Which outfielders will be left for Phillies when MLB lockout ends?


When baseball resumes and the freeze on major-league transactions ends -- whenever that may be -- the Phillies will still have multiple holes to fill. They added a late-inning reliever (Corey Knebel) and a bench piece (Johan Camargo) before the game shut down but still need starters in left field and center field, among other things.

After a delirious week of free-agent activity, options remain in left field but not so much in center.

In center field, the only standout free-agent name left is Kris Bryant, if you believe he can or will play center during some of his next contract. Bryant, who turns 30 in January, has started 14 career games in center field, 13 last season. Just 1.7% of his career innings have come in center. A team would be signing him for his offense and positional versatility, not his value specifically in center field.

Beyond Bryant, the best available free-agent centerfielder is probably 38-year-old longtime Yankee Brett Gardner. That's how few starting options remain at that position in free agency. Starling Marte (Mets) and Chris Taylor (Dodgers) signed. Mark Canha was another short-term possibility in center but he, too, signed with the Mets. Byron Buxton, previously a trade candidate, signed a $100 million extension with the Twins instead.

Thus, the Phillies' solution in center likely has to come via trade. There are two very good, young, ascending centerfielders on bad teams in Pittsburgh's Bryan Reynolds and Baltimore's Cedric Mullins. Either would cost a haul of prospects, the kind of package the Phillies might not be able to put together or want to part with given their desire to supplement an expensive core with inexpensive homegrown talent. 

Tampa Bay has an interesting defensive option available in Kevin Kiermaier, but he's hit .232 with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and no power over the last four seasons. It would be a short-term defensive improvement and a player you have to bat eighth or ninth.

In left field, three top free-agent options remain available in Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto. The Phillies pursued Schwarber before the lockout but were unable to come to a deal, possibly because he foresees even more leverage when the game resumes. The National League will likely implement the designated hitter in the next CBA, expanding the number of teams Schwarber would fit.

Don't rule out the Red Sox, either, for Schwarber. He raked for them down the stretch in 2021, and last week they quietly traded Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. and two minor-leaguers. Renfroe had 31 homers and 96 RBI last season as a corner outfielder in Boston. Bradley is a defensive specialist in center. With this trade, the Red Sox opened up a spot in the corner outfield and introduced a need for more offense. They could be a real competitor for Schwarber.

Castellanos, unlike Schwarber, would cost the Phillies their second-highest draft pick because he was extended and rejected the qualifying offer from his former team, the Reds. Castellanos will likely sign a much richer deal than Schwarber. They have similar power but Castellanos hits about 25 points higher per year, with Schwarber walking more. Neither is a premium defender. Conforto would also cost a signing team its second-highest draft pick.

Other corner outfielders available in free agency the Phillies could explore later in the winter include Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson fresh off their championship with the Braves, Tommy Pham and a slew of fourth-outfielder types.

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