MLB trade deadline buyers and sellers: Outfield

Giancarlo Stanton - Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

In the third part of our series, we look for teams looking to upgrade in the outfield and survey the meager ranks of available players.

In one of Ring Lardner's late stories, he referred to a fictional restaurant, the Café des Tres Outfielders. As we go careening towards the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, it is becoming painfully apparent for some teams that their own café might be short the requisite number of players -- they might have to settle for the Café des Deux Outfielders. Unfortunately, that's not how Alexander Joy Cartwright or General Doubleday (or Batman, or the Great Nameless Whoevers who pushed baseball's evolution along) designed the game, and being short a productive outfielder is a good way to undercut a team's entire offense. As we go careening towards the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, a look at possible buyers and sellers in the pastures.

Center Field

We begin in the middle pasture, because it's one of the more difficult positions at which to find a two-way, offensive and defensive standout. The current playoff odds shows 14 teams with at least a one in five chance of making the playoffs. Of these, the clubs that are truly suffering in center field aren't in a good position to make a move -- they're locked into the players they have, most of whom seem likely to give a better accounting of themselves before the season is over:

Team

CF Production

Primary

A's

.219/.295/.403

Coco Crisp

Cardinals

.240/.325/.338

John Jay

Braves

.196/.287/.330

B.J. Upton

Nationals

.249/.310/.337

Denard Span


Oakland's place on this list is a little bit deceptive. Coco Crisp has been fairly good when playing center, hitting .257/.335/.413, and with his typical defense -- the major-league average player at the position has hit .260/.323/.404. It's his substitutes that have dragged the position down. Crisp has started only 59 games in center due to injury, and substitutes Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Young have been disastrous, hitting a combined .177/.239/.397 in 155 plate appearances. It's worth noting that since his early fluke home-run binge, Crisp has been fairly quiet, hitting .256/.343/.366 in 62 games, and Cespedes and Young have been in season-long slumps. In other words, Oakland's depth at the position exists only on paper.

Nevertheless, it still seems unlikely that the A's would look outside the organization given the in-house options; in addition to the major leaguers, prospect Michael Choice is playing center field at Triple-A Sacremento and hitting .290/.382/.431. That doesn't preclude the A's looking for outfield help, as we shall see when we look at the corners, but they are likely set in center.

Two of the three remaining teams would seem like they're married to the incumbents. Span has been a disappointment, but he's under contract for another year. B.J. Upton has been like an Irwin Allen movie, but he's signed through 2017. That leaves Jay, a .300 career hitter in three seasons entering 2013. Since Jay doesn't walk or hit for power and is hardly Tris Speaker on defense, he has to hit .300 to be valuable. That he has failed to do so seems more like bad luck than anything else -- his line-drive rate is up and his batting average on balls in play is down, and normally these phenomena are incompatible, like a fish drowning. Even were the Cardinals inclined to make a change, they would likely wait for top prospect Oscar Taveras to get healthy (he's currently out with an ankle injury that has lingered since a bad slide back in May). Taveras might not be a center fielder in the long term, but he's playing there now and could be a Puig-y sensation once he reaches the bigs.

Fortunately for these teams, the available supply of center-field-capable players is not deep. The Mariners' Franklin Gutierrez, whose contract is up, would undoubtedly be of interest to teams if he could only stay on the field. The aforementioned Chris Young might make an interesting upside rental for a team willing to pay the $1.5 million buyout on his $11 million option for 2014. The Blue Jays' Rajai Davis is also in the last year of his contract and is having a good year by his standards.

Other players who have played some center field either this year or in the past and could be available include the Padres' Chris Denorfia and the White Sox' Alejandro De Aza. Really, though, there are no game-changers available here.

Left Field/Right Field

The Yankees have problems in the outfield wings. Thanks to the immortal Vernon Wells, they're dead last in the majors in production from left field with rates of .225/.265/.341*. Wells has hit better in reduced playing time, but if that's something you'd like to bet on going forward than perhaps there are some nice mortgage securities I can interest you in. They're also soft in right, with aggregate rates of .268/.311/.385. Ichiro Suzuki has been better over the last six weeks -- .303/.338/.424 in 37 games heading into Thursday's game -- and while that's better than what he was doing before, it doesn't necessarily equate to huge big-time run-production. Throw in good baserunning and defense and you have a net win for the Yankees, but not a big one.

*Funny thing about the Yankees and left field. They've had some terrific players there, including Roy White, Charlie Keller, Bob Meusel, and Gene Woodling. Babe Ruth even played nearly 900 games there, since he wouldn't play the sun field at Yankee Stadium. But since White, who held the position for most of 10 years, no player has claimed the position and made it his own. The last Yankee to start three straight seasons there was Hideki Matsui. This year, you might as well mark the starter down as "N/A."

The Reds have also had a difficult time in left field due to the dislocated shoulder Ryan Ludwick suffered on opening day and the subsequent hamstring injury to Chris Heisey. While they've had flashes of production from Xavier Paul and Derrick Robinson, the aggregate .243/.315/.378 rates are soft for a run-producing position. Ludwick is working towards a return somewhere after the All-Star break, so it's likely the Reds will stand pat. Ludwick has always been an inconsistent player, so what the Reds get is anyone's guess, but if at all healthy he should provide more than Paul, Robinson, et al.

The Nationals have been trying to patch in left field all season long given injuries to Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth -- Werth, Span, and Harper have played just 35 games together this season. Scott Hairston just came over from the Cubs (in return for a minor-league pitcher and a player to be named later), giving them the extra right-handed bat that Tyler Moore was supposed to provide (at least in theory).

At .266/.334/.408, the Tigers aren't exactly suffering in left field, but the position isn't a huge advantage either. Andy Dirks, a major asset last year at .322/.370/.487, hasn't hit much this year. The Tigers are sitting on prospects Avisail Garcia (.444/.476/.677 in 105 minor-league plate appearances this year) and Nick Castellanos (.283/.357/.453 at Triple-A Toledo) so they too are unlikely to go outside the organization for help.

The Pirates are in the unaccustomed position of being potential buyers at the deadline. Buccos right fielders (primarily Travis Snider) have combined to hit only .240/.303/.382 against a major-league average of .267/.328/.434. Jose Tabata has hit exceedingly well (an even .400 in 30 at-bats) since returning from the disabled list following a long time out to heal an abdominal strain. Still, he's teased before, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the team try to add a little something in the way of left-handed power.

The A's are once again in a difficult position at the outfield corners. The left fielders have hit .235/.298/.390. The right fielders have hit .213/.299/.373. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that if they had average production at both positions they'd be running away with the AL West. Josh Reddick has hit better since May, averaging .267/.345/.420 in 38 games. As for Cespedes, he's too good to give up on, but he's now working on his third straight month with an OBP below .300.

Oakland's main competitors, the Rangers, are also in an odd spot. Left Fielder David Murphy, an imminent free agent, has scuffled all year, although he's hit better lately. Right fielder Nelson Cruz, also in the last year of his contract, is doing just fine but is on the Biogenesis list and could vanish at any time. The Rangers are not deep in outfield prospects, one reason why they've been experimenting with Jurickson Profar in left field. Given the combination of circumstances as well as Lance Berkman's injuries and general slumpy-ness at designated hitter, it wouldn't be surprising if Jon Daniels was shopping for upgrades, rather than hoping for a Manny Ramirez comeback to save the day.

Marlon Byrd (Ezra Shaw )

The players who are likely available are not particularly inspiring. Coming free agents include Mariners Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse (the latter presently on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury); Diamondback Jason Kubel -- he's under option for another year, but Kirk Gibson hasn't found much use for him so far ; Giants' right fielder Hunter Pence, who is having a decent year; the Cubs' David DeJesus still has some value but is under option for another year and has been out of action since the middle of last month after badly spraining his shoulder in a collision with the wall.

Other players who have been rumored to be available at various times include Alex Rios of the White Sox, Andre Ethier of the Dodgers (given the team's resurgence, Ethier's disappointing season and lengthy contract, and the team's various injuries, this seems somewhat unlikely), Marlon Byrd of the Mets (having an excellent year -- I predicted the opposite and it seems like I'll have to eat those words), Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs (they will throw in a subscription to the magazine of your choice), and Chris Carter of the Astros.

The big fish is Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, but most reports suggest he's not going to be coming. With the Marlins, though, you never know. As we always say around here, the Marlins aren't serious.

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