A few days ago, our friend Dave Cameron wrote a post on Fangraphs arguing that Mike Cameron is literally a better player than Jason Bay -- his defense is so much better than Bay's that it more than compensates for Bay's stronger bat -- and likely to be one of the biggest bargains of the offseason. This is a classic argument about a premier slugger with a glove so leaden that he gives back a lot of the runs he creates with his bat, and we heard it last offseason about Pat Burrell, Raul Ibanez, and Bobby Abreu, not to mention Manny Ramirez.
Just how important is a good center fielder? Fangraphs has Cameron at 4.3 WAR last year, versus just 3.5 for Bay. Amazingly, Nate McLouth posted 3.6 WAR last year. Wins Above Replacement may overrate the value of position, because it relies on fixed positional adjustments, but it goes to show you that a guy who plays decent defense at an important position and can hit a little really is as valuable to a team as a guy who can't play defense but can hit a lot. McLouth is an important piece of this, because our desire to target a guy like Cameron would be predicated on a decision that McLouth's defense could use an upgrade. Even at 37, Cameron is pretty inarguably a better fielder than McLouth -- this year was the first in his career that McLouth posted a positive UZR or Plus/Minus from center field. If Nate's good fielding was a fluke, then we really want to get a good fielder in center field, which would allow us to move McLouth to right. If we're convinced it's legit, we may decide to hold off.
Cameron has been remarkably consistent both on the field and in the negotiation room. For six of the seven years from 2003-2009, he made between $6-$10 million, and he never signed for more than a three years. At this stage in his career, as Cameron says, he's likely to be year-to-year, and considering this economy he won't cost more than $10 million -- and he'll probably be available for a good bit less. (I'll leave aside the hometown discount factor, but he is from LaGrange.) The free agent pickings are pretty slim this year: other than Matt Holliday, the others are all aging, fragile AL DH candidates like Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jermaine Dye, and Vladimir Guerrero. It's so bad that some Braves fans are suggesting we sign Xavier Nady or, horror of horrors, trade for Milton Bradley. (Bradley's been so fragile throughout his career that he's better off as a DH, too.) So Cameron's basically our best chance to upgrade the D, and he'll almost certainly cost less than all the other major FA outfielders. What do you guys think?