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Phillies free agent centerfield options
by Scott Butler 11/28/12

Last week, I addressed which free agent relievers the Phillies should acquire. With that out of the way, we move to the position with the most hot stove chatter in the offseason: Phillies free agent options in centerfield. The Phillies have no legitimate options in house (and don't you dare mention John Mayberry), so they will try to fill centerfield through free agency.

The two big names that top the list are Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn. The Phillies should not, and Ruben Amaro, in the name of all that is holy, please do not take either one. Let's start with Josh Hamilton.

Man oh man would Josh Hamilton look good in a Phillies uniform. His numbers are off the charts: a career .304/.363/.549, .913 OPS, and an average of 35 HR and 122 RBI per season. Last year he hit .285 with 43 HR and 128 RBI. But his reported asking price of 7 years and $175 million is way, way, way (three ways sounds about right) too expensive for a Phillies team already pushing towards the luxury tax and three players with salaries of 20+ million per year. End of discussion.

Now we move to Michael Bourn, who will also be asking for a contract worth over $100 million. Here's all I have to say about Michael Bourn. Take the four seasons when Jimmy Rollins was the same age as Bourn from 2006-2009, remove all his power (78 HR for Rollins vs. 15 for Bourn), double the strikeouts (291 vs. 498), and you have Michael Bourn. Read my previous article for all the reasons you need for why the Phillies should not sign Michael Bourn.

With Hamilton and Bourn out of the picture, we move to the group of second tier centerfield candidates that includes B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan, Cody Ross, and Shane Victorino.

Phillies best free agent options in centerfield

I already knocked B.J. Upton off the list of Phillies free agent centerfielders in my last article and the Braves reportedly just signed him. To summarize why this is good news for the Phils, Upton is a strikeout machine with an abysmal on base percentage, marginally good production, and an enormous price tag.

So the choice for an established free agent centerfielder comes down to Angel Pagan, Cody Ross, and Shane Victorino. 

The winner of the Phillies Free Agent Centerfielder sweepstakes: Shane Victorino.

Yeah I know, you were hoping for a nice, shiny Beemer and I came home with your older brother’s beat up Civic.  Like a used Civic, Victorino won't turn heads, but he is reliable and much more reasonably priced. The choice really came down to Pagan and Victorino and I just feel that Victorino is a smarter move and a better value.  Whether it is Pagan or Victorino, you are getting essentially the same package.  They both are 31 and offer speed, defense, decent on base percentage, and a tad of power.

Victorino vs. Pagan

The big difference here is that Pagan had his best season as a major leaguer in 2012 and Victorino had his worst.  If this decision was based solely on 2012, Pagan is the obvious choice. Here are their 2012 statistics.

Victorino and Pagan Career Stats per 162 games
  G PA AB R 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS
Victorino 154 666 595 72 29 7 11 55 39 .255 .321 .383 .704
Pagan 154 659 605 95 38 15 8 56 29 .288 .338 .440 .778

But over their careers Victorino has been the superior player.  Here is how his career numbers per 162 games compare to Pagan:

Victorino and Pagan 2012 Stats
  G PA AB R 2B 3B HR RBI SO SB BA OBP SLG OPS
Victorino 162 647 580 93 29 10 14 62 75 30 .275 .341 .430 .770
Pagan 162 618 563 83 32 10 10 62 91 29 .281 .333 .424 .757

Victorino was awful with the Phillies last season and awfuller (shut up spell check) with the Dodgers.  And now we’ve reached the crux of the matter: was 2012 an aberration for Victorino or is it a hint of things to come?

I think 2012 was just one of those throw-away years, like the bad Olympic score that gets eliminated.  With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley both injured to begin the season, it added pressure to an already stressed Victorino who was entering his walk year.  Major League Baseball is hard enough on its own without trying to carry more of the team’s offensive load and win a bigger contract in free agency.  Shane is not exactly the most focused individual to begin with (and please don’t ask Ruiz for help), so free agency and more pressure might have taken him over the edge.

If 2012 was just a down season and Victorino returns to his old self, I think he is a slightly better player than Pagan.  Even if Victorino is slightly worse than Pagan, the Phillies can probably get Shane for less money and, more importantly, for less years.

I would go with Victorino, but Pagan would certainly not be a bad consolation prize.  He has been fairly consistent, still is relatively young, and plays good defense.  He would be a nice addition to the Phillies.

Cody Ross

If the well runs dry on Victorino or Pagan, Cody Ross deserves a good look. His career .262 average isn't all that special, but he averages 22 HR and 83 RBI per season with slightly fewer strikeouts per season (128) than the MLB average (134). The power is fairly nice, but he won't come particularly cheap and he is better suited for a corner outfield spot.

Conclusion

Now that Upton has signed with Atlanta and it appears the Giants will land Pagan, it is looking more and more likely that Victorino lands with the Phillies again. Victorino might not be the Christmas gift you were hoping for, but he fills a hole and shouldn't break the bank.

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