’s also only one of him to go around, and certainly more than one team in the market for outfield help.

Given the lack of supply and the abundance of demand, it will probably make sense for teams on the bubble of contending to listen to offers for their productive outfielders. This could be the ideal time for the Yankees to get maximum value for Brett Gardner, for instance, or for the Rockies to put Charlie Blackmon on the block. With the current state of weak outfields on contending teams and not a great crop of outfielders available in trade, there may be an opportunity for a team to get a nice package for any kind of decent outfielder. There just don’t look like there are that many decent outfielders out there to be had right now.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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jaykaydee
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jaykaydee

Isn’t the answer to “there aren’t any good outfielders available” just “get an athletic infielder and put them in the outfield”? Especially if we’re talking corner outfield and not everyday – certainly seems to have worked out pretty well with Ian Desmond (and he’s playing CF!). Granted, it’s not as if there’s any great surplus of position players anywhere, but this seems like it’ll probably happen to fill at least one of these holes.

Roger21
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Roger21

Didn’t the Red Sox try that with Hanley last year? Perhaps at that point in his career he wasn’t quite as “athletic” as the infielders to which you’re referring, but I’d still have my doubts about assuming an infielder can make the transition to the outfield.

jaykaydee
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jaykaydee

Yes, they did, and it was a catastrophe – but Hanley had *never* been an especially good defender. But say someone like Aaron Hill, who’s been a decent 2B and serviceable 3B, would probably not kill you in LF, and is hitting well enough that he can kill you just a bit and it’s still fine. Martin Prado has played 4000+ innings of actually-pretty-good corner outfield, and was seeing most of his action there as recently as 2012-13. The Nationals threw Danny Espinosa (who’s an excellent defender at both 2B and SS) into LF last year with basically no prep, and he looked just fine. A generically good defender at a higher-premium position typically has the skills to do just fine in LF.

jsc1973
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jsc1973

The Red Sox also tried it with Mookie Betts. I’d say that worked.

Ernie Camacho
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Ernie Camacho

This has been the answer for the Indians so far, with Jose Ramirez in LF and Lonnie Chisenhall in RF, and it’s been working surprisingly well.