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.
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.Embed from Getty Images
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.
MORE FROM PHILLIES NATION
- Phil Gosselin Loved His Time In Philadelphia; Is Determined To Continue MLB Career
- Larry Bowa On Bobby Abreu: ‘Eventually, This Guy Should Be In The Hall Of Fame’
- The Phillies Barely Stayed Under The Luxury Tax Threshold In 2021
- These 10 Players Have Made The Most Money As Phillies
- Mailbag Part 1: Bullpen Targets, Lockout Update And Fan Apathy
- What Former Phillies Are Still Free Agents?
- How Much Space Will The Phillies Have Under The Luxury Tax Threshold Once Owner-Imposed Lockout Ends?
- 7 Players The Phillies Could Attempt To Swap Didi Gregorius’ Contract For
- Here’s A Draft Proposal That Could Really Benefit The Phillies
- 9 Options Phillies Could Still Consider In Free Agency To Bolster Bullpen