I thought of this question on Sunday as I was podcasting with Aaron Gleeman. A quick look at the top free agent outfielders made me even more interested.
Below are the top five free agent outfielders. Let’s go through them as a general manager who is looking for right-handed power in an outfielder. We’ll bold the ones that fit that description….
- Josh Hamilton – Left-handed AND ridiculously expensive
- Curtis Granderson – Not available.
- BJ Upton – Perfect – If you’re willing to pay 6 years and $90M.
- Michael Bourn – Great centerfielder, but no power.
- Nick Swisher – Switch-hitter, quite a bit of power who will likely need a four-year deal. (He also hits better as a left-hander.)
Those are the guys that I thought would make more than Hunter this offseason. Compared to them, Willingham – who hit more home runs than Upton or Swisher – looks like a effective but much more affordable and risk-adverse solution.
Unfortunately, just below that level are a few names that a general manager could turn to if they miss out on the big names…
- Cody Ross – Right-handed and hit 22 home runs last year, albeit in Fenway.
- Shane Victorino – No power.
- Angel Pagan – Not enough power.
- Ichiro Suzuki – Not enough power any more.
- Melky Cabrera – Signed.
- Ryan Ludwick – Right-handed and hit 26 home runs last year, albeit in Great American Ballpark.
- Delmon Young – Right-handed and hit 18 home runs last year in Comerica Park.
Even though he hit quite a few more home runs in a tougher ballpark, Willingham is not viewed as significantly different than Ross, Ludwick and Young. And all three of those guys will get contracts similar or less than Willingham’s. The Twins took advantage of that perception last offseason when they Twins were able to sign Willingham to his affordable deal.
Also, Willingham's defense looks pretty bad, though it isn’t terrible according to metrics like UZR, which says he cost the Twins just 8 runs over the average left fielder. Still, that perception could limit National League teams interest.
The bottom line is that if a GM is looking to add some right-handed pop to his lineup, there are some other options. While they might not be as good, they also aren’t going to cost a blue chip prospect and they aren’t going to break the bank. If Twins fans want to see a big return for Willingham, this offseason probably isn’t the best time to trade him, despite the interest there was in Hunter.