As another free agent option bites the dust, the pickings at center field are getting slimmer by the day.
Early last week, NL East divison rival the Atlanta Braves signed B.J Upton, viewed as the "cream of the crop" in center field, to a 5 year deal worth just over $75 million. The Phillies reportedly made an offer of 5 years, $55 million, but that was certainly just a ploy to make the Braves overpay. Well done, Ruben. As much as Upton could've been utilized in this offense, no man who has not hit above .250 for five years should be making on average $15 million a year.
Besides, it seemed as though San Franciscio Giants CF Angel Pagan was at the top of the Phillies big board. Pagan hit .288 in 154 games with the world champion Giants, and would've supplanted Jimmy Rollins in the leadoff spot. But just a day into the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, the Giants swooped in and re-signed their man to a 4 year, $40 million deal.
The opportunity to repeat in San Francisco must've played into Pagan's decision, but I struggle to see how Amaro Jr. couldn't of topped $10 million a year for the guy who they had a signifcant amount of interest in all along. Regardless of whether Pagan was simply more comfortable in San Francisco, or the Phillies just weren't willing to pay up, not signing him is going to hurt their checkbooks.
Everyone would like to see Amaro spend wisely, but at the same time make moves early to feed your adrenaline addictions so you can also stop breathing into a paper bag. It's a horrible contradiction, yet one that you can actually wrap your head around. Throwing money at a guy who strikes out on average 128 times a year (hey BJ Upton!) early in free agency is wasteful, but work needs to be done quickly.
Now that guys are locking onto new (or former) teams, the remaining top quality players will have an inflated value. And for outfielders like Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton it may be impossible for the value to get any higher, as they both seemed poised to cash in on $100 million contracts they had been seeking. With the Phillies obvious hole being smack dab in the middle of the outfield, it would be likely Philadelphia would reach out to Bourn before Hamilton. Bourn had a solid season in his first full season in Atlanta, hitting .274 and stealing 42 bases, but I don't think a reunion should be in order here. Bourn had as many strikeouts (155) as games played last year, and his average dropped 20 points last year, and I'm horrified of paying a soon to be 30 year old whose game is built on his legs $100 million.
Hamilton is an even riskier option. After sending opposing pitchers running for their lives in 2010, the 31 year old has dealt with a multitude of injuries, and off the field issues too. Yes, Josh Hamilton can play center field, but he's certainly a defensive liability there and would be much better suited in right. There's no doubt Hamilton still has a whole lot of baseball left in him and will contribute greatly on the offensive end, but for one hundred and seventy five million dollars? Sounds even crazier when you spell it out, doesn't it? Not to mention, that's 14,380,625,525 yen! I struggle to see him get anywhere near that contract, not only dollar wise but year wise as well.
However, the Phillies have forced themselves into a corner, and they're going to have to pay their way out. As long as there's a need in Outfield, and there certainly is this year, the last team standing is the one who will have to dig deeper into their pockets. Or stick with what they have, and at the end of the day John Mayberry Jr. isn't going to get the job done.
There's always the trade market.
The two sexy names in that department are Colorado's Dexter Fowler and Miami's Giancarlo Stanton. Both teams will dangle them until they have the highest bidder, and the Phillies are in no position to get into a war over prospects. After depleting their team of prospects to make a run at a title, their minor leaguers simply aren't as enticing as they once were.
Will Philadelphia fill that hole in center field? For sure. Whose services they will obtain is the question. One thing Ruben Amaro will most certainly learn regardless: it pays to be fast in free agency. You pay even more when you aren't.
Jake Pavorsky is a contributor for Philliedelphia. You can follow him on Twitter @JakePavorsky.