Earlier today, we selected infielders for the prestigious Dumpster-Dive All-Star team. Let's continue with a look at three free agent outfielders who could be bargains in 2012.
Left Field: Luke Scott
Why he's still available: A late starter who became a stealth source of power and walks, Scott endured a brutal, injury-tainted 2011 during which he had a paltry 92 OPS+ in 236 plate appearances before succumbing to right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in July. That compromised shoulder seemed to hinder his ability to turn on fastballs. He slugged only .429 against heaters in 2011, compared to .614 from 2008-2010. Scott thrashed anything below the belt in past years, and handled pitches on the outside corner with aplomb...
...But those hot spots got downright chilly in 2011...
Facing the prospect of paying him $6-$7 million through arbitration, the Orioles non-tendered the 33-year-old instead.
Why he's valuable: If Scott's shoulder is sound, he has shown to be a powerful, patient hitter and capable corner outfielder. The lefty batter had a 123 OPS+ from 2008-2010, and Ultimate Zone Rating says he has been +3 runs better than average in the corners during his career per 150 defensive games played. As a guy on the wrong side of 30 coming off a serious injury, Scott shouldn't be expected to replicate those numbers. But The Hardball Times' Oliver projection system has Scott putting up a .802 OPS in 2012, which would be about 11 percent above average in last year's run environment.
Where he'll sign: Scott makes the squad as an outfielder, but he could end up playing elsewhere in 2012. Boston may be a fit if they're not content with Ryan Sweeney's plus glove and low-octane bat. Tampa makes sense, given the Rays' openings at first base and DH. Ditto Toronto if they want some competition for Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion. Matt LaPorta's time has run out in Cleveland, and the Indians' outfield isn't settled, either. Seattle and San Francisco are always in need of a hitter with a pulse, and Scott would be an upgrade over Adam LaRoche in Washington.
Center Fielder: Cody Ross
Why he's still available: The righty-hitting, lefty throwing Ross might still be on the market due to unrealistically high expectations. He reportedly entered the off-season looking for a three-year deal. You can't blame a guy who has pinballed from Detroit to L.A. to Cincinnati to San Francisco for wanting to stay in one city for more than a season, but average-fielding fly-catchers with decent but hardly great offensive skills (his career and 2011 OPS+ are both 105) don't get that sort of financial security. Same-handed pitchers turn him into a pretty marginal batter (.253/.313/.414 in over 1,900 PA), and he dealt with calf and hamstring injuries in 2011.
Why he's valuable: Ross is a capable option at all three outfield spots, rating as just a touch below average in left, center and right field according to UZR. He also terrorizes southpaws, pummeling them for a .282/.349/.563 line in 759 plate appearances. A piece of advice for lefties: throw him a pitch at the letters at your own peril:
Where he'll sign: Considering that right-handers make up around 70% of the big league pitching population, Ross is a fringe starter or a very good fourth outfielder. He would be a strong platoon partner for Sweeney in Boston, though Mike Aviles could fill that role. Ross also makes sense for Cleveland's all-lefty starting outfield of Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Chin-Soo-Choo, especially considering Sizemore's fragility. The Nationals could turn to Ross instead of Roger Bernadina if their efforts to trade for a center fielder don't bear fruit.
Right Field: J.D. Drew (Wait! Don't run!)
Why he's still available: There's no sugar-coating it: Drew was awful for the Red Sox in 2011. Plagued by a left shoulder injury that limited him to 286 plate appearances, Drew barely slugged over .300 and produced a ghastly 68 OPS+. That put him in the same sordid company as other playoff killers like Miguel Tejada. As a 36-year-old with durability concerns, Drew fits the profile of a guy whose skills are fading fast.
Why he's valuable: It is possible that Drew is cooked and his shoulder injury proves to be debilitating. But he was an asset at the plate as recently as 2010, when he had a 109 OPS+ in 546 PA, and he's an asset in an outfield corner with a career +7 UZR/150 in right field and positive marks in that range in recent seasons. If he can manage to hit for mid-range power, his superb plate discipline will make him a quality hitter once again. Drew has chased just 20% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone since 2008, one of the 20 lowest rates in the majors among qualified hitters.
Where he'll sign: It's highly unlikely anyone gives him a starting job at this point, but Drew could be a low-cost source of OBP for Seattle or Detroit (can you imagine the hitting conversations between Drew and Delmon Young?)