Now, $9.25 million is a lot of money. In $100 bills, it would pretty much fill this suitcase.
If you assume the Brewer payroll will be around $90 million next season, give or take depending on free agent signings, Mike Cameron stands to make about 11.1% of the Brewers' total payroll. That number is less than Jeff Suppan (13.8%), only slightly more than Bill Hall (9.3%) and much, much more than Ryan Braun (0.8%).
In several threads discussing the option, there seems to be a percentage of the population that feels like $9.25 million was too much to spend on Cameron, an above-average defensive CF who hit .243/.331/.477 in 2008, his tenth consecutive and eleventh out of twelve season with an OPS+ over 100. I'll agree that $9.25 million is a lot of money, and perhaps more than I'd like to spend, but if not Cameron, then what? Let's take a look down three other paths the Brewers could have pursued:
Option 1: Replace from within
Cost: Cheap. Any two of these guys would cost less than $1 million for 2009.
Six minor leaguers played in at least ten games in center field for either Nashville (AAA) or Huntsville (AA) in 2008. Thanks to Jeff, we can calculate their major league equivalents for 2008 relatively easily. Here are the six, sorted by their MLE OPS:
Laynce Nix (AAA): .238/.287/.429
Lorenzo Cain (AA): .228/.293/.383
Michael Brantley (AA): .264/.322/.323
Hernan Iribarren (AAA): .233/.274/.283
Tony Gwynn (AAA): .231/.272/.274
Freddy Parejo (AA): .233/.248/.289
Of those, Nix is no longer with the organization, Brantley was the PTBNL in the Sabathia deal, and Iribarren has played just 11 games in center field in his career. Lorenzo Cain has played just six games above AA, and only played half of 2008.
So if you want to go really cheap and create the possibility of half innings that go 7-8-9 with Kendall, Cain/Iribarren/Gwynn, Pitcher, that's one option. On Yovani Gallardo's starts he should hit seventh.
Option 2: Sign another free agent to replace Cameron
Could the Brewers bring in another stop-gap centerfielder for less? Possibly. Let's look at the options:
Gabe Kapler, Brewers: There's no guarantee Kapler will be back, as he's coming off a career year and the Red Sox reportedly have interest in him. He's never had 500 AB's in a season, and hasn't even had 500 plate appearances since 2001. He had a career year and a nice comeback in 2008, but spent 2007 out of baseball, and in the five seasons before that he posted OPS+'s of 75, 85, 77, 65 and 77. He's only 33 and coming off a career year, so my guess is he'll sign for either 2 or 3 years at $3.5-$4 million per. If you sign him for that and he either can't physically handle playing full time or is ineffective, then you're back to the options listed above.
Jim Edmonds, Cubs: Came back to hit .256/.369/.568 for the Cubs in part-time duty after a rough start that led to his release in San Diego. He's 39 years old and hasn't appeared in 120 games since 2005. He's almost certainly not capable of playing everyday, but if you'd like to give him a shot I'd guess about $3 million for one year could do it.
Mark Kotsay, Red Sox: Hit /276/.329/.403 for the Braves and Red Sox in 2008. He's a serviceable big league CF with decent experience and while he hasn't reached a 100 OPS+ in any of the last four seasons, he was only truly terrible in one of them. The downside: he made $8 million in 2008, and since he's really the only other everyday option available in free agency, he'll probably get something like 3 years, $27 million, to make him $25k cheaper than Cameron.
Scott Podsednik, Rockies or So Taguchi, Phillies: Podsednik hasn't been a full-timer since 2006. He had a nice comeback in Colorado this year, but still only hit .253/.322/.333. Taquchi hit .220/.283/.297 for the Phillies this season and, at 38 years old, is likely done. Either might take a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Neither should be depended on to provide anything.
Option 3: Move Ryan Braun/Corey Hart to CF and look for a corner outfielder
Cost: Depends on the corner outfielder
CHONE projects Mike Cameron as about three runs above average defensively in center field in 2009. Braun projects at about 7 runs below average in center, and Hart projects at 9. Braun has never played there before, so I'm not sure how reliable that number is. But, assuming one of the two would be 8 runs below average, the new corner outfielder would need to be an average defender and 11 runs better than Mike Cameron offensively to break even.
There are some Brewers that could be a fit here. Brad Nelson (.246/.321/.393 MLE in Nashville) is as close to big league ready as he'll ever get, in all likelihood. Mat Gamel (.273/.326/.430 MLE in Huntsville) could work, and a free agent to fill a corner spot is easier to find than a center fielder. This is probably the most viable of the three options, but it weakens the Brewers a lot defensively, and could mean Ryan Braun's second position change in as many years.
So what do you think? What should the Brewers have done?