One of the main themes going into this off-season was the abundant crop of centerfielders. As the weeks progressed, the list of available names began to dwindle – Toriii Hunter signed with Anaheim for five years and $90 million in November. The following month saw Andruw Jones head west for $36.2 million over two years and Aaron Rowand wasn’t too far behind, inking a $60 million deal over 5 years to put on a Giants uniform.

cameron.jpegBut I’m going to argue right here that the best free agent deal involving a centerfielder happened this past weekend – the moment that Mike Cameron and the Milwaukee Brewers agreed on a one-year, $7 million contract. This obviously does not mean that Mike Cameron is the best player among the centerfielders set to relocate. Rather, when we consider the size, length, and implications of the deal, the “bang-for-the-buck” factor could be very large indeed.

Cameron is far from a perfect player. Thanks in large part to his career .341 OBP, he’s never been known as a serious offensive threat. He’s still a guy capable of hitting 20 homeruns – especially now that he can leave Petco Park – but doesn’t have enough pop in his bat or the pitch recognition to make up for his propensity to strikeout. However, even as he enters his late-thirties, Cameron remains a top-flight defensive player, and this is where this deal makes a ton of sense.

In 2007, the Milwaukee Brewers led MLB in team homeruns with 231 and was 4th in total bases. One of the areas where they were extremely lacking, however, was defense. Rookie Ryan Braun was the poster child for this big-swing-no-glove movement in Milwaukee, but it wasn’t limited to just Braun. Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Bill Hall were all below average defensively. When Geoff Jenkins becomes your most reliable outfield glove, you have a problem.

cameron2.jpgThe Cameron signing goes a long way in improving this shortcoming. Not only will he patrol center very capably, it appears that Ryan Braun has been asked to move to left field now that Bill Hall is free to play third once more. So now, Cameron becomes a big defensive upgrade over Bill Hall who becomes a big defensive upgrade from Ryan Braun who now becomes a below average leftfielder. Got all that? Good.

Before I make it seem like this was an absolute no-brainer for Milwaukee, I do need to mention that Cameron will be suspended for the first 25-games to start the season for testing positive for a banned stimulant for the second time in his career, so until late April, he’s a total non-factor. With that said, I still believe that this deal will prove to be one of the best bargains this off-season that may ultimately allow the Brewers to keep up quite well with the Chicago Cubs in 2008.

9 Responses to “Mike Cameron to Milwaukee – Best FA Signing This Year?”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    Yay! Dreamy-eyed Ryan Braun gets to move to left field! You know, the Red Sox will have an opening in left maybe about the time the Brewers will be looking to move Braun (who, if he continues to perform as he did this year, will no doubt command a pay day beyond their means)….

    Also, I was shocked to read in the article you linked to that the iron-gloved Braun was a shortstop in high school and college. Yikes!

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    It’s all about context I suppose. Compared to the average high school player, I’m sure Ryan Braun was an AMAZING defensive shortstop, but compared to major leaguers, over 162 games, he was “iron-gloved.” Not to mention, he’s probably a lot bigger now than he was in high school.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    As Troy Tulowitzki showed just this year, however, for those who forgot, big-bodied shortstops CAN be great on defense.

  4. If Cameron continues to decline over the course of the upcoming season the Brewers will have to pay him a buyout of an additional $750,000 to avoid paying him $9 million in 2009. So, the Brewers will be paying him $7.75 million to play at most 85% of 2008. Between Cameron, Eric Gagne, and Jason Kendall they will be shelling out almost $20 million dollars in ’08, a significant amount for a small market team. That is a sizable portion of payroll for aging veterans that may not make a positive impact. Cameron may be a defensive upgrade for them but he’s not a guy that has been known to win games with his glove. I don’t think this move increases their ability to compete with the Cubs and it may hamstring them financially if they want to make any moves before the in-season trade deadline. A guy like Kenny Lofton would have been cheaper and better defensively. Lofton has less power but the Brewers don’t necessarily need more pop in their lineup.

  5. Paul Moro says:

    Melissa, I think you’re under rating Cameron’s defensive value. Or you’re really overvaluing Kenny Lofton’s glove. I don’t think that the defensive abilities of the two aren’t really comparable. Lofton’s older, his Revised Zone Rating was one of the worst among centerfielders (even though he moved to left in Cleveland) in 2007 and it wasn’t much better in 2006 either. His OBP isn’t that much better that it eliminates Cameron’s edge in power.

    And Cameron’s always been a guy who was known for his glove. At least that’s how I’ve always known him.

    $750,000 buy out is nothing in MLB. Even for the Brewers.

    Gagne, Cameron, and Kendall all signed for one-year. That was the right move for each of these guys. There’s really no harm done.

    And it’s not like MLB has a salary cap. If towards the trade deadline it appears that the Brew Crew have a chance to win the division AND the right potential deal comes along, then I don’t think ownership will balk. They usually don’t in situations like that. So basically, I don’t think any of these deals will prevent future ones. The purpose of one-year deals is to maintain flexibility. The Cubs fan in you may disagree (and rightly so), but I think the Brewers have done well this off-season. I’m not the biggest fan of any of the new Brewers, but Doug Melvin has left a lot of wiggle room for the future. I have to respect that.

  6. As a Cub fan I’m actually glad to see the Brewers pick up 3 guys on the decline for $20 million. Kendall was horrible defensively last season and Gagne was miserable with the Red Sox. They may now be better defensively at center and third but their defense will be worse at catcher and left, I would call that a wash. Cameron’s numbers were on a steep decline in 2006, .242 batting average and a .328 on-base percentage with 160 strike outs, Lofton was at .296 and .367 with 51 so. Why wouldn’t the Brewers want a guy that is going to be on base to be driven in by their big bats as opposed to a guy that’s going to strike out over 150 times? Lofton is a lesser player but he would have been substantially cheaper and not that much worse defensively.

  7. Paul Moro says:

    In the end, you might be entirely right. Maybe Cameron will decline a great deal. But unless this is the case, I expect Cameron’s offensive numbers to be a bit better in 2007. Despite hitting the ball pretty hard last year, not a lot of them fell in for hits. As long as he can keep his line drive % around 19%, he should be fine, especially since he moves away from Petco.

    As for Kendall, Johnny Estrada wasn’t a better fielder than Kendall. And I know that’s saying a lot. So I wouldn’t call it a downgrade. Besides, I think every GM would take happily a defensive downgrade in left for a big upgrade in center and third.

    And strikeouts are greatly overrated. They can be masked as long as the hitter has some pop and/or can take a walk. Yeah, sometimes a K strands a runner on third. But putting the ball in play also creates double plays. Cameron will never be an OBP guy. But he does walk his share. So it’s not THAT big a deal. It’s not ideal, but it’s not going to kill anyone.

  8. Nick Kapur says:

    Melissa, I don’t need stats to know that Kenny Lofton is terrible on defense – I saw him play with my own eyes far more often than I would have liked to when he was on the Dodgers two years ago. His range has declined to the point where he has no business whatsoever playing center field, and I’m not sure he would even be an adequate left fielder anymore. His first step is incredibly slow, and he takes some amazingly poor routes to balls. I can’t help but wonder if, because he was so speedy, he never learned the best routes to take because he could always rely on his speed to get him there in the past.In any case, the difference on defense between Cameron and Lofton is best measured in Astronomical Units.

    It’s sad because Kenny’s bat seems to be as good as ever, and he can still steal a base with the best of ‘em, but it’s getting to the point where he may no longer be able to field any position on the diamond, and he doesn’t have enough power to be a DH, so his career looks to be all but over (if it isn’t already, as he still is not signed).

    Paul is right, in that it’s pretty hard to overestimate the impact Cameron will have on defense. He’s actually still one of the better centerfielders out there, rangewise, and is certainly better on defense than Rowand or Hunter. And as Paul said, the ripple effect of moving Hall to third and Braun to left will improve the Brewer’s defense at three positions, which is going to be a big boost for the pitching staff.

    And Paul is also right that Cameron’s hitting is going to improve. He is coming from the worst power park in the major leagues to one of the better ones, and while his OBP will not necessarily go up, his home runs and doubles certainly will. I don’t think 20-25 homers is at all out of the question, which, combined with the defense, is going to make Cameron a pretty useful player, at least once he gets on the field.

    Now, I’m not sure if Cameron is worth $7 million, and I certainly don’t like the Gagne or Kendall signings at all, but this signing is not a terrible deal, and it may actually be a good one.

  9. Nick,
    I never said it was a terrible deal but I don’t think you can say it’s a good deal either. How does moving Braun to left improve their defense in 3 positions? Their defense will be better in center and at 3rd even though Hall is far from gold glove caliber. Geoff Jenkins was a far better defensive outfielder than one would anticipate Braun being in left. I will stand by my assertion that Jason Kendall is at this point in his career terrrible defensively and that’s at possibly the most important defensive position on the field and he has no bat either. Any boost that Cameron’s defense might give the pitchers will be negated by Kendall’s inability to throw anyone out. Lofton will be playing somewhere this season because of his offensive capabilities. You shouldn’t compare his ability to play center in Dodger Stadium with Miller Park, I’ll hazard to guess he could get by. I never implied Lofton was even close defensively to Cameron but offensively he fits in much better and would be way cheaper, this is a team with a budget. Cameron is 35 and you are both convinced his offense will improve, average and power most likely, but his OBP, not so much. Don’t be surprised when he has over 150 strikeouts again this year. Also don’t neglect the fact that Fielder is the only left handed bat in their lineup. I just didn’t think they needed another right handed bat with low OBP. This is a better deal than the teams that picked up Hunter, Jones or Rowand but that doesn’t mean it’s good. Let’s also not forget that he has been caught twice using banned stimulants when teams were warning players when they would be tested, so he’s obviously not too smart either.

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