In 2009, a 27-year-old, switch-hitting center fielder -- one without a lot of success in the majors or minors -- had a fantastic season in the majors, both defensively and offensively. He played twice as much the next season, and he was twice as valuable. Uncovering a hidden gem like that doesn't happen often, except something similar was going on at the exact same time for another team. The only difference was that the other center fielder was 31, but he also came out of nowhere to provide impressive production in a part-time role, and then he became invaluable when he became a starter.
They both were cheap. FanGraphs estimates that they were worth a combined $84 million over the past three years. They were paid about $8.5 million. Even though they were both injured and unimpressive with the bat last year, they both play brilliant defense in center, and they're both still arbitration-eligible, so they aren't going to be prohibitively expensive next year, either.
And if you want them for your team, make an offer. If you talk to a dentist, you can make it a three-way swap, with old copies of National Geographic going to the Mets or Giants, Angel Pagan or Andres Torres going to a team that needs a center fielder. Not sure what the dentist would want. Maybe just some assurances that he or she isn't an awful person put on this planet to cause pain and misery. They like that sort of thing.
Both Pagan and Torres came out of nowhere. Both epitomized the defense-first center fielder that teams used to be okay with, but they also showed some unexpected hitting skills. Both broke down right as they were moving from "dirt cheap" to "somewhat cheap." Now there's a chance that both of them are going to be non-tendered.
Torres was manna from heaven for a Giants team that started 2010 with Aaron Rowand as their lead-off hitter. Rowand finished the season with a .281 on-base percentage. The Giants won the World Series. Put those last two sentences together, and it's not a stretch to think that Torres had everything to do with the team's success last year.
Pagan was the only outfielder who didn't fall into a wheat thresher last year for the Mets. His .340 OBP and superlative defense in spacious Citi Field made him extremely valuable, as did his ability to not fall into a wheat thresher.
Similar arcs. Similar value. And now they'll most likely be fighting for similar job openings. From the Daily News:
If they decide to proceed without him, the Mets could shop Pagan and, if that fails, nontender him. In that scenario, which has been a solid possibility since midsummer, the Mets will likely seek a strong fielder - and an affordable one.
His is a name loaded with Disney drama and back-page dishonor, but Rick Ankiel could be the right outfielder for the price.
Yep. That's Rick Ankiel's name as a replacement option. The Giants already have their replacement, trading for Melky Cabrera on Monday. Two years ago, if you would have suggest straight-swaps of Melky/Torres and Ankiel/Pagan, you probably would have been stabbed. Now, you'd just get sneered at real ugly-like. Both players are still really popular with their hometown fans -- rags-to-riches stories tend to do that -- and it's a little tough for a lot of fans to accept that they've been reduced to items on a ledger.
They might both be retained by their current teams, but it's looking like there will be a couple of options for anyone who wants a center fielder with a plus glove and a chance to hit a little bit. They'll come cheap. They always have.