As we write in today's Daily News, the Phillies face a fascinating conundrum with their situation in center field. They have money to spend, and they have an obvious place to spend it. But they do not have limitless money. And they have enough needs outside of center field that paying B.J. Upton $75 million over five years might not be the wisest move. Especially since there are plenty of potentially cheaper options. But when you look at those potentially cheaper options, you can't ignore the following batting line from the 2012 season:
.255 batting average, .321 on base percentage, .383 slugging percentage, 11 home runs, 39-of-45 stolen bases.
Those were Shane Victorino's numbers in 2012. It was by far his worst season since he moved into a full-time role for the Phillies five years ago. But it also wasn't much different from the seasons that are the norm for players whose names have been bandied about as potential fits for the Phillies.
Angel Pagan's averages over the last three years: .281/.334/.415, 9 home runs, 33-of-41 stolen bases.
Denard Span's averages over the last three years: .271/.334/.367, 3 home runs, 16-of-20 stolen bases.
Michael Bourn's averages over the last three years: .279/.346/.376, 4 home runs, 52-of-65 stolen bases.
Again, those are three-year averages compared to Victorino's worst single season. Victorino's averages over the last three years are .264/.334/.432, 15 home runs, 31-of-36 stolen bases.
So that is the interesting part. The Phillies have been longing to alter the complexion of their lineup for the past couple of years. They have an opportunity to do so this offseason. And the guy who makes the most sense just might be the guy they traded away five months ago in what was the presumed start of the facelift.
Do I think the Phillies will pursue Victorino? No. I really don't. Frankly, I think Pagan makes the most sense for this offense. He has had one subpar season in four years as a regular, and even in that bad season he put up numbers that are the norm for Denard Span. I keep mentioning span because some of the national insiders keep mentioning him as a potential trade candidate. But I'm not a huge fan. For starters, he is left-handed, but he has posted an OBP of under .329 in each of the last three seasons. He also has a career .820 OPS at home in Minnesota compared with a .679 mark on the road. He is a good defender. I'm just not sure he improves the lineup to the point where it would be worth the young talent it would likely take to acquire him.
I'd prefer Dexter Fowler from the Rockies mostly because he is two years younger and has shown signs of continuing improvement, particularly against right-handed pitching (he is a left-handed hitter). He also has more power. But his numbers are likely inflated by Coors Field, whose spacious outfield is perfect for his game. Fowler has a career .295/.395/.487 batting line at home compared with .248/.331/.367 line on the road. But if the talent required to acquire him is similar to what it would take to land Span, I think Fowler is the much better fit.
Another guy who might be wise to explore is the White Sox's Alejandro de Aza, who has now put together two straight solid seasons in center field for Chicago. His home/road splits are even, he isn't awful against lefties, and he has a .281/.349/.409 line in 592 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter.
I'm not sure that the White Sox would be inclined to trade de Aza, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time, but CSNChicago.com's Dan Hayes mentions him as one of four players who the Sox could look to deal.
But again, the price is the thing.
Is Angel Pagan worth $10 million per year for his 31, 32, and 33-year-old seasons? He was traded for Andres Torres last year after facing the potential of being non-tendered by the Mets. Baseball is one of the few businesses in the world where buying high seems to be standard operating procedure.
Which is why Victorino might actually represent the best value on the market. If he is the last center field domino to fall and he can be had for far less Pagan, maybe the move that most improves the Phillies is to sign their old friend to play center field and then take a risk at third base with Kevin Youkilis, or cobble together an offer that the Padres can't refuse (minus the horse head) for Chase Headley. Or maybe attempt a deal for Jed Lowrie and try him at third base, figuring that at the worst you'd have infield depth for potential injuries to Chase Utley and/or Jimmy Rollins. And then maybe use the money you saved in center field to sign Nick Swisher to a three-year, contract worth $12 to $15 million per season.
The Phillies have too many holes to paint themselves into a corner by falling in or out of love with one particular player. They should be value shoppers at this point. It just so happens that the best value in center field could be Victorino.