2008 Free Agent Outfielder Survivor

With the Sox's black hole in left field, there's been a lot of talk around here about the tantalizing outfield options that will be hitting free agency after the season.  So I decided to take a look at who's available and try to break down who fits best with the Sox.  First, here's the list of '08 free agent OFs:

Left fielders
Eric Byrnes (32)
Adam Dunn (28) - $13MM club option for '08
Geoff Jenkins (33) - $9MM club option for '08
Luis Gonzalez (40)
Barry Bonds (43)
Brad Wilkerson (31)

Center fielders
Ichiro Suzuki (34)
Andruw Jones (31)
Torii Hunter (32)
Eric Byrnes (32)
Corey Patterson (28)
Milton Bradley (30)
Aaron Rowand (30)
Mike Cameron (35)
Kenny Lofton (41)

Right fielders
Jermaine Dye (34)
Bobby Abreu (34) - $16MM club option for '08
Ichiro Suzuki (34)
Milton Bradley (30)
Geoff Jenkins (33) - $9MM club option for '08
Trot Nixon (34)
Jose Guillen (32) - $9MM club option for '08
Shawn Green (35) - $10MM club option for '08
Eric Hinske (30)

Now that we have the list, let's play some Survivor and start voting these guys off White Sox island.  20 will enter, only one will remain.

Let's get rid of Barry Bonds first.  Not just because everyone hates him, but because paying $16 million for one year of a 43-year-old outfielder who should really be a DH doesn't make sense for the Sox.

Then I think we can reasonably eliminate Luis Gonzalez and Kenny Lofton for being too old.  The Sox don't want to become the Midwest Giants.

And next we'll vote off Shawn Green and Mike Cameron for being pretty old and not that good anymore.

That brings us to guys like Wilkerson, Patterson, Bradley, Nixon, Guillen, and Hinske, who are either declining, injury prone, crazy, and/or career underachievers/just not that good.  Although some team will probably hit the jackpot and get a productive year out of one of these guys at a reasonable cost, the Sox's outfield situation doesn't really call for a gamble on a question mark like one of these guys.

Then there's Adam Dunn, Geoff Jenkins, and Bobby Abreu, all of whom are intriguing options but are almost guaranteed to have their club options picked up for 2008.  It's possible if Abreu continues to struggle this year that the Yankees decide to bail on him and let Melky play, but for the purposes of this analysis, let's assume he re-signs and drop all three of these guys from our consideration.

That leaves us with Ichiro, Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter, Jermaine Dye, Eric Byrnes, and legendary White Sox pie-bringer Aaron Rowand.

To make the first cut, it seems obvious to compare Byrnes and Rowand, who seem like similar players:

Byrnes will be 32 at the beginning of the 2008 season, has a career OPS+ of 100 and RC27 of 5.12, and can adequately play all three outfield positions.

Rowand will be 30 to start the '08 season, has a career OPS+ of 103 and RC27 of 5.16, plays excellent centerfield defense, and is legendary among Sox fans for his grit, hustle, leadership, team spirit, and clubhouse bonhomie.

Basically, they're the same player, and likely to cost the same, but Rowand is younger and his return would be a hit with many Sox fans.  So Byrnes can surf off the island.

But Rowand is still low man on the totem pole, so now he has to survive a comparison with Torii Hunter.  Hunter will be 32 to start '08, has a career OPS+ of 104 and RC27 of 5.18, and plays Gold Glove centerfield defense.  Surprisingly, Hunter has not been that much more productive than Rowand.  Rowand even has 5 more Win Shares since 2004 (58-53).  So, considering that Hunter is likely to cost far more than Rowand for similar production, Rowand wins again, and his legend grows.

But now he has to face a fellow 2005 White Sox hero in Jermaine Dye.  Jermaine will be 34 next season, has a career OPS+ of 110 and RC27 of 5.82, and appears to be a rapidly declining defensive outfielder headed for DH duty in the near future.  So, Dye is obviously the superior offensive player to Rowand, but his declining skills in the outfield, age, and likely cost (a least double what Rowand would cost per year) all weigh against him.  In this case, the Sox avoid being saddled with a large contract for an ageing player and choose Rowand once again.

Note: I'm not one of these crazy Rowand fans.  I'm as surprised as anybody that he's made it this far.  So let's end this nonsense and compare Rowand to Andruw Jones:

Jones will also be 30 next season, has a career OPS+ of 117 and RC27 of 5.92, and plays what is now overrated but still good centerfield defense.  Jones has 74 Win Shares since '04 compared to Rowand's 58.  Also, Rowand's most similar players are guys like Carl Everett, Shea Hillenbrand, and Mike Lamb, whereas Jones's are Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews, and Johnny Bench.  In terms of past and likely future production, there's no comparision.  But what about the money?

A realistic contract for a player of Rowand's caliber would probably be something like 4 years/$24 million, whereas Jones will be looking for Carlos Lee/Soriano-type money, along the lines of say 7 years/$120 million.  Considering Jones's questionable conditioning habits over the years, I don't have much doubt that this contract would be an albatross by 2011, by which time Jones will have been shifted to a corner outfield spot, diminishing the value of his production.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think Rowand is the better value in terms of future roster construction and financial flexibility.

Finally, there's Ichiro.  34 in 2008, career OPS+ of 120 and RC27 of 6.35, and excellent defense in both right and centerfield.  84 win shares since 2004.  The only true leadoff hitter on this list and, to me, unquestionably the best all around player.  So let's talk money.  Like Jones, Ichiro will also demand Lee/Soriano-type dollars.  One thing that might be more flexible are the years of the deal, because of his age.  Even still, you're probably looking at a 6 year contract worth about $100 million for a player who will be 40 years old when it ends.  Unlike Jones, though, Ichiro's conditioning is impeccable, as is his batting eye, and, even as age begins to slow him down, he should be able to adjust his hitting approach somewhat to add a little power, which we've all seen him flash.

So here the incredible journey of Aaron Rowand ends.  Ichiro earns the title of Sole Survivor and joins the crew of the Pale Hose 8.

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