Top 10 Free Agent Outfielders

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 08:  Matt Holliday #...
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Outfielders, as in many years, offer the most diverse market. The reason outfielders tend to end up as free agents more often, is that typically it is hard to find a combination of average to above-average offense and good defense, and vice versa. For example, Jason Bay is an above average offensive player, but an awful defender. He’s best suited as a DH, as it’s tough for outfielders to make the transition from catching fly balls to fielding grounders, but his value lies in the fact that he’s not a complete embarrassment in the outfield.

Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero, both already listed as designated hitters, were notable exceptions to that rule, but each has regressed to a far lesser defender than they were in past years (especially Guerrero). Matt Holliday may figure to sign the biggest contract of the offseason, especially considering he’s under the guidance of “super-agent” Scott Boras, who seems to have recovered nicely from an embarrassing offseason a few years ago representing Alex Rodriguez.

*Note: Players with options will be kept off the list unless their options are projected as unexercised. No arbitration-eligible players will be included unless they are projected as non-tender free agents. Ages represent age on June 30, 2010

1. Matt Holliday, 30 years old

Holliday is the unquestioned top free agent outfielder, but he’ll come at a price. The St. Louis Cardinals, who traded their topprospect Brett Wallace to acquire Holliday in July, have already discussed a contract with Holliday worth a reported $96 million over six years. But in true Boras form, he’s brainwashed a top client that he’s worth what the last, usually-better client Boras represented got, in this case Mark Teixeira.

The chances of Holliday matching Teixeira’s eight year, $180 million deal are slim, but a deal over $100 million is almost a certainty. Jason Bay reportedly declined a four year, $60 million offer from the Red Sox, and Holliday’s a better hitter and fielder than Bay.

2. Jason Bay, 31 years old

As previously discussed, Bay is a butcher in the outfield. However, his .236 and .269 ISO in the past two respective seasons bear mentioning. Bay’s the best pure hitter apart from Holliday on the market, though Holliday is probably better all-around at the plate, and clearly in the field.

The best thing that Bay has going for him above Holliday is that he’s excelled in the American League. Holliday posted respectable numbers in a short time in Oakland, but certainly will draw some doubts for American League general managers.

3. Mike Cameron, 37 years old

Want an outfielder who has posted an ISO over .200 for two straight years, walks in over 10 percent of his plate appearances, and posts a UZR/150 over 10 in each of the past two seasons in center field? Cameron’s your guy.

Obviously, Cameron’s advanced age is worrisome, and probably will prevent him from signing a contract longer than two years. However, Cameron’s one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, even in his mid-30s, and still hits the ball hard—when he makes contact that is.

4. Randy Winn, 36 years old

Winn is the first outfielder on the list who hits from the left hand side, which bumps him up a few spots. He’s an adequate hitter, though his adequate power was far below average in 2009. He hit .292/.354/.397 against righties in 2009, and hits .289/.348/.417 for his career against righties.

Winn’s true value though, is on defense. Despite his age, he plays an adequate center field and is an excellent corner outfielder.

5. Marcus Thames, 33 years old

Last year’s bargain basement free agent coup was Russell Branyan . Branyan was a top prospect who never quite stuck at the big league level. He had great power, but holes in his swing, significant flaws, and was a pretty crappy fielder at his natural position. If there were ever a right-handed clone, Marcus Thames is it.

The most plate appearances Thames has ever had in a season is 390, but over the course of his 1749 big league trips to the plate, he’s posted a .248 ISO. Thames strikes out a ton though, he only walks at about a league-average clip, but his 12.7 HR/FB percentage was almost five percent higher than league average, but also almost four percent lower than his career average. Look for Thames to bounce back if he’s given enough playing time to ride the highs and lows of luck on a team with a solid center fielder who can hide some of Thames’ defensive inadequacies.

6. Rick Ankiel, 30 years old

Ankiel has fallen from a household name, after transforming himself from a pitcher to a power-hitting outfielder, to just another player in a long line of performance enhancing drug users. He’s struggled mightily at the plate since admitting to using HGH, and teams will be cautious as a result.

However, he hits very well against right-handed pitchers, and can probably play a respectable corner-outifield, though his days in center may be over.

7. Coco Crisp, 30 years old

Crisp is a player who many expected to be much better than he is, something like a 2000s version of Jose Cruz Jr. Crisp seemed to prove correct his supporters in 2005, hitting .300/.345/.465 with 16 home runs and 42 doubles, but hasn’t managed to approach any of those numbers since a trade to Boston in 2006, and a subsequent trade to Kansas City in 2009.

Crisp plays great defense. He’s a good center fielder, but a tremendous left fielder, and coming off a labrum tear he’s probably best suited in left in 2010. Interestingly, Crisp walked 13.5 percent of his plate appearances in his one abbreviated season with Kansas City compared to his 7.5 percent career average. That helped to supplement his struggles at the plate, but was it a product of maturation, or of being one of the better hitters in a pretty bad lineup?

8. Marlon Byrd, 32 years old

Byrd is going to be overpaid. A lot has been made of the outfielder’s solid 2009 season, mainly perhaps, because of his imminent departure from Texas, where he’d probably like to play, and a team that would probably like him back, but finances, and a pending team sale will dictate otherwise.

But 14 of his 20 home runs came in the hitter’s heaven that is the Ballpark at Arlington. Byrd figures to drop off in nearly every other ballpark in baseball, and he’s probably the fifth best defensive centerfielder in a free agent market that doesn’t have a lot of demand at the position.

9. Jermaine Dye, 36 years old

Jermaine Dye is like the Chevrolet 2.8 liter V-6 engine (this just got personal). It doesn’t have as much power as it should, it gets bad gas mileage, and has more problems than it’s worth.

Dye is going to get a contract worth more than his production, based simply on name value.

Sure, he’s hit over 25 home runs in each of the past five seasons, but that alone doesn’t make up for a pretty wide array of flaws: his bat is declining, he doesn’t walk, and he’s had at least a -21.4 UZR/150 in each of the last four seasons in right field.

10. Jeff Fiorentino, 27 years old

If only by product of age, Fiorentino makes the list. There aren’t a lot of teams out there looking for center fielders, but Fiorentino won’t embarrass a team in the field. However, the most intriguing aspect about Fiorentino, and what puts him on the list, is his potential offensive production.

Fiorentino hasn’t been awful at the plate in limited time in the big leagues. A small sample size in the bigs has Fiorentino at a .270/.341/.324 clip in the majors, and a 24.1 UZR/150 in 58 games. But he hit .312/.387/.510 in AAA last year.

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