So I Hear The Braves Need a Center Fielder…

That seems to be the word going around right now. By now, you know the Braves are highly unlikely to resign free agent Michael Bourn, thus leaving a hole in center field for the 2013 season. Fortunately, there are a good amount of options in the free agent market as well as players that could be up for trade from various teams. If that sounds interesting, the next 3500+ words are for you.

I have selected seven guys who could be possible replacements in center 2013 and likely beyond. These seven guys are all below the total package that Bourn brings to the table, but each have their own strengths and weaknesses that could make them a good fit. I will list them in order of how attractive of an option I believe they are for the Braves. There is a possible chance that none of these guys wind up on the team in 2013, but as of now these seem to be the favorites.

To get it out of the way, no, Jason Heyward will not be in center field in 2013. The Braves have already dismissed this as an option so I am not really going to discuss it. I know I previously talked about it as a possibility in 2013, but I really think it’s smart to let him be and allow him to develop into one of the games best right fielders. I think he can be used there in a pinch, but I like how the front office has come out and already disputed that notion. So, we’ll end that talk right there.

In case you missed it, the Braves claimed Astros center fielder, and former Braves prospect, Jordan Schafer off waivers last week. Initially, many fans threw up their hands and asked how is this a possible fix. Fans grew tired of Schafer with his time with Atlanta between failed drug which lead to a 50 game suspension along with his general poor performance. Lets be clear, Schafer was not brought to the team to fill the centerfield hole as a starter, he will compete as a 4th or 5th outfielder. It is a no risk play which has the potential of some upside. I do not think Schafer will ever pan out as the prospect many fans hoped for, but he may be a solid option off the bench (and will most likely block Jose Constanza from making the big club). I don’t have any high expectations for Schafer going forward, but if he’s getting the league minimum, I guess I’ll take another flyer.

Anyways, back to what we came to talk about. The Braves will be searching up and down, exploring every single option they have for potential centerfield candidates. From 2010-2012 the league average center fielder had a triple slash of .263/.328/.410 with a wOBA of .324 and a wRC+ of 100. A league average center fielder also sported a 0.40 K/BB ratio. Those are a baseline for which you can compare the numbers below. They are not written in stone and there are certainly other ways to judge players (which I will certainly do), but those are key stats to get a general idea of what type of players the Braves are looking at.  Here are, in my personal opinion, the center fielders I think Braves should consider this off-season.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Denard Span Twins 29 $3M $4.75M

First is Denard Span. If you’ve followed me on Twitter this off-season, I’ve been a pretty heavy advocate of the Braves pursuing Span. As a supplement, there was a great piece on FanGraphs that came out the other day about Denard.

Span owns a career slash line of .284/.357/.389 with a .332 wOBA and 105 wRC+. Like many leadoff hitters Span doesn’t hit for much power but can get on base at a good rate. His K% has gone down each year to a very respectable 10.9%, about half of what we saw out of Michael Bourn the past two seasons. He has also been able to walk around 9.5% of the time. Those K/BB numbers would be a great improvement over Bourn. One drop off will be in the stolen base category. Many will look to this as a reason he would not be a good leadoff hitter, but stolen bases are not necessary a quality of a good leadoff hitter where OBP reigns supreme. That doesn’t mean he is a poor baserunner though, he has actually been a fairly good baserunner by advanced metrics which measure things such as taking an extra base and going from first to third.

Defensively he is slightly above average in center. According to UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) he seems to be improving in this area so for the past couple years, so you could project him as an above average defender going forward. The past three seasons he ranks third among qualified center fielders according to UZR.

Another knock is the fact he hasn’t always been able to stay on the field due to injuries. While this could be a concern, it is always hard to predict injuries or even label someone “injury prone.” Yes, there are Ben Sheets of the world who get injured like clockwork, but I would not put Span into that category. So if you can tell, let me know, or even better go find a way to make money off it!

I think Span would be the best option out there for the Braves. Because he is under a team friendly contract with the Twins until the 2014, with a club option for ’15, he might be tough to pry away. The good news is the Twins are in need for pitching so a deal centered around Randall Delgado or another top prospect could allow this trade to work out. The Twins need pitching and the Braves have pitching to deal. If they were able to get Span at a decent price for the next three seasons, I would be very happy (pending on what they give up of course). Is is scheduled to make $4.75M,$6.5M with a $9M club option the next three seasons. An above average hitter at his position combined with above average defense and a quality runner on the base paths PLUS a team friendly contract, the front office should strongly consider going after Span.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
B.J. Upton Rays 28 $7M Free Agent

Next is B.J. Upton. “What!? You want to his sub-.300 OBP. No thanks.” Yeah, I get he hasn’t had the greatest OBP the past few seasons, but that is not the be-all end-all of players even in the post-Moneyball era. What he gives up in getting on base, he makes up for with power and stolen bases. If the Braves were to sign Upton I wouldn’t view him as a top of the order leadoff hitter, but a more likely fit in 6 or 7 hole.

I do believe Upton will get on base closer to his career rate of .336 than his 2012 rate of .298 for a couple of reasons. One, is that I believe his BABIP will rise back up closer to career levels after a down year in 2012. I also think if he came to the Braves, he would be able to work with Greg Walker who preached patience this season which the team showed a noticeable improvement in as a whole. Upton’s “swing at everything” approach could be tweaked by Walker to his benefit and get his walk rate above 10% again. Upton has put up a wRC+ over 107 in five of his six full seasons as a major leaguer. You can expect him to be a 20 HR/30 SB guy going forward while putting up above average numbers at the plate.

Defensively, Upton has been right around league average during his career. UZR likes him more than DRS, but averaging them out he would be seem to be average defender. He doesn’t always get the best reads on balls, but he makes up for it with his great speed. His arm isn’t the best, but any arm in center is a likely upgrade over Michael Bourn.

Quick fact: Upton was one of only three players to hit 25 HR and steal 30 bases. The others? Mike Trout and Ryan Braun (the two MVP runner-ups)

I do not really believe there is too much untapped potential left in Upton. I do think he can become more patient hitter than he was last season, while keeping his power number in tact. Call me an optimist, but the talent is there with him and he has previously shown he can be a top-tier center fielder. I would expect it would take anywhere from 4 years/$60M to 5 years/$75M to bring him to Atlanta. There would certainly be risk signing Upon to a lengthy deal just like anyone, but I think as a projected 4-win player he would be worth the $13-15M per season. He is currently at a deflated price and there is still room from some upside.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Peter Bourjos Angels 26 $500K Pre-Arb

Next on the list comes Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos. Currently being blocked by superstar Mike Trout, Bourjos doesn’t really have a place in the OF, or at least he didn’t in 2012. Bourjos could very well be on the trading block this season to allow the Angels to receive something in return for their speedy center fielder.

Bourjos has not shown to be an above average hitter at the major league level thus far. Although he has less than 1,000 career plate appearances, his .246/.301/.402 slash line does not look like someone worth trading for. In 2011, the season where he received a full years playing time, he did impress posting a 113 wRC+. I think eventually he could be a league average hitter for his position. Like Bourn, he does strike out at a fairly high rate and doesn’t take many walks which limits his on-base ability. The Braves are ideally looking for a CF who can also be a solid leadoff option at the top of the order. That is one of the problems with Bourjos, he doesn’t get on-base enough to warrant batting in the top of the order.

Bourjos is also a very good defender which would result is very little drop off, if any, from Bourn. In the past three seasons (min. 2,000 IP), Bourjos blows away the rest of the league in UZR/150. While even this is a fairly smaller-ish sample, it still gives a look at how great of a defender he is, potentially even better than Bourn. Given a greater amount of innings his metrics would likely go down, but it is safe to say defensively he is one of the best center fielders the league.

Another positive is that Bourjos is (a very young) 26 come opening day and is under team control until 2016. How likely is it that Bourjos will be traded, doesn’t sound like much of a chance, but that shouldn’t stop the Braves from inquiring. I do think the Angels will let Torii Hunter walk and let him play, but nothing is set in stone. Again, it would give the Braves four-years of a player who will be projected to hit his prime. How good will that prime be compared to now, we don’t know. That is a definite bonus when looking to acquire a player such as Bourjos. While he will be tough to pry, he would be my number three option for the Braves in 2013.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Angel Pagan Giants 31 $5M Free Agent

Fourth on my list is Angel Pagan. Pagan helped lead the Giants to a World Series title in 2012 and likely earned himself a couple extra million in his paycheck while doing so. Pagan is a free agent who owns a career .281/.333/.424 triple slash and a 103 wRC+. He had a great year at the plate and walked about a half as much as he struck out. His OBP is not outstanding by any means, but it could be serviceable at the top of the order. He most likely would hit lower in the order though which is a reason I would shy away. He also doesn’t have any serious power, topping the 10 HR mark once in his career.

On the bases he seems to be a very good runner. Not only is he fast, but he is smart and which is necessary when looking for an extra base or going from first to third. You could probably get about 25-30 SB from Pagan over the full course of a season. According to the base running component of fWAR, he ranks second behind Micheal Bourn and Drew Stubbs the past three seasons. Clearly, base running is one of the strong suits of Pagans game. How much weight does that carry, likely not too much, but does add some value. In the field he is has been all over the map, but averaging it out over the past three seasons he is right around average in center. I would expect this to fall off a bit in the coming years because of his age. Currently the best way to define him defensively is league average.

The price tag on Pagan seems to be around the 3/$30M to 4/$45M mark. I would be comfortable giving Pagan $10M for three years if all else fails, but anything more and you probably start to see a drop off in production not worth the money. During the season, I believed Pagan would be a great under the radar find for the Braves. That changed during the playoffs, where he is now on everyone’s free agent list. Because of this, his price may have been driven up out of what the Braves should be willing to pay. Like Bourn his speed will decile which worries me. That combination is a reason I would probably stay away from Pagan, but if all else fails he would still be a solid option for the next couple years before hitting a stronger decline.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Shane Victorino Dodgers 31 $9.5M Free Agent

Next on the list is Shane Victorino. He is very similar to Angel Pagan, but up until this year was more well-known by the casual fan. In 2012, Victorino posted a .255/.321/.383 triple slash with a .310 wOBA and a 95 wRC+ with the Phillies and Dodgers. It seems as if the days of Victorino putting up .350 OBP’s are over. It is also a bit worrisome that Victorino does have some value with his power. The past six seasons, Victorino has averaged 13-14 HR’s per season. For a player who is 5’9″ 190, that could vanish quick with age.

He is also similar to Bourn in which he relies heavily on his legs while on the bases and in the field. I see a similar aging pattern to Bourn. His defense checks out slightly above average. The past six seasons you could pencil him in for 30 steals on a regular basis showing where is value rests. I could see both of these taking a hit, therefore decreasing what he brings to the table as a player. I think at this point in his career he will likely find himself as a platoon player. He is still able to hit RHP at a very good clip, but has struggled against lefties. I don’t think the Braves are going to hand over as much as Victorino will demand to a platoon level player. Speaking of, he will probably get a 3 year deal worth a total of $30M. I don’t think it would be wise for the Braves to have $10M a season locked into a guy who is on the decline in the latter years of his contract. The Flyin’ Hawaiian could find the fountain of youth, but I’d bet against it. It wouldn’t be terrible if he was only locked into a three year deal, but there are much better options out there. Maybe the Braves will find a bargain with him, but I would look else where first.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Ben Revere Twins 24 $492.5K Pre-Arb

Ben Revere is the teammate of above listed Denard Span. This is the first reason I think one of the two will be traded. The Twins are in need of what the Braves have, pitching. Chances are the Twins trade one of the two for pitching to bolster their rotation.

Revere has only played 254 games in his MLB career and has accumulated just over 1,000 plate appearances. It is still somewhat of a small sample size to get a full grasp of a player, but we can still draw a general solid conclusion about what to expect going forward. This past year, Revere has owned a .278/.319/.323 slash line with a .287 wOBA and a wRC+ of 78. Not the most impressive numbers to say the least. As you can see, Revere has very little power and doesn’t get on base a whole lot. He walks about 5% of the time which explains his low OBP. He is only 24, so it could be reasonable to expect a slight increase in offense as he matures but a drastic growth is unlikely. I think he can be a 85-95 wRC+ player as he accumulates more innings under his belt.

Defense and base running is where Revere brings the most value. In 2012, he stole 40 bases which was second to only Mike Trout in the AL. It is no secret Revere has great speed which is the main reason for his great defensive numbers. While DRS doesn’t seem to like him on defense, UZR paints a different picture. In over 1,000 innings in center, he ranks above average. This again may still be too small of a sample to get a grasp, but the eye test can back up this notion. His speed, like Bourn, is what allows him to turn a lot of balls hit into outs.

Revere could be a solid 3-4 win player going forward. I don’t think he is high on the Braves list for a couple of reasons. One is that they need to replace the offense of Chipper and Bourn, Revere doesn’t exactly do that. Next is that the Braves have the money to spend, so the likelihood they won’t penny pinch and trade for a player making league minimum. It is not that he would be a bad option, it just isn’t the best fit for the Braves. There are better options that bring offense to the table the Braves will be missing and they have the money to do so.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Dexter Fowler Rockies 27 $2.35M Arb 2 ($4M)

Last on the list is Dexter Fowler. Fowler had a very strong campaign in 2012 posting a .300/.388/.474 triple slash with a .375 wOBA and wRC+ of 123. Wow, how could you not want that OBP at the top of your lineup? Go get him! He became a very popular choice by many fans. I have my doubts though.

First, I don’t necessarily think it is a fluke season, Fowler has steadily gotten better on offense year after year and is headed for the prime years of his career at age 27. Yes his 2012 BABIP was high but he still owns a career .364 OBP. I am skeptical because Fowler plays half of his games in the thin air of Colorado. If you take a look at his home and away splits, he is a totally different player in Colorado than he is elsewhere. During his career, over 2000 PA which is a fairly large sample size, he has a 128 wRC+ at home compared to 79 on the road. Yeah that is scary. His OBP turns closer to league average at .331 on the road compared to .395 at home. Look at any split you want and it strongly suggests Fowler much better at Coors Field. That alone scares me away from Fowler knowing what might happened when he plays almost all of his games at sea level.

Another reason I’m not the biggest fan is his defense, or lack their of. Any advanced metric will suggest he is very poor in center field. Over the past three seasons, he ranks second worst among center fielders when looking at UZR. No thanks, that is a major downgrade from Bourn and is not worth the likely asking price in a trade. He will likely require a haul after hitting .300 and getting on-base over 38% of the time. Sorry, but there are a lot of signs that scare me about Fowler and the Rockies may be trying to sell him at a high. When you take him out of Coors he becomes a league average player who is poor in the field. I would strongly suggest against the Braves from pursuing Fowler.

That is all I got for now. Those are seven players the Braves should look at to fill the hole Michael Bourn has left. They are pretty big shoes to fill, but it doesn’t need to be done with one player. My strong hope is that the Braves acquire one of the top three, Span/Upton/Bourjos. I would very satisfied with one of those three along with a nice complement in left. In an ideal world, it would be great to find a player who can hit also at the top of the order, but it is not necessary. They can fill the top of the order spot with a left fielder where offense is more of a necessary skill set and OBP rates may be higher.

I’ll give a further breakdown if any candidates emerge. There is a possibility that none of these players are acquired, but I think these are the names you will be hearing a lot about over the next couple months. As always, stay tuned.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave

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3 Comments on “So I Hear The Braves Need a Center Fielder…”

  1. JNick says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Awesome write-up. Lots of food for thought out there in CF. I completely agree with you on Fowler and I REALLY hope the Braves don’t pursue him. Personally, I’m torn between Span and Revere, but I lean a little more towards Revere. I don’t think having money to spend is a reason to NOT go after Revere – there’s nothing saying we have to hit spring training with no payroll flexibility – you never know when a catastrophic injury can hit, and it really makes no sense to pay someone more for similar production. For that reason, I hope we stay away from Victorino and Pagan. Bourjos I don’t know much about, but his offense (or lack of) scares me a bit….Upton reminds me too much of Uggla (with steals) and if we sign him, then who bats leadoff? I wouldn’t be opposed to getting Upton for LF AND one of Revere/Span/Bourjos (which is where I rank the CF options)…now wouldn’t that be an OF….
    If we swing a trade, I hope it includes Hanson (yes, I know his trade value is low) and/or Teheran before Delgado. And I hope Wren deems Minor, Gilmartin and Spruill untouchable…

    Look forward to your next blog, which I’m guessing will cover the LF/3B options :)

    • Andrew Sisson says:

      Thanks.

      While getting a CF that can leadoff would be ideal, we can still get that somewhere else. There are guys in LF like Swisher/Choo who have great OBP’s. They would be able to hit first or second in the order.

      And if you were OK with Bourn hitting leadoff last season then you should be OK with hitting Prado leadoff this season.

      2012 Bourn: .274/.348/.391 (.339 career OBP)
      2012 Prado: .301/.359/.438 (.345 career OBP)

      Yes I agree finding a CF that can hit leadoff would be ideal, there are definitely ways around it.

  2. Charlie says:

    Great analysis, Andrew. I completely agree that Span should be the Braves’ #1 choice if the price is right. As far as the guys like Bourjos and Revere go with average at best offense and average to above average defense, my biggest concern with them actually has nothing to do with them. My concern is where they’d bat in the batting order according to Fredi Gonzalez. This is a guy who hit Pastornicky leadoff for a game this year and had maybe the worst 1/2 punch at the top of an order I’ve ever seen in 2011 with Jordan Schafer and Alex Gonzalez for a stretch of games. Managers seem to have this awful way of thinking when it comes to speed. Speed=top of the order, no questions asked. It drives me nuts.


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