When I started this series eight weeks ago, I didn’t immediately think that right field was obviously the deepest position in baseball, but after working to rank The Nine best players at each position it is extremely obvious. The top seven players on this list have MVP potential and I left guys off this list who are really good players.
I wasn’t picking between a bunch of question marks for #9, I was choosing among guys who I think are all very talented and who will have good seasons. Again, this list is of players projected to play right field for 2013, so position changes are taken into account. You’ll find Ben Zobrist and Josh Hamilton among this class of players settling into right this year.
My apologies to newly minted Indian Nick Swisher who was an outfielder when I wrote the first basemen list and a first basemen when I wrote the right field list. If Swisher has a big season, this is why he’s not on either list. If he has a bad season, I totally saw it coming.
9. Ichiro (Yankees)
Ichiro, despite his age, still plays great defense in right field, hits for high average, and runs the bases well. He should also see an uptick in power with a friendlier ballpark and should get a little help from a slightly better lineup around him. It would have been a lot better, but all of the Yankees are hurt. He’s not the MVP he once was, but I’m buying a very solid season from Ichiro in the Bronx.
8. Torii Hunter (Tigers)
Hunter had a huge season hitting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in 2012, so in choosing his next destination, he searched for a similarly cushy gig. And found it. He’ll hit between Austin Jackson (STT #1 CF) and Miguel Cabrera (STT #1 3B) and will play next to slight Trout downgrade Jackson in the outfield. Hunter had a big season last year, and while he’s not likely to match it, modest regression still earns him a place on this list with his mix of moderate power, speed, and defense.
7. Josh Hamilton (Angels)
Hamilton is baseball’s fragile giant. He’s shown, at times, flashes of historic talent and, at other times, flashes of unparalleled failure. He has impressive power and great raw skills, but has some of the worst plate discipline in a sport that includes Delmon Young. He has health issues and a history of off the field issues (i.e. drugs, alcohol, vision issues, energy drink addition). For my money, he has the widest possible range of outcomes of any player in the league. Hamilton hitting 50 HR seems equally as likely to me as him hitting .210. The upside is there, but age and fragility work against him. Plus there is an effort issue, as showcased by his utter lack of interest in playing baseball last September. Man, I just don’t know.
6. Carlos Beltran (Cardinals)
Beltran is not the defensive and baserunning star he once was, but he is still an extremely talented player when healthy. In seasons in which he has player 100 or more games, he has always posted a 3 WAR or better and has at times, approached 8 WAR. He’s on the downswing of a great career (Tell that to Mets fans!) and should be good for another great year if he remains healthy.
5. Jay Bruce (Reds)
Bruce hits for power and he walks. Those are two valuable qualities in a player, even if he is closer to .250 than .300 most seasons. The defensive numbers are a little all over the place, but he has 134 HR before his 26th birthday. That’s a good recipe for success and he should have it hitting behind the great Joey Votto.
4. Jose Bautista (Blue Jays)
If Joey Bats hadn’t missed half of 2012 with a wrist injury, an injury that is somewhat correlated with a loss in power, he’d probably be at the top of this list. The fact that he is fourth tells you just how good right field is right now. A healthy Bautista is a 40-50 HR guy with the ability to walk at a Bondsian rate while avoiding gaudy Dunnian strikeout numbers. He’s nothing special on defense or on the bases, but he is versatile and an absolute monster at the plate.
3. Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)
Stanton has as much raw power as anyone in the game and puts in on display regularly between the lines. He’s a very good defender and he takes his walks at the plate. He’s a great young player, with an emphasis on both great and young separately. That is to say, he’s still very young. But he strikes out a ton and doesn’t do much for me on the bases. That doesn’t make him a bad player, it just keeps him from the top of the list. I’m also a believer in lineup protection more than most saber-guys and think it is especially real at the extremes. There is nobody even closer to Stanton’s level on the Marlins and he will be pitched around a lot. That doesn’t exactly hurt his rate stats, but it will drop the raw production and the frustration with his situation might have a slightly negative effect on his overall performance in 2013 before he gets traded in November.
2. Ben Zobrist (Rays)
The only reason Zobrist is likely no longer baseball’s most underrated player (Alex Gordon?) is because people like me have been talking him up long enough that it has finally caught on. He’s a great defender, a good baserunner, and a very good hitter. The plate discipline is excellent and his versatility makes me blush. He is an above average player at six or seven positions and hasn’t player fewer than 151 games since becoming a regular four years ago. He’s durable, he’s versatile, and he knows the strike zone. If you know anything about the type of players I most like to cheer for, you would rightly suspect that I would lose my mind if the Tigers found a way to acquire him.
1. Jason Heyward (Braves)
I’ll confess that I wasn’t a Heyward believer after his breakout 2010 season and felt super proud of myself for calling his 2011 regression. Didn’t I look silly in 2012? Heyward has a few trouble spots in that his plate discipline is actually getting worse each season, but he hits for power, plays elite defense, and runs the bases extremely well. On offense alone, he’s in the middle of this list, but he’s so good in the field and on the bases that he vaults himself up to the top. He’s also only 23 and has three seasons under his belt. He’s poised to lead the Braves back to the fake playoffs or better in 2013 with the Upton brothers to his right, and looks to be baseball’s best right fielder in the process.
What do you think? How does your top four look? Sound off in the comments section.
Nick Swisher is underrated and Nick Swisher is now a Cleveland Indian. He’ll likely replace Shin Shoo Choo in right field, but can play left, first base, or DH over the course of his four year, $56 million deal (vesting option could take it to 5/70).
Most people figured Josh Hamilton would get more than Swisher on the free agent market, and we now know they are right. Hamilton got 5/125, which is more than 4/56. But that’s because Hamilton is overvalued and Swisher is undervalued. This is a great deal for the Indians. A great one.
Swisher is a young 32 and this deal will cover his age 32-35. Those are past his peak years, but not way into Alex Rodriguez territory. Swisher played his first full season in 2005 and was a full time player from 2006-2012. Over the last seven seasons, Swisher has never played fewer than 148 games. He’s never hit fewer than 22 homeruns. He’s had a walk rate under 12.3% once. He’s had an OBP under .355 once. He’s been an above average hitter and an average or better defender.
He’s been worth less than 3.0 WAR once in that span. All of these “onces” came during his worst season in 2008 where he was still an okay player.
Even if you figure he’ll decline into this thirties, he’s been a model player. Consistent power and patience mixed with solid defense. You can write him down for a 3 win season. He’s getting paid to be worth 2-3 wins over the next four season each, so if there is no salary inflation, he should be worth it. But there will be inflation, so he’s a steal.
Also, at $14 million a season, the risk isn’t so high that he’ll fall off the table and drag the team with him because he doesn’t have that $25 million price tag of Hamilton.
Swisher is essentially provides consistent, reliable production at the level that Hamilton averages out to. He’s a 3-4 win player with power. That’s what Hamilton is, but Hamilton has the amazing ceiling and flashes of brilliance mixed with the terrible lows.
With no inflation, Swisher needs to accumulate 11-12 wins to earn his deal. Hamilton needs to accumulate 25 wins. I’d much rather take the Swisher contract with a lower ceiling than the Hamilton contract with the bottomless-pit-like floor.
The Indians are a small market club and have a lot of work to do to build a winner. But in the weak AL Central, contention is probably not too far off. They have a solid young infield and catcher and an outfield that is serviceable. One more good bat and some rotation upgrades could get the Tribe near the top. Swisher is a good step in the right direction.
It will take some luck for the Indians to play with the Tigers in 2013, but anything can happen. Nick Swisher is a reliable player at a good price and he’s a fun loving guy who went to school at Ohio State. He seems like a natural fit for the Indians. He’d have a been a great fit for a lot of teams. It’s a little surprising a bigger market club didn’t offer more money, but fans in northeast Ohio will be glad they didn’t.
The Angels signed Josh Hamilton to a 5 year, $125 million deal today with a physical coming Friday. I wrote extensively about Hamilton last month and you can read what I think about him here.
The Angels, who had four outfielders before this deal, now have five. They also have Kendrys Morales as their DH who is blocked at 1B by a guy named Pujols. They have to trade at least one of these players. That’s fine. No big deal.
Trout in center. Hamilton in left. Trumbo in right. Or Bourjos? Or the $21 million Vernon Wells? I’m not sure what their plan is, but it’s a bad one no matter what.
The Angels didn’t need an outfielder. In fact, that was the thing they needed the least. They didn’t even need a bat. They needed starting pitching badly and still do. They lost out on Greinke because he was too expensive (but then signed a riskier player for the same AAV). They released Dan Haren. They traded Ervin Santana.
The Angels rotation is Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, and some other guy. I’m only convinced one of those guys is better than league average. Anibal Sanchez would have only cost them $15 million per season, which leaves another $10 million to spend on other upgrades.
I’m also not convinced the Angels get much better with Hamilton. He and Torii Hunter were probably equally as valuable this year, and the Angels said they didn’t want him. They were going to play Bourjos. Bourjos is an incredible, better than Mike Trout defender. He’s probably a 2-3 win player. Hamilton is only a 4-5 win guy. They’re spending $25 million to win two or three more games at the expense of the pitching staff that they could actually have upgraded.
Now maybe this is a prelude to a big deal for a pitcher on the trade market, but I’m skeptical. This feels like an f-you Rangers and Dodgers move. The Angels felt like they weren’t getting enough attention and they wanted a date to the dance. I can see Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto adding entries to the Mean Girls scrapbook right now.
The Angels don’t need Hamilton. They certainly don’t need Hamilton at $125 million. If his market collapsed, you might go for it, but he has to average 4-5 wins every season for this to payoff. I don’t think he can do that. Even if he does, the Angels have lots of outfielders who could put together seasons almost as good.
What they don’t have is a #2 or #3 starting pitcher. They spend $125 million on Josh Hamilton when they should have spent $90 million on Sanchez. I don’t think anyone should have paid Hamilton this much, but I really don’t think it should have been the Angels.
They either dramatically misunderstand Hamilton as a player or they think they needed to do something to keep up with the Jones’. Why offer him this deal? It doesn’t even look like anyone else was willing to go this high. The Angels paid market price or higher for a luxury player and it’s likely going to cost them a shot to improve their rotation.
I grade every trade and signing I write about, and I’m trying to decide how this ranks. Hamilton is a good player. But he is also an unusually risky player. He is old, injury prone, and has a history of substance abuse. He also has poor plate discipline, so when his bat slows down, he could really crumble. I think anyone who pays 5/125 for Hamilton is paying too much, but when you give him that deal and you don’t need him that seems like a big mistake.
At this point in time, given the context, and before we hear about a follow up move, I have to really nail the Angels here. This deal is that bad.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the strange free agent situation surrounding Josh Hamilton. You can read the post here, but let’s consider where we are right now.
The Rangers will not sign Hamilton if they sign Greinke, which looks pretty likely. If they sign Greinke, they will trade for Upton and Hamilton will not have the Rangers as an option. The two clubs with the most buzz for Hamilton other than the Rangers are the Mariners and the Red Sox.
In the post linked above, I told you the White Sox were the real team to watch. I said they would trade Viciedo or De Aza and would add a lefty power bat. Hamilton would fit perfectly. Here’s a post on MLB Trade Rumors yesterday:
It’s happening. Hamilton will sign with the White Sox for 5/110. I can’t guarantee I’ll be right, but I feel better about this prediction than when I made it.