Who wound up with the best center fielder?

Who wound up with the best center fielder?
December 10, 2012, 9:45 am
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There were no shortage of teams seeking center fielders when this offseason began, and there were no shortage of players available to those teams, whether via free agency or trades.

All of this resulted in a mad rush to scoop up those center fielders, especially in the the NL East, with the division's top three clubs all making significant acquisitions over the last two weeks.

It began with the Braves signing B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million contract. It continued with the Nationals snagging Denard Span from the Twins in exchange for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. And it concluded Thursday with the Phillies prying another center fielder away from Minnesota, getting Ben Revere for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May.

In the meantime, Shane Victorino got a three-year, $39 million contract from the Red Sox. Angel Pagan got $40 million over four years to stay with the Giants. And through it all, Michael Bourn remains available to whichever club still needs a new center fielder.

At the end of this round of musical chairs, though, the question is which team came out on top in the end. Let's begin by comparing these six center fielders on their 2012 stat lines...

                         AVG  OBP  SLG  HR RBI  SB  UZR  WAR
Michael Bourn    .274 .348 .391   9  57  42 22.4  6.4
Angel Pagan      .288 .338 .440   8  56  29  0.1  4.8
Denard Span      .283 .342 .395   4  41  17  8.5  3.9
Ben Revere         .294 .333 .342   0  32  40 16.4  3.4
B.J. Upton           .246 .298 .454  28  78  31 -2.4  3.3
Shane Victorino  .255 .321 .383  11  55  39  4.0  3.3

Based purely on these numbers, Bourn is the best all-around center fielder and is most valuable to his team. Which probably explains why agent Scott Boras is still holding his client out for more money, hoping to top the contract Upton received from Atlanta.

The disparity between the other five isn't so great, though each brings his own set of skills to the party. While Upton hits for power, Span, Pagan and Revere get on base at a higher rate and perform better in the field, while Victorino combines modest power with speed on the bases.

These players also don't live in a vacuum, and the clubs in need of a center fielder each had their own priorities and financial considerations when choosing with player to pursue. Would Bourn have made the Nationals a better team? Sure, but would he have been worth $80 million to this franchise at this time? Probably not, especially when the much cheaper Span could be had in a trade.

What's perhaps most interesting about this comparison is just how similar Span and Revere were for the Twins last season. The price tag to acquire each player, though, wasn't similar in the least.

For Span, Minnesota got one promising pitching prospect in Meyer, who has yet to reach Class AA. For Revere, the Twins got a big-league starter in Worley and a good-looking prospect in May, who has already spent a full season at Class AA.

Why the difference in asking price? Because Revere is under control much longer, ineligible to become a free agent until after the 2017 season. (Span could become a free agent as soon as after the 2014 season.)

Why didn't the Nationals just go after Revere instead? Well, in part because they would have had to give up more than they did for Span. And because they weren't interested in locking up that position for the next five years, not with their own promising center fielder (Brian Goodwin) moving up the pipeline.

It's all about which player is right for which team at what particular moment. The Nationals felt like Span was right for them at this time, and it's hard to dispute the notion.

But given all the movement of center fielders around baseball over the last couple of weeks, it's sure going to be interesting to check back in a few seasons at all these signings and trades and determine who in the end made the wisest choice.