As the Brewers put a disappointing 2010 season behind them, they were looking at what to do with center field. The incumbent was Carlos Gomez who played in 75 games and had shared time with Jim Edmonds before Edmonds was traded in August.
Lorenzo Cain was expected to compete with Gomez in the spring and speculation was that the team would look for a veteran upgrade similar to Mike Cameron who had been an important piece in the 2008 playoff run.
Gomez had come from the Twins in the JJ Hardy trade and despite being unbelievable on defense he still had too little power and too low of an on base percentage to be considered an everyday option.
Then Doug Melvin delivered the early Christmas gift to Brewers fans with the acquisition of Zach Greinke. One of the pieces in the trade however was Cain and the Brewers appeared to be heading towards a 2011 season of Carlos Gomez and no other player in the system ready for prime time.
On March 27th, Melvin pulled the trigger on a trade with the Washington Nationals to acquire Nyjer Morgan. Little was made of the move and it seemed a desperate move but “Why Not?” given the circumstances.
Love him or hate him Nyjer Morgan altered the 2011 season in ways few could have imagined.
He looks to be back in a platoon situation with Gomez in 2012. Can he repeat the excitement (and production) of 2011 or will he wear out his welcome?
Meanwhile the Pirates Andrew McCutchen enters his fourth year in the majors. If he continues his rapid development he could become one of the game’s best.
On his own, he is probably the best center fielder in the NL Central entering 2012.
2012 CF Rankings
1. Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen signed a six-year, $51.5 million extension in the off season and is the Pirates best player. He hit 23 HRs in 2011 after 12 and 16 in his first two seasons. He has averaged over 25 steals a season and until last season had a .286 average.
That dropped to just .259 last season but his OBP remained consistent as he drew more walks. With no other real power threat in the lineup he can expect to see very few good pitches to hit. That is probably the only thing standing between him and a 30/30 season.
No other centerfielder in the division comes close to that potential and it will be interesting to see if McCutchen actually plays out the full contract in Pittsburgh or if he just another player the team sends off for prospects.
2. John Jay
Jay may or may not fir here as the Cardinals are prone to wild lineup fluctuations and platoon situations. That was under former skipper Tony Larussa and it is yet to be seen how Mike Matheny, who has no managerial experience at any level plays his resources.
The Cardinals signed aging Carlos Beltran in the off season and he looks to see some time in center as well. They will also need to find some at bats for players like Allen Craig and Skip Schumaker.
Injuries will probably dictate things more than anything else and Jay has proven durable. A former teammate of Ryan Braun in Miami, Jay hit 10 HR’s last year and .298 after hitting .300 in 2010.
His power numbers are expected to improve and he has the speed to become a much bigger threat on the bases. Defensively he is the team’s best option and ultimately should be slightly better than the combination the Brewers will send out.
A platoon is probably not completely accurate when referencing the combination of Gomez and Morgan. They combined to play in over 180 games despite Gomez missing a large chunk of the second half with a shoulder injury.
Gomez was not very good batting just .225. He did have a career high in HR’s with 8 but his real value comes in the outfield. He may be the best defensive player in the league and is only 26. He came back from the injury and looked like a different player late in the season so I predict he will improve dramatically offensively.
Some were surprised to see the Brewers resign Morgan; but he is back again and will probably play all over the outfield with often injured Corey Hart in right and the occasional day off for Braun who also has missed around 10 games to injury each season.
The Brewers also have another option in former Japanese hitting star and perennial gold glove winner Norichika Aoki whom the Brewers spent quite a bit of money on despite feigning a lack of knowledge about the player. If Morgan fizzles and Gomez remains the same Aoki could be given a chance to acclimate to the American game on the job.
Whatever combination, the position will hit .280 or better with double digit home runs, around thirty stolen bases and play outstanding defense. That last piece can’t be forgotten when you consider the Brewers have liabilities at the corner positions.
4. Marlon Byrd
Byrd enters his eleventh season in the big leagues and appears to be on the decline a bit and it won’t help to have Bryan LaHair hitting behind him rather than Aramis Ramirez. He hit .276 last season and saw his OPS drop by over 50 points from 2010.
He hit only nine HR’s last year and his career numbers suggest his 2009 season where he hit 20 HR’s with the Rangers was an anomaly. It is the only season he hit more than 10.
5. Drew Stubbs
Stubbs is the ultimate all or nothing player. He hit only .243 last season but did hit 15 HR’s. He also struck out 205 times. He struck out 168 times in 2010 in almost 100 fewer at bats but did hit 22 HR’s that season.
The Reds as a team are pretty free swingers and Stubbs will contribute potentially record numbers in that department.
6. Jordan Schafer
Schafer was the key piece in a trade last season for Michael Bourn the Astros made with Atlanta. The Braves still considered Schafer to be a part of their future plans but the addition of Bourn was one they felt they must make to keep their drive to the playoffs going.
In the end the Braves had a historic collapse and then in October Schafer was arrested on marijuana possession charges. I include Schafer here because the Astros have few options beyond him.
In 132 games he has hit .228 with 4 HR’s and 133 strikeouts.