When the Detroit Tigers came out of nowhere and stunned the baseball world yesterday afternoon by signing Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal, a sea of Nationals fans breathed a sigh of relief. For many, like myself, that sigh came a surprise, but never the less the overwhelming majority of Nats fans I polled on Twitter felt that Washington dodged a bullet by not investing long-term in the stout slugger.
The obvious question that followed, however, was what do we do now?
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports had an interesting post this morning that suggested that some within the Nationals ownership group wanted to avoid signing fielder and instead focus on bringing in a center fielder next offseason. Currently, Adam LaRoche is under contract in Washington for the 2012 season, and according to Rosenthal, the faction of owners believe that once his his contract is up the Nats should move Mike Morse from left field back to first base.
Such a move would open up two outfield spots for 2013. One of those spots would almost certainly go to Bryce Harper, who by that time should have already had a cup-of-coffee in Washington and be ready to produce full time as a corner outfielder. The other spot would be for a potential starting center fielder, a final piece of the puzzle which Washington has desperately been trying to attain over the past several years.
Here are a few outfielders who are expected to be free-agents following this season.
Shane Victorino, 31 - .279/.355/.491, 95 R, 4.4 UZR: Victorino is the oldest player on this list, but it seems the Hawaiian native has gotten better with age. In 2011 he posted a 5.9 fWar, the highest of his career. While he may not be the stolen base threat he once was (just 19 stolen bases in 2011), his bat and his glove have both improved. This could be a great fit for Washington if they sign him to a deal no longer than three-years.
B.J. Upton, 27 - .243/.331/.429, 23 HR, 82 R, 1.4 UZR: Upton has been associated with the Nationals in more trade rumors than arguably any other player in the franchises history. Year-in, and year-out, the Nats have attempted to acquire this slugger via trade, but a deal has never been close. Now, with Upton as a free-agent, it may be the perfect time for Washington to swoop in and claim the talented outfielder. While his stock has dropped in recent years, at just 27-years-old he coudl certainly still turn it around and be an elite level outfielder again.
Josh Hamilton, 30 - .298/.346/.536, 25 HR, 94 RBI, 3.4 UZR: Hamilton is obviously the biggest name on this list, unfortunately he’s also the least likely. Not only would I be surprised if he left Texas, his injury history is one that I believe Mike Rizzo would ultimately avoid. Perhaps though, he could be a good mentor to Bryce Harper, as he was the Bryce Harper of the 1990’s.
Michael Bourn, 29 - .294/.349/.386, 94 R, -6.4 UZR: I think this is the Nats most likely target in free-agency next year. While he’ll be 30 by the start of 2013, he hits for average, gets on base, and prior to last year, played the field very efficiently. To me, he’s a more consistent Nyjer Morgan, without the attitude issues. I think he is the perfect fit in center field in Mike Rizzo’s eye.
Bourn is also the most likely one to be available at the end of the 2012 season, since he is a Boras client and they generally do not sign extensions. It is quite likely OTOH that Hamilton will be extended, with extensions for Upton and Victorino possible but less likely.
@Sjberke Completely agree on Hamilton. It would take a falling out to get him out of Texas, but the possibility is there. I think Upton is as sure a lock to become a free-agent as well, unless he gets traded.