November 5, 2007
Searching for Hunter's Replacement
This offseason's free-agent market is filled with big-name center fielders and there are a number of other quality center fielders rumored to be available via trades. While free agents like Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Aaron Rowand figure to be well out of the Twins' price range, once trades are thrown into the mix the center-field market essentially becomes a big game of musical chairs and there should be opportunities to acquire a quality player at a reasonable cost in one form or another.
The question is whether the Twins can identify those opportunities and pursue the right players. In an effort to set the table for that process, I've put together a list of 25 potential free-agent and trade targets. I'm not in favor of all 25 and the cost to acquire them--in terms of money or players--varies greatly, but these are all guys who should be available to some degree. In other words, when Smith sat down with the rest of the front office to discuss the post-Hunter options, many of these names likely came up.
ANDRUW JONES, 31-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: A nine-time Gold Glover and five-time All-Star with 368 homers and a .263/.342/.497 hitting line through the age of 30, he's been a superior player to Hunter during their respective careers.
CONS: Coming off the worst offensive season of his career (.222/.311/.413) and no longer the defender that he once was, yet will no doubt get a massive long-term contract.
AARON ROWAND, 30-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: An underrated defender who owns a better career hitting line than Hunter at .286/.343/.462 in seven MLB seasons, including .309/.374/.515 with 27 homers and 45 doubles in 161 games this year.
CONS: Batted just .270/.329/.407 in 2005 and .262/.321/.425 in 2006, and figures to be significantly out of the Twins' price range.
MIKE CAMERON, 35-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: An all-time great defender who batted .255/.341/.456 over the past two seasons while playing in baseball's most extreme pitcher's ballpark and figures to be far less expensive than Jones or Rowand.
CONS: Has either lost a step or is likely to soon lose a step defensively at the age of 35 and has been suspended for the first 25 games of next season after testing positive for a banned stimulant.
KOSUKE FUKODOME, 31-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: A superstar in Japan who hit .305/.397/.543 in nine seasons, he won the Central League MVP in 2006 by hitting .351/.438/.653 and followed it up by hitting .294/.443/.520 in 2007.
CONS: Missed 50 games with an elbow injury in 2007, might be stretched defensively in center field, and figures to be out of the Twins' price range.
ROCCO BALDELLI, 26-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: A toolsy former No. 6 overall pick with a .282/.324/.443 hitting line in four big-league seasons, he's a strong defender with good speed who's set to make $2.25 million in 2008 and has reasonable team options through 2011.
CONS: Can't stay healthy, missing 197 games over the past two seasons because of leg and shoulder injuries, and would likely require parting with at least one top-notch pitching prospect.
DAVID DEJESUS, 28-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: A good defender and .282/.358/.415 hitter in 506 career games, he's signed through 2011 for a total of $16.8 million over four seasons.
CONS: Like Baldelli, under-30 center fielders who're assets on offense and defense tend to cost quite a bit in trade, so the Twins would likely have to part with at least one top-level pitching prospect.
KENNY LOFTON, 41-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: Showing no signs of slowing down while playing on a never-ending string of one-year deals and has posted an above average on-base percentage for six straight seasons, including batting .296/.367/.414 between Texas and Cleveland in 2007.
CONS: Noodle-armed and no longer a great defender at the age of 41, he should be platooned at this stage of his career and can't be counted on for more than one year.
MATT KEMP, 23-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: Long one of the best outfield prospects in baseball, he batted .312/.344/.496 in his first 477 big-league plate appearances after hitting .311/.359/.519 in 405 minor-league games.
CONS: Has been mentioned in various Johan Santana rumors, which might be the only way that the Twins could get the Dodgers to part with him.
LASTINGS MILLEDGE, 23-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: Relatively similar to Kemp, but somewhat stuck behind Carlos Beltran and has been linked to countless trade rumors over the past couple seasons while batting .306/.380/.480 in 307 minor-league games and holding his own (.257/.326/.414) with the Mets.
CONS: Whether it's Kemp or Milledge, young, pre-arbitration center fielders with upside on offense and defense simply don't come cheap.
COCO CRISP, 28-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: A switch-hitter who's batted .280/.329/.409 in six MLB seasons while improving defensively with more experience in center field, he's relatively young and somewhat reasonably priced at $4.75 million in 2008 and $5.75 million in 2009.
CONS: The combination of his contract and likely cost via trade figures to dwarf his modest production (.266/.324/.383) in two seasons with the Red Sox.
JACQUE JONES, 33-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: Would have been the Twins' center fielder from 1999-2005 if not for Hunter's presence and remains a solid defender with a good bat against right-handers who's set to make $5 million in 2008.
CONS: Coming off the worst season of his career (.285/.335/.400) and if his first stint in Minnesota was any indication there's little chance that he'd be platooned.
JOHNNY DAMON, 34-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: Has posted an above average on-base percentage in six straight seasons and even in a down year hit .270/.351/.396, with the Yankees rumored to be shopping him.
CONS: May not be an asset defensively at this point, spending most of the season split between left field and designated hitter while Melky Cabrera started in center field, and is set to make $13 million in both 2008 and 2009.
REGGIE WILLITS, 26-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: Posted a .397 on-base percentage in four minor-league seasons before batting .293/.391/.344 with 27 steals and an MLB-leading 4.44 pitches per plate appearance as a 26-year-old rookie.
CONS: A strong defender who's young, cheap, and fast, Willits seems like a prototypical Angels player and might be tough to pry away.
MILTON BRADLEY, 30-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: A switch-hitter who batted .288/.372/.484 over the past three seasons, including .306/.402/.545 between Oakland and San Diego in 2007, and figures to be available for a one-year commitment.
CONS: Missed 254 games over the past three seasons, hasn't played center field regularly since 2005, and has a personality that makes him one of the game's biggest headaches.
COREY PATTERSON, 28-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: A strong defender and the youngest of the position's free agents, he's hit .273/.309/.415 with 82 steals over the past two seasons.
CONS: A former top prospect, he's turned tremendous raw talent into a horrible .298 career on-base percentage and equally hideous 711-to-153 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
JEREMY REED, 27-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: A former top prospect who the Mariners have given up on after 856 plate appearances, he's a strong defender with a .295/.358/.445 hitting line in 269 games at Triple-A and figures to come cheaply.
CONS: Batted just .253/.314/.366 in those 856 big-league plate appearances, including .241/.301/.358 since hitting .397 during his 18-game MLB debut in 2004.
DARIN ERSTAD, 34-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: A career .284/.339/.411 hitter in a dozen major-league seasons who at one time was arguably the most underrated defender in baseball, he played this season on a one-year, $750,000 deal.
CONS: Missed 197 games with injuries over the past two years, has been an asset offensively in one season since 2000, and would make my head explode from the local media's constant mentions of his punting career at Nebraska, supposed "gamer" status, and North Dakota upbringing.
JAY PAYTON, 35-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: A right-handed hitting, poor man's version of Jacque Jones down to his $5 million salary for 2008, he's a career .281/.325/.432 hitter who could split time with Tyner.
CONS: Batted just .256/.292/.376 as a 34-year-old, hasn't had an above average on-base percentage since 2002, and is probably stretched defensively in center field.
BRAD WILKERSON, 31-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: A career .250/.354/.451 hitter in seven MLB seasons who figures to be relatively cheap and won't cost a draft pick to sign.
CONS: He's an oft-injured 31-year-old who hasn't played center field regularly since 2005 and batted just .228/.312/.445 over the past two seasons with the Rangers.
DAVE ROBERTS, 36-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: A career .268/.342/.370 hitter in nine big-league seasons who remains a strong defender with excellent speed in his mid-30s.
CONS: Batted just .260/.331/.364 while missing one-third of the season as a 35-year-old and is set to make $6.5 million in each of the next two seasons.
RAJAI DAVIS, 27-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: One of baseball's fastest players and part of the reason why Roberts might be available, he's hit .305/.373/.407 with 251 steals in 625 career minor-league games and .270/.353/.363 with 23 steals in 236 big-league plate appearances.
CONS: Acquired by the Giants at this season's trading deadline and one of their few relatively young position players, he might be overpriced via trade.
FRED LEWIS, 27-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: Stuck behind both Roberts and Davis on the Giants' depth chart, he's a .281/.375/.480 hitter in 168 Triple-A games and has batted .298/.379/.408 in 191 big-league plate appearances.
CONS: Might be stretched defensively in center field and the Giants may have the former second-round pick in their long-term plans as a corner outfielder, so he might not come cheaply.
MARK KOTSAY, 32-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: A career .282/.337/.415 hitter in 11 MLB seasons played in mostly pitcher-friendly ballparks, he was once among the game's most underrated defenders and the A's would likely be willing to eat some of his $8 million salary for 2008.
CONS: Now a shell of his former self both offensively and defensively, he missed all but 56 games this season following back surgery and hit just .214/.279/.296.
BRIAN BARTON, 26-YEAR-OLD TRADE TARGET
PROS: Hit .326/.442/.506, .323/.412/.511, and .305/.402/.420 in three minor-league seasons, but stuck behind Grady Sizemore and has yet to make his big-league debut despite turning 26 years old soon.
CONS: Barton is a perfect low-cost, diamond-in-the-rough target, but might be stretched defensively and the Indians are unlikely to deal within their division.
JEFF DAVANON, 34-YEAR-OLD FREE AGENT
PROS: A switch-hitter with a .302/.405/.468 hitting line in 625 career minor-league games, he's batted .259/.349/.400 in 1,505 big-league plate appearances spread over eight seasons.
CONS: Even minor-league veterans with strong track records who're deserving of a chance in the majors get old, and at 34 he might be stretched as a starter both offensively and defensively.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.