With Jed Hoyer busy eating burritos and going for jogs on the waterfront, I thought I’d give him some help with the state of the team and what he could to do make it better.
At the end of the 2009 season, Tony Gwynn, Jr. seemed to have cemented his place as the Padres center fielder. And yet, maybe he didn’t. Before Hoyer came onboard, Bill Center wrote the following in the U-T:
The Padres like Gwynn as a center fielder, to a point.
When you are a singles hitter, you better have a lot of singles and a high on-base percentage. Gwynn hit .270 with a .350 on-base percentage.
The Padres love him as a fourth outfielder, spot starter, defensive sub and left-handed pinch-hitter. But not so much as an every-day regular, unless he hits over .300.
While this may simply be one man’s opinion, let’s take Center at his word. Let’s say that the team loves AJ (I’m going to start calling him AJ) as a fourth-outfielder, and that his lack of offense scares them off. Who else would be an option then?
Center suggests former Padre, and TSB ex-boyfriend, Mike Cameron. In his second year with the Brewers, Cameron posted a WAR of 4.3, his highest mark since 2006, his first season with the Padres. With Cameron, we’ll know what we’re getting: twenty home runs and dependable defense. But Cameron left San Diego for a $7 million deal after a poor 2007, in which he posted a 2.2 WAR. That’s down from his 4.6 mark in 2003, his previous contract year. Cameron signed a $20 million with the Mets then; will he be willing to take the necessary pay cut to come back to San Diego? If not, who else is there?
Another name bandied about is Marlon Byrd. He meets the right-handed requirement that Center lists in his article and, while he’s not the defender AJ and Cameron are, he posted a wOBA of .348. That puts his 2009 offensive campaign exactly even with Cameron, and better than AJ. If the price is right, might the Padres consider taking a chance on him? That would require the price to be right. What does Byrd expect to get? Let’s ask him:
“If people offer me a contract at two years and the right numbers, I’ll sign,” Byrd said. “If people offer me three years at the right numbers, I’ll sign.
“I’m not interested in a one-year deal. Do I want a three- or four-year deal, yes. But I don’t know what will happen. Last year, I thought Orlando Hudson would get a five-year deal, and he ended up getting one year and an option. The more seasons the better, but I just want fair value.”
That doesn’t sound to me like a player ready to take the San Diego Discount.
With Cameron and Byrd both positioned to cash-in, who’s a cheaper centerfield option for the Padres? Well, AJ.
While Center is correct to label him a singles hitter, AJ’s IsoP of .074 was at the bottom of the league, he still posted an only slightly-below-average wOBA of .332. This was thanks in large part to his decent BB% of 10.9. That still isn’t enough to make AJ an offensive equal to Cameron or Byrd, but maybe he doesn’t have to be.
Of the San Diego Padres not named ‘Adrian Gonzalez,’ AJ was the second best in terms of wins above replacement in 2009, with a WAR of 2.8. He achieved this despite being worth negative 1.7 runs offensively, because he was valued at plus 13.6 runs defensively. In fact, AJ’s UZR/150 of 12.2 was best for fifth in the league, amongst fielders with 800 innings played. All things considered, Fangraphs listed AJ as worth $12.6 million this season. He made only $400 thousand, and he’s not in line to make a raise for 2010.
This is the point where I tell you that any conclusions drawn on AJ’s defense are incomplete, as he doesn’t have nearly enough innings played to compose a proper sample size. But given the price tag, is it worth finding out?
The answer, Mr. Hoyer, is yes. Rather than go in on Cameron for $10 million, or Byrd for $5 million, the correct answer is to go with Tony Gwynn, Jr. for less than half of a million dollars. AJ will not solve all of our problems, as the team will have to find another source of power somewhere (unless the confidence in Blanks and Venable is there), but he does come with the promise of superior defense at the position where it comes the most in handy.
Beyond the Box Score has posted an article projecting the WAR for free agents. They list Mike Cameron at 2 and Marlon Byrd at 1.9.