I don't hear too many people complaining about spending $10 million on Mike Cameron anymore. Coming into Tuesday's game, he was hitting .307/.398/.625 with ten doubles and six home runs, and he's the most valuable defensive outfielder in baseball.
Furthermore, he's having a career year at the best possible time. Cameron is eligible for free agency after the season, and will almost certainly be one of the best free agent center fielders available in a weak market. Taking a look at Cot's Contracts, here's a list of the other potential free agent outfielders who can play center field:
* denotes a player who has played center field recently, but has also played other positions.
Simply put, there's not much out there. Ankiel and Carl Crawford are probably the best of a weak class, and while Ankiel is a consistent center fielder, Crawford has only played three games in center since 2005.
So what does this mean for the Brewers? Well, to start, it means Mike Cameron's value, both now and at the end of the season, is high. Very high. For teams that have a gap in center field, Cameron is one of very few chances to fill that gap anytime between now and free agency in 2011. If he's allowed to become a free agent this fall it's reasonable to believe he'll find at least one team willing to overpay, and could command as much as 2-3 seasons at $15 million per. That's almost certainly out of the Brewers' price range.
With that said, Mike Cameron might not be someone the Brewers could live without. Immediate internal options to replace him (Chris Duffy, Tony Gwynn Jr.) are not very attractive, and the heir apparent in the minors, Lorenzo Cain, is already rehabbing a somewhat serious leg injury for the second consecutive season. Ryan Braun and/or Corey Hart could likely be moved to center if the need arose, but neither really have the skillset to be much more than an average-at-best defensive center fielder, and the gap left behind by their departure might not be better. The immediate candidates to fill a corner outfield vacancy would be Brad Nelson or perhaps Bill Hall. Mat Gamel could be a long term solution, but has never played a professional game in the outfield.
So, to sum up: Cameron's value is high and rising, he could make a lot of money as a free agent this offseason and the Brewers aren't necessarily well prepared to replace him when he's gone. What should they do?