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Oakland A’s offseason: Surveying the market for CF options

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s biggest need this winter is in center field. Last year they ranked 29th in home runs (6), wRC+ (72), and fWAR (-0.1) at the position, with poor defensive marks to boot, and the guy who started 2016 as the starter (Billy Burns) is no longer on the team.

It’s back to the drawing board in CF, and that’s bad news because the outfield market is meager this winter. The first one is off the board, too, as the Angels acquired Cameron Maybin from the Tigers. Naturally, the Angels didn’t actually need a CF since they already have the best one in the world, and so I imagine Maybin will play LF now, but what are the Angels ever really doing?

As the stove begins to heat up, let’s take a look at some CF options. As the day goes on, I imagine folks will remind/alert me to more in the comments, so this post will likely be updated at some point.

Who do the A’s already have?

Let’s begin with the in-house options, looking only at the 40-man roster:

  • Jake Smolinski got a lot of time last year, but he was a bit stretched on defense and proved beyond doubt that he is a strict platoon guy at the plate. He can still be a valuable 4th/5th outfielder, but he shouldn’t be part of the starting plan in CF.
  • Brett Eibner came over in return for Burns, but unfortunately I wasn’t impressed by any part of his game. He hit a few homers but didn’t do much else at the plate, and it didn’t seem like bad luck. His defense was supposed to be a strength but I didn’t see it.
  • Jaycob Brugman isn’t on the 40-man yet, but he will be by the end of the month to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He worked his way up the system with above-average batting lines and good plate discipline at every level, and he can play all three outfield positions.

In other words, there’s not much there. Smolinski and Eibner will be 28 next season, so time is running out for a breakout, and I could see either or both being DFA candidates this winter depending on what else happens and what kind of roster space is needed. Brugman is probably a long shot for the Opening Day roster, especially if the A’s make a big acquisition, but he could be in the running this spring. I would be thrilled if he captured the job, but it’s probably optimistic to assume he’s the guy just yet.

An addition would be prudent, and an emphasis on defense would be wise given the team’s glaring deficiencies on that side of the ball the last two years. The ideal candidate would be a left-handed hitter who can bat leadoff, as those are also areas of need, but even meeting one of those two offensive criteria would be a good start.

Free agents

It’s slim pickins on the open market. These guys feel more like fallback plans if the A’s can’t land a big trade target.

  • Carlos Gomez is a buy-low candidate, but I’d rather let someone else take that gamble.
  • Jon Jay has been mentioned in the comments here by multiple people, as a quietly competent player who won’t break the bank.
  • Rajai Davis, almost the World Series hero! He’s 36, though, and had a terrible season and postseason up until the final three innings.
  • Austin Jackson, Will Venable, Drew Stubbs ... ehh, let’s aim higher than that for now.

I didn’t include Dexter Fowler. I’m sure he’ll decline his mutual option, but I also bet he’ll re-sign in Chicago — and if he doesn’t, then he’ll be expensive and carry a qualifying offer. I also didn’t include Ian Desmond, who also could carry a qualifying offer in addition to big money.

Trade targets

This is probably where the answer will come from. The A’s have built up enough prospect depth that they can draw from the lower minors without disrupting the current group that is graduating to Oakland, so a trade seems somewhere between realistic and likely.

Toward the end of the season, some AN superstars did a series of FanPosts detailing the cases for each of several prominent CF options, so let’s take a quick look through those names. There’s no guarantee that every one of these guys will end up being available this winter, but some of them probably will be for the right price.

  • Kevin Kiermaier, Rays (post by BWH): He’s the best defensive CF in the game, his bat is decent, he’s in his prime, and he has four years of control left. He is the biggest fish in the CF ocean this year, and he’ll be expensive. BWH’s case includes top prospect Franklin Barreto in the deal, which has met with mixed reactions from the community.
  • A.J. Pollock, D’Backs (post by kyrbyr): Who knows what the new Arizona management will do this winter, and which direction they’ll take the franchise? Pollock missed almost all of 2016 to injury, and he’s only got two more years of team control, but when healthy he’s a two-way star with a 7-WAR season under his belt. Kyrbyr’s proposal also includes Barreto.
  • Ender Inciarte, Braves (post by MehranTheGreat): He’s a notch down from Kiermaier, with excellent defense and a decent bat. He doesn’t have Kiermaier’s double-digit HR power, but he profiles as an OBP-and-speed leadoff type so he could be a good fit.
  • Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays (post by Orodawg): He hasn’t done much in MLB yet, and he struggled in Triple-A last year, but he’ll only be 24 next year so this would be a gamble on an MLB-readyish guy panning out. If it works, he has five years of team control, as a switch-hitter with plate discipline, speed, and good defense. Toronto may be more interested in a win-now piece in a trade.
  • Brian Goodwin, Nationals
  • Michael Taylor, Nationals
  • Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Brewers
  • Jaff Decker, Rays (post by Taj Adib): Goodwin and Taylor don’t have a lot of opportunity in Washington right now, and either one would be an interesting upside gamble. Like Toronto, the Nats would presumably want win-now help -- Taj suggests drawing from the bullpen if possible. Nieuwenhuis (New-N-hice) has plus defense, a lefty bat, a bit of power, and would probably only cost a mid-level prospect. Decker is more of a Quad-A flyer, but it’s not like the A’s haven’t had success with those before.
  • Jarrod Dyson, Royals (post by 510SportsTake): This is part of 510’s larger offseason plan, but within it he makes an interesting case for Dyson. The 32-year-old has excellent defense, a somewhat adequate lefty bat, and lots of speed.
  • Mallex Smith, Braves: He didn’t get a FanPost, but he’s a speedster who might just hit enough gaps and steal enough bases to be productive. He’ll be 24 next year and hasn’t yet played a full MLB season, so he’s still largely an unknown.

UPDATE: We have some new suggestions from the community! I’m leaving out Andrew McCutchen for now, because a player of that magnitude probably deserves his own post.

  • Adam Eaton, White Sox: He’s probably in Kiermaier’s neighborhood value-wise, though with one fewer year of team control. This would be an expensive acquisition, but also an impact one.
  • Lorenzo Cain, Royals: His 2015 was probably a career year, but he’s still a quality everyday guy. This depends on what direction the Royals take this winter, as their core begins to hit free agency. Cain is in his final year of team control in 2017.
  • Juan Lagares, Mets: Elite glove when he’s at his best, light bat, low on opportunity in New York, with three years of team control remaining.
  • Albert Almora, Cubs: Was at least average on both sides of the ball for the world champs. But he was a Top 100 prospect last winter, had a good debut, won a ring, and is only 23 next year. Even if they re-sign Fowler, is Almora available?
  • Travis Jankowski, Padres: He’s a favorite target for many within this community. Speed makes him a good backup already, with the chance for his bat to develop a bit more.
  • Marcell Ozuna, Marlins: Rediscovered his power stroke after a miserable 2015. Still has three years of team control. He’d be a bat-first acquisition, though, and do the A’s need another righty power bat?
  • Andrew Toles, Dodgers: Got off to a hot start last year as a rookie, and hit well in the playoffs as well. He, Eaton, and Jankowski are the only lefty hitters on this supplemental list.
  • Trayce Thompson, Dodgers: He’s Klay Thompson’s brother and he’s got some HR power. I’m sold. We all know he’s going to end up here eventually somehow, so let’s just get on with it.

Is there another worthy free agent or trade candidate not listed here? Let me know in the comments and we’ll keep adding to the list!