Center field is weak with free agents. So much so that I had to include the likes of Carlos Beltran and Cody Ross, neither of whom are really fit to play center on a daily basis anymore. That being said, there are a couple of names that could end up with surprising numbers should they put forth a healthy 2012 season.
1. Carlos Beltran (35) – Beltran is the biggest name on the outfield free agent market, but listing him as a center fielder might be inaccurate. He didn’t play an inning in center this past season and has seen his speed sapped due to knee surgery in 2010. At this point in his career, he’s a 35-year-old corner outfielder, but one capable of 20-plus home runs and a well above average OBP.
2. Grady Sizemore (29) – Like Beltran, Sizemore may be better off moving off of center and into a corner. He too had microfracture surgery on his knee, but unlike Beltran he continued to struggle with injuries in 2011. Sizemore still showed power (10 homers in 268 at-bats), but he didn’t steal a single base in 71 games played. There are certainly a number of teams out there that will look to take a chance on his upside through a short-term deal.
3. Coco Crisp (32) – The biggest challenge of Crisp’s career has been staying healthy. He still missed some time in 2011, but managed to play in 136 games, his most since 2007. In those games, Crisp hit .264 and stole 49 bases. The 49 steals were a career high and part of his game that will draw interest this offseason.
4. David DeJesus (32) - 2011 was a tough season for DeJesus. He put up career lows in AVG and OBP, but some of his struggles can be explained by a thumb injury for which he needed surgery on in 2010. Despite a down season at the plate, DeJesus continued to perform very well defensively, posting an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 7.5, mostly playing right field. Despite the down season, there should be a number of teams interested in DeJesus. His .274 BABIP was the lowest of his career and, according to Fangraphs, there was very little change in his batted ball profile. There’s a good chance he bounces back in 2012.
5. Cody Ross (31) – I didn’t really want to list Ross as a center fielder, but he did play 158.2 innings there in 2011 and 717.1 innings there in 2010.
6. Nate McLouth (30) – It’s been two years since McLouth’s breakout 2009 season in which he posted a .352 OBP, hit 20 home runs and stole 19 bases. Injuries have taken a huge toll on him over the last two seasons. He’s still an injury risk, but he also hasn’t posted a walk rate lower than 11.5 percent over the last three years. If he can stay healthy, he could bring some surprise production to a team willing to give him a chance (and on the cheap!).
7. Rick Ankiel (32) – While Ankiel doesn’t have the skills at the plate to be an everyday player, he might fit nicely somewhere as a left-handed platoon option. He has the arm to play both center and right and has enough range to be adequate up the middle.
8. Corey Patterson (32) – The former top prospect has obviously failed to live up to lofty expectations, but he has been valuable in short spurts for his employers over the last two seasons.
9. Mike Cameron (39) – Cameron may have the body of a 25-year-old, but his skills have faded as he inches toward 40. His bat woke up a bit after joining the Marlins (six home runs in 143 at-bats), but his once elite defensive skills appear to be slipping.
10. Scott Hairston (32) – Like his brother Jerry Hairston Jr., Scott can do a bit of everything, but he does noting exceedingly well.