Padres Free Agent Shopping Cart: Center Fielders


Previously at FriarsOnBase, we looked at the free agent first basemen and shortstops.  We move to another problem spot – center field. With the current roster, GM A.J. Preller’s top three concerns are shortstop, relief pitching, and center field. 

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At the outfield’s premiere position, the Padres can throw out Melvin Upton and Travis Jankowski. After a terrible first month coming off an injured foot, Upton actually rebounded from two horrendous years in Atlanta with a .259/.327/.429/.757 slashline and a 112 OPS+ in 87 games. His defense remained above the league average. Injuries have never really been a concern for Upton. But will he continue his decline? Was last year the case of three good months? Or is Upton back? Jankowski, a fabulous defender, had only a .245 on-base in his cup of coffee at age 24. He didn’t seem ready. So if the Padres go get a center fielder, who is available on the free agent market?

Let us first eliminate Rajai Davis from the conversation as he will be 35 next year and is not an offensive improvement over Melvin Upton. We can eliminate Drew Stubbs for the latter reason. Gerardo Parra‘s name has been thrown out into the mix. But the problem is that as good as Parra is defensively in a corner outfield spot, he doesn’t have the range to cover center field. The Padres need a good defensive center fielder because Matt Kemp will cost the team runs on defense and Wil Myers is merely average. Preller went offensively-minded last year and the defense might have cost the Padres a chance to contend in 2015. Defense matters; look who won the World Series.

Unless there is some serious shift in payroll, the Padres will also have zero chance of signing Yoenis Cespedes or Jason Heyward. Regardless, both should stay in their typical corner spots.

Dexter Fowler

Fowler is coming off of one of the better seasons of his career. With the Cubs he hit .250/.346/.411/.757 and a 107 OPS+ in 156 games. His 2.2 WAR was produced via his bat while his defense subtracted from his value. Despite having a career-high 17 home runs, Fowler’s slugging was not much better than the league-average. But the switch-hitter’s biggest asset was his ability to get on base. His .346 on-base was higher than every qualifying Padre other than Yonder Alonso.

Fowler will enter the 2016 season as a 30 year-old. His range, which was below average in 2015 won’t get any better. Last year, Fowler cost the Cubs 12 runs, according to Baseball Info Solutions. It was somehow his best year in recent memory.

Conclusion: Fowler is likely to re-sign with Chicago, which isn’t a bad thing. While he would be affordable and a boost to the offense, his defense makes him a poor replacement option.

Denard Span

Span hit for a .365 on-base in 2015 and .355 in 2014. He consistently puts up high on-base seasons. No power, but with those on-base rates, who cares? Regardless, Span finished 2015 with a 114 OPS+, which is the highest (granted by one point) of any player profiled here. The Padres need a guy at the top of the lineup. In a right-handed-heavy lineup, the lefty Span would be a great addition. Plus, Span generally steals 20 or more bases.

The perhaps former-National has good range and is a plus defender despite a weak arm. This is key for a Padre outfield featuring Matt Kemp.

The problem: Span played only 61 games in 2015 with a bad back. He had played 147 and 153 games in the previous two seasons. So can Span get healthy for his age 32 season?

Given the concerns, Span might come on the cheap and for a shorter deal in terms of years.

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Colby Rasmus

Rasmus took a one-year deal with Houston and it paid dividends. A solid walk rate and good power netted him a .238/.314/.475/.789 slashline and a 113 OPS+. Like Span, Rasmus would be a welcome lefty in the Padres lineup. His averages aren’t great, but the amount of walks he draws makes him an average on-base player. But the attractiveness of Rasmus is the power. He set a career high with 25 home runs in his 137 games in 2015.

Rasmus’s postseason will surely up the price tag. After a 1/3, HR, BB in the AL Wild Card Game, he hit .429/.600/1.143. In the five-game ALDS against Kansas City, Rasmus had 6 hits, 3 of which left the park, and 6 walks.

Defensive metrics are mixed on Rasmus in center. Baseball Projection consistently rates him as costing his teams a few runs a year while Baseball Info Solutions says he saves a couple per year. His range factor is a little below the league average, which likely won’t get any better as Rasmus will enter his age 29 season and beyond.

So, the defense may be a question mark. The offense is a plus. The problem with Rasmus is that he doesn’t always do well in the clubhouse. He was a problem in St. Louis and Toronto, which prompted the two teams trading and letting him go respectively.

The Padres very much appeared to be less than the sum of their parts. This indicates a poor clubhouse atmosphere. Do the Padres want to run the risk?

Conclusion: Span and Rasmus should definitely be considered. Center field is less of a priority than shoring up the bullpen and nothing is as big of a problem as shortstop. So make offers to them. They both have their ups and their downs. Span is probably the better option despite the injuries in 2015 because of the clubhouse problems Rasmus has had. But, ultimately, are either of them worth signing when Melvin Upton has big money headed his way and a solid season under his belt in San Diego?