After acquiring Justin Upton, do the Braves have the best three-man outfield in the game?
Oh, someone else will have done this column first. But will they include the projected starting outfield for every major-league team??? That's right, via the intrepid MLB Depth Charts, lets look at the projected outfields for every team, and see which outfield is the best!
Actually, uh, let's just skip the prelims and get to the semi-finals. The Braves traded for Justin Upton, which gives them two Uptons and a Heyward. That's a heckuva outfield, defensively, offensively, and draft-pedigreely. The Braves' starting outfield on Opening Day in 2009 was Garret Anderson, Jordan Schafer, and Jeff Francoeur. They've earned this.
But is it the best in baseball? After whittling down the contenders, we'll look at the top troikas in the game. There are a lot of hard-but-fair cuts to get the final group. I like the Brewers' outfield of Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, and Norichika Aoki, assuming that Gomez continues to hit a bit. I like the Reds with Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jay Bruce, but I can't vouch for them until we know what that's going to be like, defensively. But neither of them are especially close to top-spot consideration. Same goes for the Yankees, Red Sox, A's, and Jays. There's usually one ehhhhh or not-sure-about-this-guy mixed in, and his mates aren't quite exciting enough to make up for it.
So the final four, along with the Braves:
Unless Vernon Wells wins his job back! Hey, if Ryan Vogelsong. That's the sentence. If Ryan Vogelsong. You know exactly what it means. Also acceptable: Go home, baseball, you're drunk. (But, no, let's just leave Wells out of this.)
If Delmon Young were playing center for the Angels, they would still make the final cut. Trout + anyone puts them in the discussion. Trout + Hamilton puts them in the finals.
The weak link is Bourjos … or is he? He's such a good fielder and baserunner that he can be valuable even if he hits .220, as he did last year. But if he can come close to his 2011 numbers, he's not a weak link at all.
It's kind of interesting to see the parallels between this group and the Angels. You have the franchise in left, the speed-'n'-defense guy in center, and the big-contract slugger in right. So you might call it a tie.
Except Trout has already had a Trout-like year. We're just assuming Harper can get there. Point: Angels. But Span is more reliable than Bourjos when it comes to getting on base, so the Nats take a piece of that edge right back. And if I have to choose between a 32-year-old Josh Hamilton and a 34-year-old Jayson Werth, I take Hamilton every time. Tally it up, and the Angels move on in the tournament.
Included only because you'll see this one floated as a possibility by a few folks. The asterisk on that WAR is that Kemp and Crawford were both hurt. If you guarantee Carl Crawford's health (and Matt Kemp's, for that matter), maybe they belong in the discussion, even considering Ethier's platoon misery. But Crawford hasn't been good for two straight seasons, and he's 31 now. I'll put the Dodgers in the "potentially" pile, but the "potentially" pile isn't that exclusive a club. I like what Pittsburgh is doing, all things considered, so they're rummaging around there, too.
A strong, strong contender. They might actually be my pick, if only because they have my prospect-crush waiting in the wings. And he's worth, oh 11 or 12 wins. Or not. Maybe fewer. But I love Oscar Taveras, and when Carlos Beltrán is hurt, the Cardinals might not get worse at all.
And, of course, the reason you're reading this:
If the answer is "Which outfield do you take for 2015?", it isn't even worth writing about. The Braves, every time. All of those guys are under 30, with Justin Upton and Heyward not even on the wrong side of 25 yet. From Garret Anderson, Jordan Schafer, and Jeff Francoeur to this outfield in four short years. And there was a Nate McLouth, a Matt Diaz, and a puffy Melky Cabrera worked in there, too. Sheesh.
But the question isn't who will be the best in two or three years, it's who has the best outfield now. And if you're going to assume it's the Braves, you're going to have to project some big steps forward from either Heyward or the younger Upton. I'm not sure if I can do that yet.
Aw, heck, sure I can. My rankings:
5. Uh … heck, I don't know. Brewers? I'll go with the Brewers. Their combined 2012 WAR would have put them second on this list, you know. I just don't trust Carlos Gomez.
I was secretly picking a Heyward and Justin Upton breakout this year, so I feel pretty comfortable assuming one of them will level-up. If both do, it will be the kind of outfield they talk about in 2053, let alone 2013. And while I love Mike Trout, I think it's silly to predict 11-win seasons from anyone. A thawed-out Ted Williams with a robotic exoskeleton doesn't get that kind of projection.
It's close, though. Close enough to where I'm terrified to know how stupid this is all going to look in September. The important thing is that because it's baseball, we know it's going to look stupid. Exactly how is the question, and until we know that, I'll take the Braves by a slim, slim margin.