Padres Position Analysis: Center Field


John Foggerty said it best, “Oh, put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today; Put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today; Look at me, I can be center field.”

The Padres have their center fielder in Cameron Maybin.  He is the type of player the Padres have been dreaming of.  Sure, he needs to continue to improve, to continue to prove himself, but Maybin has already shown flashes of a long-time Padres center fielder.  That is, as long as the Padres can lock him into a long-term contract.

Maybin is pre-arb eligible, but if the Padres don’t lock him into a deal soon and he continues to improve, Maybin may quickly command too much for the club once arbitration time roles around.  Maybin made $429,000 in 2011 and deserves a raise.  He hit .264/.323/.393.  At first glance, these numbers don’t scream out “star”, but Maybin has room to improve.  He’s shown flashes of brilliance, and he plays center field very well.  According to Fangraphs, Maybin’s DRS (defensive runs saved) rating is 12, and his UZR (ultimate zone rating) is 9.5.  Maybin ranked 5th in baseball for DRS at the center field position.  He ranked 5th in UZR as well (the two stats generally mirror each other).  His defense helped him accumulate 2.9 WAR (4.7 fWAR).

Bill James predicts Maybin to have another solid season racking up .277/.345/.419 line with 11 HR, 79 runs scored, and 32 stolen bases.  James also predicts a reduction in strikeouts and an increase in BABIP (batting average on balls in play).  Both should help Maybin get on base more, score more runs, and help the Padres win.

Maybin was largely forgotten after spending three seasons in Florida.  The Marlins gave up on him after averaging a .257/.323/.391 line.  The interesting part of it is the lack of discrepancy between Maybin’s offense in Florida and San Diego.  Maybin increased his BA and slugging percentage slightly, but his OBP was exactly the same.  The difference lies in his defense.  Maybin’s DRS came in at 1, 1, and -1 in his three seasons in Florida.  Given the opportunity to play everyday in the vast outfield of Petco Park, Maybin flourished.  His defense went from average at best to above average in one season.  He worked hard between the 2010 season and the 2011 season and now finds himself as one of the most promising defensive center fielders in the game.

While Josh Byrnes has said he doesn’t generally use the term “untouchable” for a player in the organization, he all but confirmed Maybin was in fact untouchable in an interview with XX Sports Radio in San Diego.  At 24 years old, it’s safe to say Maybin will be the Padres center fielder for years to come barring unforeseen injury or total collapse at the plate.

Now let’s talk contract status.  Maybin and the Padres began discussing a contract extension back in September, before the season even ended.  By October, the talks had stalled.  One reason for the stall in contract negotiations was Heath Bell‘s status.  Now that Bell has moved on, I would expect Maybin and the team to pick up where they left off in October.  So far, details of Maybin’s requests/Padres offers have not been released, but it is safe to assume Maybin is looking for something long-term worth much more than the near-league minimum salary he currently makes.

Back in 2009, Fangraphs explained win value and analyzed the average salaries per “win” from 2002-2008.  While the data is a few years outdated, it still helps us approximate Maybin’s value in terms of contract:

2002 – $2.6m / win
2003 – $2.8m / win
2004 – $3.1m / win
2005 – $3.4m / win
2006 – $3.7m / win
2007 – $4.1m / win
2008 – $4.5m / win

Keep in mind, Fangraphs uses fWAR (a different calculation than Baseball-Reference’s WAR calculations that generally comes out higher).  If we base our calculations on fWAR and a slightly inflated average salary per win, Maybin is probably looking at a contract worth at least $5 million a year.  While the Padres shy away from contracts of that level for the most part, a long-term deal that averages out to $3.33 million a year may be the perfect fit.

A 6-year, $20 million deal may save the club a great deal in the long run and allow them to afford Maybin for much longer.  Maybin’s first year of arbitration would likely see him get a raise to anywhere from $2.5-3 million for the 2013 season.  If he performs in 2013, his next year of arbitration could see another bump that puts him over $5 million a year.  If the Padres can lock Maybin into a 6-year, $20 million deal that is back-loaded, they should be able to save money and make Maybin happy as well.  Here’s my suggestion:

2012 season – $2 million
2013 season – $2.5 million
2014 season – $3 million
2015 season – $3.5 million
2016 season – $4 million
2017 season – $5 million

By the end of a 6-year deal, Maybin will be 30 and will need to be reevaluated.  He may be reaching his peak at this point, or already on the decline.  Whatever the case, the club would have received six years of production for much less than what Maybin may command on the open market.

If the Padres were going to make a deal, this week’s winter meetings would be the perfect time.  Aaron Harang‘s arbitration status shouldn’t prevent the club from making moves like Bell’s did.  With a little more payroll breathing room, I’d expect Maybin to get a contract extension sometime before pitchers and catchers report in February.