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.
But 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.
The 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.