Should we have seen this coming? Following a brief but spectacular peak with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013 and 2014, center fielder Carlos Gomez has fallen on hard times. He posted decent numbers in 2015, amassing 2.6 fWAR in 115 games for the Brewers and Houston Astros. However, it has all fallen apart in 2016; Gomez is hitting just .210/.272/.322 with some of the worst defensive metrics in his career, resulting in an abysmal -0.6 fWAR through 85 games. As a result, the Astros designated him for assignment on Thursday.
While the Astros don’t have much more use for Gomez — prospect Teoscar Hernandez should get plenty of run alongside incumbent platoon bat Jake Marisnick — other teams may. The Astros will likely be looking to recoup some of the value they lost when they acquired Gomez last July, and there should be plenty of suitors available. MLB Trade Rumors already identified the Cardinals and Mets as interested parties, and there are other teams who could be willing to take a flier on the 30-year-old outfielder. Let’s look at some potential fits for Gomez.
St. Louis Cardinals
One might think that the Cardinals could just go out to the garden and pick the next Carlos Gomez off their prospect tree, but that hasn’t been the case in 2016. Randal Grichuk has started the most games in center for the Redbirds, but his offensive numbers are a bit underwhelming, especially against left-handed pitching. He has a .616 OPS against lefties this year, with 25 strikeouts in 98 plate appearances. Tommy Pham has also struggled against lefties -- he has a .286 on-base percentage in a small sample of 49 plate appearances -- and one wonders how long he can maintain a 127 wRC+ with that 32.4 percent strikeout rate. Jeremy Hazelbaker has cooled off since his hot start to open the season, hitting just .217/.333/.370 since June 1. He has maintained a strong walk rate during this stretch, but also has a 29.4 percent strikeout rate on the year.
Depth is also a concern. Stephen Piscotty has performed admirably in right field, hitting 276/.347/.468 with above average defense. However, Matt Holliday was just placed on the disabled list with a broken thumb and may not return before the end of the regular season. If the Cardinals acquire Gomez, they could move any number of the young players listed above into left field or put Gomez himself in a corner. Gomez’s declining range in center may still play up in a corner outfield position, and the defensive flexibility he offers gives the Cards all sorts of late-game options when maneuvering around the pitcher’s spot in the lineup.
New York Mets
The Mets’ interest in Gomez comes as no surprise, as they were down to crossing t’s and dotting i’s in a deal for him last July before the trade was nixed at the last minute. New York certainly came out ahead in this instance — Yoenis Cespedes has more home runs in one calendar year with the Mets than Gomez does in total since 2014 — but they might get a second crack at Gomez this year, if they so choose, and the cost will almost definitely be lower.
Their need is clear: the Mets are currently starting a center fielder only because they are required to field three outfielders. Cespedes and Juan Lagares have started a combined 90 games in center field for the Mets this year but are both on the disabled list. The center field duties have fallen to Alejandro De Aza and Curtis Granderson, making the Mets outfield one of the most immobile in baseball. Gomez’s defense alone may be worth the move, as De Aza’s 65 wRC+ is only slightly better than what Gomez has managed in Houston.
Members of Detroit's front office have said that they aren’t interested in Gomez with Cameron Maybin on the disabled list, but expecting a speedy recovery from the exceedingly fragile Maybin is wishful thinking at best from the Tigers front office. The Tigers’ outfield ranks dead last in baseball in defensive runs saved, a full 11 runs worse than the Baltimore Orioles at No. 29. While Maybin is a large reason why (he’s at -11 DRS for the season), this is a team that has started Tyler Collins, Andrew Romine, and Mike Aviles in center over the past four days. Sadly, Gomez’s current offensive numbers would actually represent an upgrade over Aviles, who has a putrid 41 wRC+ in 180 plate appearances.
A quick look at the WAR leaderboards show that the Marlins rank third in all of baseball with 4.3 fWAR from their center fielders this season. However, right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is now out for the year with a groin injury. The Marlins have a ready-made replacement for Stanton in Ichiro Suzuki, but it’s hard to see the 42-year-old Ichiro maintaining his current offensive output if he plays every day. MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro threw the Marlins into the mix, though this seems more like speculation than genuine interest at this point. Adding Gomez would help keep Ichiro fresh while adding a more experienced piece than anyone in the Marlins’ depleted farm system. Plus, as Fish Stripes’ Connor Newcomb points out, adding Gomez also ensures that he doesn’t end up with the Cardinals, who are just a 1⁄2 game ahead of the Marlins in the NL Wild Card race. In this instance, this is a zero-sum game.
Leonys Martin has settled in nicely as the Mariners’ center fielder this season, but the options in the corners are a bit dicey. Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez have formed a decent platoon in right field, and Nelson Cruz has seen some ill-advised action out there. However, left field has largely been manned by Nori Aoki, who has been worth -0.2 fWAR this year. Aoki’s 80 wRC+ is way better than what Gomez has produced, but his defense has always been a bit iffy. Plus, Gomez has the type of boom-or-bust potential that could potentially help a team like the Mariners jump into the wild card. Hitting coach Edgar Martinez has seemingly been doing some nice things with other M’s hitters; maybe he could help recover Gomez’s lost bat too.
San Francisco Giants
Denard Span is having a wonderfully adequate year in center field for the Giants, but forgive me if I’m not sold on an outfield of Span, Angel Pagan, and Hunter Pence staying healthy and effective through the rest of the season (and postseason). Both corner outfielders are having solid seasons offensively — and so is Span if you don’t care about his lack of power — but the Giants could use some insurance, especially if Hunter Pence keeps fouling balls off his face. Fourth outfielder Gregor Blanco’s offensive numbers haven’t been very good, and he’s not the best defender either. There’s a fit here if the Giants want to boost their depth.
Plus, it’s an even year so Gomez would hit .600 in the playoffs as the Giants win their fourth World Series since 2010.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox aren’t in playoff contention, but it seems silly not to mention the team that ranks dead last in the major leagues in fWAR from the center field position, especially when the cost is nominal. Austin Jackson isn’t close to returning from injury, Charlie Tilson tore his hamstring in his first career major league game, and J.B. Shuck is just plain bad. The White Sox don’t have much to gain by picking up Gomez but may pounce anyway if the circumstances are right. If anything, it could be seen as a pre-free agency audition for an organization that still has its sights set on winning in the near future.
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Rob Rogacki is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and the Managing Editor of Bless You Boys, SB Nation's Detroit Tigers community. You can follow him on Twitter at @BYBRob.