After yesterday's acquisition of Justin Upton, many fans are wondering if the Atlanta Braves have the best outfield in baseball, with Upton joining his brother BJ and Jason Heyward in Atlanta. The Braves are certainly in contention for that title of "best outfield in baseball", but it's hardly a lock. There are several great outfield trios across the league, and Atlanta is merely one of them. But where exactly do they rank? Good question. Here's what I'd imagine the top ten would look like heading into Spring Training 2013.
10. Colorado Rockies
I'm not a believer in Dexter Fowler, superstar. I'm not a believe in Michael Cuddyer, every day player. However, I am a believer in Carlos Gonzalez, mega star. Despite his offensive statistics sliding over the last three seasons, Gonzalez has still put together three straight 20/20 seasons, and he's done it without recording 600 plate appearances in the last two years. I think Gonzalez could go 30/30 if he's healthy in 2013, and that could be good for a six win season. If Fowler and a platoon of Cuddyer and Tyler Colvin produce as they did in 2013, this outfield has the potential to be quite a fearsome trio.
9. Oakland Athletics
After heading into 2012 with plenty of questions about their outfield, everything straightened itself out over the course of the season in Oakland, and their trio of Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick was awesome. The same three players return this year, and expectations are high after Reddick's 32 homer, Gold Glove 2012 season. Expectations are also high around Cespedes during his second year in America, especially after he caught fire in the second half. And then there's the always dependable Crisp in center, with former Diamondback Chris Young ready to take over if he falters at all. But everything around this A's outfield centers around Reddick, and if he falters in 2013 after hitting a wall over the final two months of 2012, a meltdown could be imminent.
8. Toronto Blue Jays
More question marks surround the Blue Jays outfield than potentially any other in the league. In left field, we have Melky Cabrera, coming off of a pair of MVP caliber seasons and a 50 game testosterone suspension that ended his 2012 season. In center, we have Colby Rasmus, a ridiculously talented player that has looked completely lost at the plate over the last two seasons. Finally, in right field, we have Jose Bautista, one of the premier sluggers in baseball in 2010 and 2011 before missing 70 games in 2012 with wrist problems. At their highest, Toronto's outfield could absolutely obliterate the AL East. But how realistic is it that the Blue Jays outfield will achieve that peak? This could be the most interesting storyline heading into the 2013 season.
7. Cincinnati Reds
The addition of Shin-Soo Choo will help the Reds out a ton offensively after Drew Stubbs was awful in 2012. Defensively, the team could take a step back with Choo in center, and the retention of the iron-gloved Ryan Ludwick in left. But the trio of Choo, Ludwick, and right fielder Jay Bruce could end up combining for 80 or more home runs, and that is something that most teams would dream of out of their outfield.
6. Washington Nationals
Despite how good Bryce Harper was last year, Washington's outfield in 2012 was pretty crappy overall. Michael Morse and Jayson Werth combined to miss 140 games, and when they were on the field, they were unremarkable on both defense and offense. But Werth is healthy heading into 2013, and Morse is a Mariner, replaced by former Twin Denard Span taking up residence in center. The combination of Harper and Span in left and center is certainly a defensive dream come true, but will Span's defense be able to overcome his offensive shortcomings? Despite that though, Harper will likely take another step forward in 2013, and could be one of the best players in baseball. That alone is enough to warrant a top ten ranking.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers 2013 outfield is a wild card. When healthy, Matt Kemp is awesome....but he wasn't healthy at all in the second half of 2012. Before signing with the Red Sox prior to the 2011 season, Carl Crawford was consistent, underrated, and dependable...but he was a disaster in 2011, and missed nearly all of 2012 following Tommy John surgery. And then, there's Andre Ethier, who is solid enough...but will be 31 in April, and really hasn't had that monster season yet. This Dodgers outfield could conceivably combine for 14-16 fWAR in 2012...or they could be worth less than ten altogether. That is a huge variance, but the potential is why this trio is so high.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers outfield heading into 2013 is criminally underrated. All three starters (Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Norichika Aoki) stole 30 bases in 2012 despite only Braun registering 600 plate appearances. Braun also added 41 homers to the squad's production, while Gomez had 19 and Aoki chipped in with ten. Even if you think Gomez's 2012 power spike and Aoki's 2012 American debut season are flukes, both could easily put together two win seasons in 2013 due to their skillsets, and with Braun's usual seven to eight win season, that's an elite outfield.
3. St Louis Cardinals
Despite not being a huge fan of Jon Jay, he's provided the Cardinals with nearly seven wins of value over the last two seasons in center field, despite barely topping 500 plate appearances in each season. He's flanked in left by year-in and year-out MVP candidate Matt Holliday, and in right by a rejuvenated Carlos Beltran, who has quietly been a very solid player over the last two seasons now that he's healthy. While the St Louis outfield is older than most of the other outfielders on this list (with Jay being the youngster of the group at 28 in March), they produced solid results for the Cardinals in 2012, and will likely do the same in 2013.
2. Atlanta Braves
Despite losing over 12 wins in Michael Bourn and Martin Prado this winter, the Braves outfield actually looks better overall coming into 2013 with the addition of the Upton brothers to complement Jason Heyward. While the knock on BJ Upton is his unfufilled potential, the only full-time center fielders to produce more value than him since he became a full-time center fielder in 2008 have been Matt Kemp, Shane Victorino, Andrew McCutchen, Curtis Granderson, and Michael Bourn. Upton is younger than all of them aside from McCutchen. As for Justin Upton, only Jose Bautista (among full-time right fielders) has produced more value than him over the last four seasons. Heyward is second behind Bautista over the last three seasons among all full-time right fielders, for that matter. Now that is some pedigree, despite the sky-high expectations that each of the three have.
1. Los Angeles Angels
Not only did the Angels lead all of baseball in outfield fWAR in 2012, but they actually improved their outfield heading into 2013...not exactly an easy task. Torii Hunter left as a free agent following a career year, and Jerry DiPoto replaced him with Josh Hamilton. who has put together three straight four win seasons and bashed 43 homers in 2012. The Angels have also shifted the defensively incapable Mark Trumbo out of the outfield to the DH position after trading Kendrys Morales, and have installed Peter Bourjos and his amazing glove in center field while shifting AL Rookie of the Year and (MVP runner-up) Mike Trout to left field. Trout, Bourjos, and Hamilton is the best outfield trio in baseball, and really, it's not even that close.
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