Analysis

Phillies have few realistic options available to upgrade center field


Once the lockout ends, the Phillies will be looking for a new center fielder. Dave Dombrowski told reporters at the GM meetings in November that acquiring a new left fielder and center fielder are “complete necessities.” The Phillies don’t have the appetite for another internal competition in spring training.

The Phillies have reportedly shown interest in trading for Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

There’s not much to choose from in the free agent pool. Brett Gardner probably isn’t leaving New York, Kevin Pillar is more of a fourth outfielder and Odúbel Herrera is probably a backup plan in the event that all other options are exhausted.

Since Kris Bryant feels like a square peg in a round hole type solution, the Phillies will almost certainly acquire their next starting center fielder via trade. When taking stock of the farm system and the existing center field trade targets, the Phillies’ options are relatively thin.

The Phillies can (and should) go all-in and try to land the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds or the Orioles’ Cedric Mullins, but those options seem like long shots. Mullins is still a year away from arbitration, so it would be shocking if the Orioles dealt their best player in a trade.

Reynolds is entering his first season of arbitration eligibility as a member of the Super Two class. The Pirates would be better off extending him and building around their star center fielder, but in order to acquire Reynolds, the Phillies would probably have to give up at least one of Mick Abel, Bryson Stott and Andrew Painter along with a few other top 25 prospects. At the same time, other teams with better farm systems are likely to offer a more intriguing prospect package.

It’s worth a shot, but this might have to be something the Phillies revisit after the 2022 season.

Guardians center fielder Myles Straw could be exactly what the Phillies need in center field. He finished third in outs above average among big league center fielders (+12), stole 30 bases and slashed .280/.360/.358 as a leadoff hitter in 254 at-bats. Like Mullins, Straw is still not eligible for arbitration. Cleveland, who traded reliever Phil Maton and catching prospect Yainer Diaz for Straw at the deadline, probably have little interest in sending Straw to another team.

The Brewers, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, discussed a Randal Grichuk for Jackie Bradley Jr. trade with the Blue Jays before the lockout. Bradley, a glove-first center fielder, was traded back to the Red Sox from the Brewers minutes before the last collective bargaining agreement expired, but Grichuk could be another center field option. The Blue Jays center fielder is owed $18.6 million through 2023, so the Phillies could acquire some prospect capital for taking on the money. Grichuk is an average defensive center fielder at best who has a .286 on-base percentage since 2019 and a .693 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2021. He’s an option, but not a great one.

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Then there is Ramon Laureano, who might be the best center field trade target outside of Reynolds or Mullins. He posted a +2 outs above average and +5 defensive runs saved in center since 2020, which is impressive considering he plays his home games in the cavernous center field at Oakland Coliseum. Laureano also crushes left-handed pitching and while he’s struggled as a leadoff hitter in limited at-bats, he is capable of hitting second and getting on-base in front of Bryce Harper.

The 27-year-old is projected to make $2.8 million in his first year of arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors. Since the A’s are in teardown mode, Oakland could move Laureano if presented with the right offer. At the same time, Laureano should fit in the A’s self-imposed tight budget, so they don’t have to move him after the lockout. Also, Laureano will miss the first month of the 2022 season after receiving an 80-game PED suspension in August. Any interested team could probably tolerate going without him for a month, but it’s not an ideal situation.

Laureano should cost less in terms of prospect capital compared to Reynolds and Mullins, but this feels like another deal the Phillies could circle back on either at the trade deadline or next offseason.

Minnesota’s Max Kepler and Chicago’s Ian Happ fit the mold as center field trade options who are better off staying at a corner outfield spot. Arizona’s Ketel Marte is in the same cost tier as Reynolds and Mullins, but he’s more of a second baseman than a center fielder.

That leaves Kevin Kiermaier as the safest bet to be the Phillies’ next starting center fielder. Since 2016, Kiermaier is second in the majors in defensive runs saves (+93) and third in outs above average among outfielders (+63). Even if you don’t believe in the validity of defensive metrics, the eye test tells you that Kiermaier is one of the best defenders in the sport.

He won’t be much of an improvement offensively. Since 2018, Phillies center fielders have slashed .247/.308/.396. Kiermaier’s slash line since 2018 is .232/.298/.384. The Phillies would likely be fine with Kiermaier’s lack of offensive prowess if he’s able to provide elite defense at a key position and the Phillies upgrade offensively in other areas.

According to a report from The Athletic, the Phillies have discussed a possible trade with the Rays involving Kiermaier before the lockout. He is due $14.5 million, including a $2.5 million buyout if his 2023 $13 million club option is not exercised. Tampa Bay added about $13 million to the payroll before the lockout after signing reliever Brooks Raley and starter Corey Kluber and extending Wander Franco to a backloaded 11-year, $182 million extension. The Rays, who are always looking for ways to save money on players, could look to move their longest-tenured player.

In left field, the Phillies have five attractive free agent options in Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto and Seiya Suzuki. Center fielders who can hit and field their position are rarely plentiful in any free agent class since most tend to age out of the position by the time they hit free agency. For those who do hit the market, teams sign a lengthy deal knowing that the player would have to transition to another position near the end of the deal.

Unless the front office comes up with a creative solution to address the problem, the Phillies will come out of the lockout with very few adequate options available to address center field. In the end, it seems like a Kiermaier deal checks multiple boxes. The Phillies can commit to Kiermaier for a year and improve their defense with a low-cost trade in terms of prospects and look forward to a time when high-priced center field options like Reynolds, Mullins or even Laureano become more attainable.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Steve

    December 30, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    What happened to the # 1 overall pick Moniak ?
    Gee another mistake What happened to Randolph?
    Gee another mistake What happened to Haseley ?
    Gee another mistake What happened to Muzziotti ?
    Gee another mistake What happened to Ortiz ?
    Gee another mistake What happened to Kingery?
    Gee another mistake What happened to THE PHILLIES
    ANSWER WAY TO MANY DRAFT MISTAKES BY INCOMPETEANT SCOUTS AND DEVELOPMENT PERSONEL

  2. Bill

    December 30, 2021 at 7:41 pm

    What do you think the Phillies would have to offer to land Kiermaier? Would this be a salary dump for The Rays or could they realistically expect a decent prospect? Would they pay some of his salary for a better prospect in return?

    • Tim Flynn

      December 31, 2021 at 10:47 am

      kiermaier can’t hit, they need a big bat not a defensive replacement or a rule 5.
      I agree with Steve, too many mistakes!

  3. George Stanley

    December 31, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    The Phillies are in a position where they need to go all in and go over the luxury tax if they want to be a real contender. One scenario would be to start by signing free agents pitchers C. Rodon, R.Tepara and A. Chafin which would give them a top rotation and solid bullpen. Sign K. Bryant and K. Schwarber and then give their best shot at trading for B. Reynolds by offering (just for giggles) A.Bohm, A. Painter, A. Haseley, M. Moniak and C. Randolf a first ever five first rounders trade. Heck, if that’s not enough, the Pirates can have their pick of any other prospect not named Stott, Abel or Crouse. This would be a dream team sure to fill/break “The Bank”…

  4. Edward Strang

    December 31, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    My preferred CF options are Reynolds/Mullins/Laureano/Straw in that order. I would offer a maximum of 4 players from: a) top 20 Milb prospects (Stott exclusion except for Reynolds) plus b) 4 or 5 selected veterans (Vierling, relief pitchers, any non-starter). Would make an all-in attempt to land one of these young CF NOW. If it takes moving Abel or Painter to land even Straw just do it. My secondary option is Kiermaier. We need to start 2022 season with a talented CF. If we land a potential CF star (Reynolds/Mullins), any of the LF noted would work. If either Laureano/Straw/Kiermaier come on board, I’d favor offense making Costellanos, Bryant and possibly Suzuki the top three.

  5. Prickly Pete Salmonella

    December 31, 2021 at 7:17 pm

    Give Haseley a shot. If they need to upgrade at the deadline – if they’re still in the race. Problem solved.

  6. Andrew

    December 31, 2021 at 7:38 pm

    I think Max Kepler for CF is your best option. He’s not a terrible CF but he’s also not great. The twins now have 4 outfielders and Kepler is obviously the odd man out. We donated need a stud in CF, just a serviceable piece. Kiermaier will be too often injured and you’re stuck with running garbage out there. Kepler would be a $6M luxury hit for the next two seasons and he really shouldn’t cost much in terms of prospects.

  7. John Reape

    December 31, 2021 at 9:49 pm

    Kiermaier is the obvious and most likely option. Sign either Bryant, Castallanos or Schwarber to play left. That would take care of the outfield.

  8. Steve

    January 1, 2022 at 8:30 pm

    Come on give the M & M Boys a CHANCE
    You know what will happen if you don’t
    One, or both will bloom into all stars
    We’ve seen it before

  9. SportsFan0000

    January 9, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    They could move Stott to CF if they sign Story. Many SS have been converted to CF. They tend to be great athletes.

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