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Sorting out the outfield

Since Ned doesn't know how he'll play everybody, let's help him out. We've got seven--maybe eight or nine--arguably Major League ready outfielders who could be in the organization next year. It seems like a foregone conclusion that Ned will misuse some of them this year; let's try to figure out what their roles should be next year.

  • Brady Clark: It has felt like he's been slumping most of the year, but he's been right in line with his career averages most of the way (after his dreadful start). He's getting on base at a .370 clip, and playing at least decent defense. He's signed for next year at $3.9 million, which could make him a commodity in the offseason. I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in 2007 in some sort of time-share with Tony Gwynn.

  • Gabe Gross: Gabe is basically Brady Clark with some more pop--and less defensive acumen. He seems to me like a 4th OF on a good team--maybe a platoon guy for us. I wish he were a little better in the field: if he could develop into a credible centerfielder, he'd be worth a lot more to this team. He'll be around next year, but depending on who else is here with him, he could be caught in a playing-time bubble, especially if Corey Hart solidifies a starting role.

  • Tony Gwynn: TG Jr. has been one of the best surprises of the year, playing great D and hitting much better than expected at Triple-A. Like Gross, he may be caught in a numbers game: if Clark stays around to start and Gross or Hart is considered to be an option in CF, Gwynn could at least start the year back in the Minors. On the other hand, a strong spring would get him on the team--maybe even force Doug Melvin to trade Brady.

  • Bill Hall: He doesn't really belong on this list, but consider a possibility: if Koskie and Hardy come back healthy (especially if Cirillo is back, too), Clark gets traded, and Gwynn can't hack it at the plate, Billy might be the best option in center. I'd imagine that Ned will plow through some options--Nix, Gross in center, maybe even Dave Krynzel--before settling on Billy for the job, but it's conceivable. And really, it wouldn't be a bad move. JJ may never be the next Miguel Tejada (or even Alex Gonzalez) at the plate, but the dude can field. If Koskie and Cirillo platoon at third, something has to give to get Billy in the lineup every day. (Paging Ned: When I say "every day," I do not mean three, four, or five times per week. I mean every freaking day. He is your best hitter.) I'm convinced Hall can hack it in center--with a bit more practice, he may be above average and yet another difficult defensive position.

  • Corey Hart: He's started hitting for power, which just about erases the only question mark that was left about this guy. He may not be a great fielder, but the guy can hit. Along with Weeks and Fielder, this guy is a building block. He should be starting every day in left or right field. Ned just has to learn that Corey is not a leadoff hitter, not a "playmaker"--he's a slugger in the making, albeit one who can run.

  • Geoff Jenkins: We've talked about him enough. Maybe we can find somebody to take him. Hey, if Neifi Perez got traded, anything's possible.

  • Dave Krynzel: he's hitting in the 220s in Triple-A, so maybe he doesn't belong here. But...I have to imagine he'll be invited to big-league camp, so he could be a wildcard. His defense, apparently, is top-notch, which might be enough to make him a 4th or 5th OF, especially if Brady gets traded.

  • Kevin Mench: I've resigned myself to seeing him wearing the ball and glove next year, though I have to imagine Doug will listen to offers. Since this year has been underwhelming for him, he probably won't make too much, but due to arbitration rules, it'll still have to be in the $2.5 million range. In an ideal world, Jenkins will be gone, and Mench and Gross will platoon in left. Do I trust Ned to execute that properly? Right.

  • Laynce Nix: I probably wouldn't have put him on this list if he didn't get called up the other day. Like Krynzel, he's a wildcard--a good spring and a Brady Clark trade could get him on the Opening Day roster. However, I just don't see him contributing. Apparently the defense is good, but he's almost as K-tastic as Jenkins. We'll wait and see on this guy.
In other words, I think the Opening Day OF ought to be Corey in right, Gross/Mench platoon in left, and Clark/Gwynn in center. Or we could trade for Andruw Jones.

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