In early October, the Houston Astros center field job seemed set for the foreseeable future. Rookie Jake Meyers burst onto the scene after the team traded Myles Straw.
Chas McCormick, himself an unheralded rookie, had performed well enough at the plate and spectacularly in the field, giving the Astros a two-headed rookie monster that was further augmented by a few electric appearances from Jose Siri.
Myers went down with a torn labrum on Oct. 12 trying to pull back a Gavin Sheets home run in the ALCS and subsequently had surgery on Nov.10.
The Astros have indicated Meyers will not be ready for opening day, leaving many Astro fans believing they need help in center field. But do they, and if so, at what cost?
A couple of options are already off the table. The New York Mets signed 33-year-old Starling Marte for 4 years and $78 million dollars, an average of $19.5 million per year.
Marte, the cream of the center field free agents, split 2021 between the Marlins and the A’s and had a solid season, slashing a combined .310/.383/.458 with 12 home runs, 55 RBI and 47 stolen bases.
Chris Taylor was also reupped by the Los Angeles Dodgers on a four-year, $60 million deal.
But the question is, do the Astros need to spend that type of money on center field or allocate those resources (or some part of) on a center fielder or spend those dollars on more pressing needs?
From my point of view, Meyers, McCormick, and to a lesser extent, Siri were fine center fielders in 2021.
In 476 at-bats, the trio combined for a .263 average with 24 home runs and 87 RBI. Not all of those numbers were accumulated as center fielders as McCormick played a ton at all three outfield positions and Siri dabbled in all three.
Those numbers compare favorably to your “average” American League center fielder, when adjusted to assume 600 at bats: .263, 30 home runs, 110 RBI, not to mention 100 runs scored.
Even if we assume that there would be sophomore slumps, we can look at the Baseball-Reference 2022 projections and find a combined .255 average, 26 home run, 92 RBI season for the trio.
Either way, the numbers far exceed the average American League center fielder (.242, 21 home runs, 71 RBI) adjusted for 600 at bats and both McCormick and Meyers have been shown to be above average center fielders (I’m more dubious on Siri, though the sample is tiny).
The caveats: We have no way of knowing when Meyers will be healthy and going into the year with McCormick and Siri would be a gamble no doubt. Also, the estimates above should not be construed as a “scientific” projection.
I’m just stating the obvious – these guys aren’t chumps at the plate, despite the strikeouts. They may not come close to the numbers above, but I’d make a bet they will be above the “average” 2021 American League center fielder.
If we assume Meyers is healthy by June and McCormick and Siri will perform as expected, the Astros could use those free agent dollars somewhere else.
Of course, there are other options, including putting Kyle Tucker in center, moving Michael Brantley to right and finding a left fielder.
A lot depends on what happens with Carlos Correa, as that outcome definitely affects the lineup. Without Correa the potency of the lineup changes considerably and that would perhaps enhance the need for more sure offensive options in center. Given the remaining options, though, who would that be?
The best free agent center fielders are off the market. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you and there’s no reason to search for the sake of searching, spend for the sake of a few home runs when maybe the best answer is the old answer.
With the rest of this lineup as we know it today I’ll take a very good defensive center fielder who will hit .250 with 25+ home runs and 90+ RBI all day.