Operation Center Field: Not All Flaws Are Created Equal

Now that we’ve looked at defense, how about the other side? There aren’t many center fielders without holes in their offensive game: Carlos Beltran, Grady Sizemore, Ichiro Suzuki… Curtis Granderson is close enough. Let’s see, which of these players is available?

Uh, that would be none.

Okay, so the Padres will need to acquire a flawed hitter. Our next questions should be these:

  1. Independent of market, which flaw(s) can the Padres most afford to live with in their lineup? Which flaw(s) can they least afford?
  2. Which skills does the market currently overvalue? Which does it undervalue?

After we’ve attempted to answer these questions, we can start thinking about more practical matters, such as what it might cost to acquire a particular player. First define your targets, then focus on procurement.

The goal is to find a player (or better, a set of players) whose weaknesses are minimized by context and whose skill set is undervalued. This may not be possible, but again, it’s a starting point. When it comes time to make concessions, we at least have a way to evaluate tradeoffs.

So, to the questions:

Which Flaws Are Least Damaging Given Context?

Ask most folks on the street what the Padres’ greatest need is on offense, and they’ll say more power. As we’ve demonstrated, this is a load of crap, but it’s what many people believe and repeat to others in lieu of truth.


The point is, with Adrian Gonzalez, Khalil Greene, and Kevin Kouzmanoff in the lineup, the Padres don’t need power from their center fielder. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love more power; I’d love to have a 30-homer guy at every position — who wouldn’t? But we’re not talking about somebody’s pipe dream, we’re talking about the areas in which sacrifices can be made without inflicting too much damage. Call power a “nice to have” and leave it at that for now.

At the other end of the spectrum, only the Arizona Diamondbacks (.321) and Chicago White Sox (.318) posted lower team OBPs than the Padres (.322). The Snakes survived on the strength of their pitching in ’07, while the White Sox blew mighty chunks.

For as much as we take pride in the Padres’ pitchers, it’d be real nice to remove some pressure from them next year by scoring more runs. One way is by reaching base more often.

Who Reached Base?

Ten players logged at least 300 plate appearances in 2007, played a fair amount of center field, and finished the season with a .350 OBP or better. Most of those guys, as you might imagine, fall into the untouchable category.

Three do not: Cleveland’s Kenny Lofton, Texas’ Marlon Byrd, and Kansas City’s David DeJesus. Lower the proverbial bar a tad and you’ll find a couple other names that have been rumored at various points to be coming to San Diego: the Cubs’ Jacque Jones and Boston’s Coco Crisp.

Let’s look at each of these options:

  • Lofton is old and probably couldn’t handle the rigors of playing center in the NL West. Byrd is younger, but probably shouldn’t be playing center for anyone.
  • DeJesus intrigues me. He is in his prime, possesses good on-base skills, and reportedly plays solid defense. He doesn’t run much or possess home-run power, so he might not be as sexy as some other center fielders. The U-T gives the impression that Kansas City might be willing to move him to make room for Joey Gathright. Although DeJesus isn’t someone to build around, the guy has skills — sort of Mark Kotsay lite.
  • Jones? I’ve resisted this idea for a long time because he’s got that anti-PPOM (Popular Perception of Moneyball) thing going. You know, the Garret Anderson type whose value is way too tied up into batting average. That said, although Jones’ home-run total plummeted from 27 to 5 last year, the rest of his numbers remained steady. We’re not so concerned about power, so assuming he’s a legitimate center fielder (the numbers look nice but you know me and defensive metrics), Jones might be a decent buy-low candidate.
  • Crisp is like Jones, only younger and with more of a track record in center field. The big strikes against him are durability and a bat that has been MIA since he came to Boston. The one thing that might work in the Padres favor is that when Red Sox Nation turns on one of its own, the results can be goofy. That said, I doubt that anyone is as down on Crisp as they were on Josh Bard in April 2006 — and even if they were, I’m not sure the Red Sox would be willing to make another sweetheart deal.

Of all the above candidates to fill the job in 2008, DeJesus and Crisp (depending on cost and availability) are the most appealing options to me. All else being equal (which it never is), I’d prefer DeJesus because he’s younger, cheaper, healthier, and less prone to having his offensive game vanish for two years at a time.

The difference between DeJesus and Crisp is, to me, similar to that between Kotsay and Jay Payton. One of those guys can hold down the job for a while and give you some stability at the position, while the other is more like deploying a wad of used gum until you can find the glue.

A few other names have been suggested by knowledgeable folks (i.e., readers Peter Friberg and Tom Waits):

  • Brian Barton — He’s oldish (turns 25 at the end of April) and blocked by Sizemore in Cleveland, but he’s hit at every level; sounds like a certain Kouzmanoff I know.
  • Ryan Church — Washington reportedly is interested in Torii Hunter; Church has played more left field, although his numbers in center are solid.
  • Eric Patterson — Corey’s younger brother, former second baseman; could be blocked by Felix Pie.
  • Luke Scott — Similar to Church, but with less experience in center field.

We’re going to skip the next question about which skills the market currently over- and undervalues because, well, I haven’t given it enough thought to say anything meaningful. This is a complex issue worthy of attention, and maybe at some point will revisit it. For now, let’s cut to the chase.

What’s the Cost?

As with most of our questions, the answer is more complicated than you might expect. Fortunately there are no free agents in our list of targets — that would add an extra layer of complexity and probably make my head explode.

The U-T article referenced above indicates that the Padres are more likely to fill the center field vacancy via trade, which I’m glad to hear because I’d reached the same conclusion myself a few weeks ago. First, it’s nice to have my thought process validated; second, and more importantly, it’s comforting to know that my team isn’t going to throw money at a problem just because it can.

Anyway, the costs for each of the below players are twofold:

  • Current and future salary — easy to determine
  • Cost to acquire — unknown

We’ll deal with salary now because it’s easier and my brain is starting to hurt. We may not get to acquisition cost today; assuming the Padres haven’t made a move by then, I’ll return to that sometime next week. (In the meantime, of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts.)

Okay, then. To the indispensable Cot’s Baseball Contracts we turn (names are arranged alphabetically):

  • Barton — club control
  • Church — club control
  • Crisp — $10.5 million through 2009, plus $8 million club option for ’10 (or $0.5 million buyout)
  • DeJesus — $10.8 million through 2010, plus $6 million club option for ’11 (or $0.5 million buyout)
  • Jones — $5 million through 2008
  • Patterson — club control
  • Scott — club control

For the players still under club control, I’m not sure when the clock started ticking; maybe someone can help on that front? Among the others, DeJesus has the most favorable contract situation, followed by Jones, and then Crisp. I really am not crazy about Crisp’s contract.

Taking contractual obligations and big-league experience into consideration only, without regard for acquisition cost, I think my shopping list would look something like this:

  1. DeJesus
  2. Church
  3. Barton
  4. Crisp
  5. Jones

Church is almost “1a” here; if he’s a legitimate center fielder, he might be a better option because he possesses a broader base of offensive skills and his contract is better. Crisp and Jones are the “safe” options, but neither is exciting. Barton is starting to interest me; again, I don’t know how good a defender he is, but the presence of Sizemore could make him expendable.

Winter Leagues

  • Javelinas 3, Saguaros 2 (box | recap). Matt Antonelli, batting ninth, singled and walked in three trips to the plate. In the field, he recorded three assists and a putout, and committed an error. Will Startup worked a scoreless inning and a third, walking one and fanning two.
  • Licey 5, Escogido 2 (box). This is Monday’s game. Yordany Ramirez has seen his playing time reduced since Felix Pie arrived. Ramirez pinch-ran in the sixth and finished up in right field, singling in his only at-bat. On the Escogido side, Vince Sinisi singled and struck out in four at-bats.
  • Azucareros 4, Escogido 3 (box). Sinisi repeated Monday’s performance.
  • Licey 4, Gigantes 3 (box). Ramirez pinch-ran in the eighth, stole a base, and finished up in left field.
  • Mochis 7, Navojoa 5 (box). Oscar Robles went 2-for-4. Luis Cruz, batting sixth and playing second base, went 0-for-3 with a walk.
  • Hermosillo 7, Mazatlan 6 (box). Brian Myrow, batting fifth for Mazatlan, doubled, walked, and struck out twice in four trips to the plate.

There it is. We’ve got something a little different lined up for Thursday. I’m taking a break from analyzing stuff to present the first of a five-part interview that I hope you will enjoy. Hint: Expect some non-baseball content.

I’ll also be in Vegas over the next few days for BlogWorld. None other than Mark Cuban is giving the final keynote on Friday afternoon. I’ll be sure to tell him you said hey. ;-)