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January 24, 2011

Free Agent Bargain Bin

Outfielders

by Dan Wade

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Outfield went from a position of reasonable depth to a veritable wasteland in under a week. Andruw Jones, Johnny Damon, and Manny Ramirez—outfielder emeritus—all came off the board. There are a few players left who look primed to provide solid value, but if the outfield is a perceived spot of weakness for a team, acting soon would be virtuous. Outside of the five players listed here, the options turn rancid quickly.

So, as this series wraps up, here are five of the top remaining outfield options.

Jermaine Dye (Out of Baseball)
Dye is a long shot to get a job, having been out of baseball since the end of the 2009 season. However, as of November, Dye was looking to return to baseball as long as he could play for a contender. It takes two to tango, and while Dye might want to play for a contender, will he be able to find a contender that wants to play him?

It goes without saying that he’s facing an uphill battle. He’s not only facing the inertia of having been off GMs’ radar for a year, he’s facing three consecutive seasons of less than 2.5 WARP. He didn’t exactly leave the game at the height of his power; his 2009 season yielded a line of .250/.340/.453 with 27 homers, which isn’t so very bad, but his defense is negligible at best.

Chase Gharrity wasn’t very bullish on Dye’s chances to make a successful return to the majors earlier this winter, though he did note that Dye’s .268 BABIP is almost certain to come up if he makes a return. While that potential might help Dye’s value a little bit, it’s not like his game was built on average and OBP. If he’s not launching balls out of the park, his value is nil.

If a team were still looking for DH options, Dye could still field a few phone calls. However, as a rancid defender, Dye is competing with Vladimir Guerrero, Russell Branyan, and others for the rapidly waning offense-only spots. He’s interesting, and an injury in camp could have an unfortunate team knocking on his door, but there aren't many jobs for him—with a contender or otherwise—when more reliable names are still available for a song.

Jim Edmonds (.276/.342/.504, 846 OPS, 11 HR, .297 TAv, 2.2 WARP)
If there’s anyone who gives Dye some hope, it’s Jim Edmonds, who was out of baseball in 2009, then didn’t sign his 2010 contract with the Brewers until the January 28. Yet for his missed season and late signing, Edmonds gave the Brewers more than they likely expected and netted them Chris Dickerson when they traded Edmonds in mid-August. The Reds will likely remember Edmonds’ 2010 season a little differently, as he missed time due to an oblique and Achilles strains, which limited him to just 13 games down the stretch. Regardless, it was an impressive year for the 40-year-old.

You wouldn’t be wrong to say that Edmonds is past his prime, but his prime was a six-year span from 2000 to 2005 in which he averaged 7.7 WARP, so he can be forgiven for being unable to make it a decade-long run of dominance. Edmonds has had a gentle decline from his high peak, which is why he’s still playable, even heading into his age-41 season. Gone are his days of being a superb defender, but here again, when the peak is so high, the decline isn’t so bad. He had an FRAA of 1 for the year, well below where he was, but certainly playable in right field and in center for the time being.

If injury concerns are part of what’s keeping Edmonds unsigned, teams would do well to look at the Twins’ handling of fellow member of the over-40 crew, Jim Thome. By limiting Edmonds’ playing time, it becomes possible to maximize his contribution both offensively and defensively. Unlike Thome, who struggles with back issues, Edmonds doesn’t have a long-standing injury to protect, but could benefit from reduced playing time in an effort to keep him healthy. His .296/.391/.560 split against righties—as opposed to just .252/.332/.434 against lefties—is a good clue as to what type of player might make a good platoon partner with Edmonds.

In December, Christina Kahrl called him “the best bat getting very little attention.” A month later, that’s still the case. Edmonds was forced to sign a minor-league deal with a non-roster invite last time around, and despite a strong 2010 may have to win his way on to a major-league roster again. He’s more than capable of earning his spot and—if he can stay healthy—should be a solid asset to whichever team locks him up.

Vladimir Guerrero (.300/.345/.496, 841 OPS, 29 HR, .288 TAv, 2.7 WARP)
In most other years, Guerrero would have taken home Comeback Player of the Year honors going away. He rebounded from a lost season in 2009 where he had more days on the 15-day DL (66) than he had extra-base hits (31) to play 152 games and post a solid .288 TAv. Of course, the AL was stocked with comeback stories in 2010, as Adrian Beltre went from 2.0 WARP to 8.1, and the eventual winner, Francisco Liriano, went from -0.5 WARP and the potential for a career in the bullpen to 4.5 wins and the ball in Game One of the ALDS.

Vlad’s comeback was great to watch from a fan's perspective; there aren’t many guys who are more fun to watch at the plate. Watching Vlad rip a ball off his shoe tops or in the opposite batter’s box is something special. The trouble is, those days are all but gone. Yes, Vlad’s 2010 was a rebound year; it was also his worst season ever, minimum 450 PAs.

While there’s real substance in Vlad’s numbers, they were a bit inflated by a year in the Texas heat. He hit .315/.354/.527 at the Ballpark in Arlington, but just .284/.336/.461 on the road, and after starting the season ablaze—.319/.364/.554 with 20 homers in the first half—his second-half line was .278/.322/.426. Sure, DHs have given a team worse production, but the Sox have already ditched Mark Kotsay, and Jason Tyner isn’t clogging anyone’s lineup anymore.

Even though he's clearly in the decline of his career, Guerrero is likely the best DH option remaining (though Russell Branyan might protest in vain). It’s all about expectations at this point. If a team expects him to put up the same numbers he did in Texas, they’ll be disappointed, but if they’re just looking for a DH who will give them 25 home runs with a passable on-base percentage, Vlad should be their first choice.

Lastings Milledge (.277/.332/.380, 712 OPS, 4 HR, .262 TAv, 0.3 WARP)
Are you feeling lucky? Milledge has been on the cusp of stardom since he broke into the league with the Mets in 2006 at the tender age of 21. Heading into his age-26 season, there’s still time left for him to put it together, but a lack of progress since 2007 has taken off most of the luster he had as a prospect. His power hasn’t really come around, his plate discipline is still suspect, and though he stole 24 bases in 2008 with the Nationals, he has stolen just 12 since. Having tools is great, but at some point he has to turn them into production.

There’s just not much in Milledge’s major-league resume to grab onto: He’s average offensively, average or a tick worse defensively, and has been perceived as immature—though there are indications that he’s beginning to change. Other than a broken finger in 2009, he doesn’t have injuries to blame for his mediocrity. He’s just… average. His tools suggest there should be more, but it’s hard to peg him as a breakout candidate when he hasn’t even shown incremental gains over the last few seasons. The Mets, Nats, and Pirates all bought into the promise (the Pirates did it twice), but not one of those teams seems excited about having the temperamental youngster back.

But like a scratch-off ticket, Milledge offers promise for very little cost. Not only is he monetarily inexpensive, he’s not completely valueless. Yes, he’s perilously close to being a replacement-level player, but if the choice is playing a Quad-A tweener who isn’t likely to stick with the club for much longer and Milledge, why not take a chance on the one with the tools? At worst, Milledge provides decent speed off the bench as a fourth outfielder, but if this is the year something clicks for him, he still has a very high ceiling.

Scott Podsednik (.297/.342/.382, 724 OPS, 6 HR, .264 TAv, 2.7 WARP)
Podsednik is no longer the speed demon he was with the Brewers and during his first stint with the White Sox, but he’s still stealing around 30 bases per year and posting an on-base percentage that works at the top of the batting order. He has good range in left field—he accumulated almost 30 runs of value via Colin Wyers' nFRAA there last year; he was a bit below average in center, though he logged just 36 innings there in 2010. Podsednik is a guy who won’t hurt a team in the field or at the top of the order, which is how he comes to post a WARP equal to that of Vlad Guerrero and above Manny Ramirez.

Pods is easily one of the best defenders among the remaining outfielders, and now that Nick Punto is off the board, one of the better defenders left irrespective of position. Basically, Podsednik does a lot of things reasonably well without doing anything really poorly. That he is going into his age-35 season may be worrisome, but he has matched his previous career high of 2.7 WARP in each of the last two seasons, so he’s aging well thus far. At some point the bubble will burst, and it may have already begun to do so.

After a strong start to last season with the Royals, Pods faltered with the Dodgers, hitting just .262/.313/.336 before losing the last month of his season to plantar fasciitis. It’s not the worst slump ever, but whereas a .297/.342/.382 line is definitely playable if it’s accompanied by good defense, a 648 OPS just isn’t. Pods may not be a defensive liability, but if he’s going to post anything close to a 648 OPS in a corner, it would be hard to make up the lost production on defense.

---

Camps open about three weeks from now, and while there are some interesting options left, it isn’t unthinkable that teams will take a wait-and-see attitude on some of their remaining holes. Stocks are getting depleted, especially as far as pitchers are concerned, to the extent that teams aren’t guaranteed of getting good value with most of the remaining players. 

I owe Corey Dawkins great thanks for the use of his Injury Tool; it was a great resource for this project and I recommend it highly.

12 comments have been left for this article.

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