Centers of Attention

December 10, 2012

The theme of the off-season so far is Centerfielders on the Move. Several top free agents play the position (not even counting Josh Hamilton, a corner outfielder who can play center), and several teams have holes there. On Monday one was filled: Free agent Angel Pagan signed a four-year, $40 million deal to stay with the Giants. Here's how the rest of the centerfield market is shaking out.

B.J. Upton

LEAVING ... the Rays, with whom he'd spent his career after being the second pick in the 2002 draft. Upton's work from 2009 to '12 (.242/.316/.420 with 161.5 strikeouts a year) branded him, not incorrectly, a disappointment. Tampa Bay will replace him with Desmond Jennings and gains a compensatory first-round pick in 2013.

GOING TO ... the Braves, who last week signed the 28-year-old to a five-year, $75 million deal in hopes that they can keep up his power surge of last year, when he hit 28 home runs and his rate of homers per fly ball (14.1%) was his highest since 2007. But even if Upton's slugging declines, his speed (an average of 39 steals at a 77.1% success rate) and defense make this deal acceptable.

Michael Bourn

LEAVING ... the Braves, who didn't try hard to re-sign him. Bourn is a difficult player to evaluate: He's a leadoff hitter who can steal (42 last season), but he strikes out a lot (155 times in '12) and has little pop. As a long-term investment, especially in the leadoff hole, the 29-year-old Bourn is high-risk: As his speed declines, so will his ability to get hits on balls in play.

GOING TO ... the Phillies? Bourn started his career in Philadelphia, and even at 30 he would bring some comparatively youthful energy to a grizzled roster in need of a centerfielder and a No. 1 hitter. If the Phils look elsewhere, Bourn could be this off-season's Prince Fielder—a quality player who has trouble finding a home because the teams that are spending freely don't need him.

Denard Span

LEAVING ... the Twins, who last week ended one of the longest trade dances ever by sending Span, who had been rumored to be going to the Nationals for almost 18 months, to Washington for power pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Minnesota will move speedy, weak-armed Ben Revere from right to his natural position, losing little in the switch.

GOING TO ... the Nationals. Span is an excellent fit in the leadoff spot; the four Washington players who batted there for at least 25 games had a combined OBP of just .325. Span's career OBP is .357, and unlike Bourn, his ability to get on isn't threatened by a low contact rate. Span doesn't steal as many bases as Bourn (17 last season), but he's a year younger and signed through 2014 with a club option for '15.

Shane Victorino

LEAVING ... the Dodgers, who got him from the Phillies in a July trade. Victorino was always a short-timer in L.A., and when the Dodgers acquired Carl Crawford in August, there was no chance he'd be back. Victorino, 32, hits the market after his worst season, with career lows in batting average (.255), OBP (.321) and slugging (.383), and diminishing defensive range. It's an open question whether he's a centerfielder anymore—or even an everyday player.

GOING TO ... ? He may have to wait for Bourn to sign, but the Red Sox and the Indians reportedly have interest in Victorino. Teams might be better off pursuing trades for Coco Crisp (A's), Dexter Fowler (Rockies) or Drew Stubbs (Reds), but the market for the Flyin' Hawaiian could be heating up.

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PHOTODANIEL SHIREY/US PRESSWIRE (UPTON) PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (BOURN) PHOTOMARK DUNCAN/AP (SPAN) PHOTOTONY MEDINA/ICON SMI (VICTORINO) EIGHT PHOTOS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)