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The cost of a centerfielder

The discussion in the diary Scott Lucas started, about Vernon Wells not wanting to stay in Toronto, and wanting to play for a team closer to home when he becomes a free agent after next season, has focused, in part, on the cost of trading for Wells.

I started thinking about what other top centerfielders traded in recent years, as they were approaching free agency, fetched in the trade market.

And the remarkable thing is, almost every such CF who was traded ended up going in a deal where the trading team was universally considered to have gotten hosed.

The most recent example, of course, is Carlos Beltran in 2004, in the three-way deal between Kansas City, Oakland, and Houston. The Royals got Mark Teahen, Mike Wood, and John Buck when they dealt Beltran, in a deal that resulted in Allard Baird and the Royals being almost universally panned. Teahen is looking better since coming back from AAA earlier this summer, but still, the Royals got a mediocre 3B prospect, a mediocre pitching prospect, and a pretty decent catching prospect for an elite centerfielder.

But go farther back than that...the last time the Royals traded their elite f.a.-to-be centerfielder, they were also involved in a three-way deal with the A's, sending Johnny Damon and Mark Ellis to Oakland and getting Roberto Hernandez, A.J. Hinch and Angel Berroa in the trade. That, of course, was a disaster, a horrible return for the Royals, and a fleecing by the A's (who gave up Ben Grieve, Hinch and Berroa and got Damon, Ellis and Cory Lidle). I didn't really care for this trade for Oakland at the time -- I thought they were giving up too soon on Grieve, and that Damon was overrated -- but they ended up getting the three best players in that deal.

Then there's the Junior Griffey deal from 2000, where the Mariners got Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez, and Jake Meyer for Junior. That deal ended up backfiring on the Reds -- Cameron was a better player in his time with Seattle than Griffey was in the same timeframe with Cincy -- but the overall return, for a player viewed at the time as one of the five best players in the game, and a future HOFer, wasn't really a maximization of value for the Mariners (although Griffey, who could veto any deal, did have Seattle over a barrel).

Jim Edmonds was traded by Anaheim about a month after the Griffey deal, to make room for Darin Erstad. For a top-flight centerfielder, the Angels got Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy -- a mediocre pitcher coming off a fluky 20 win season a good, but not great, second base prospect (he was ranked the 98th best prospect in baseball per BA the year before) who become a good, but not great, second baseman for the Angels. Once again, it was a deal perceived at the time as a very good deal for St. Louis and a poor one for the Angels, and in retrospect, a home run for the Cards.

Just a few months prior, the Astros traded their stud centerfielder/f.a.-to-be, Carl Everett (don't laugh...this was before he the Boston media turned him into Crazy Carl), for a good-field, no-hit shortstop prospect named Adam Everett and throw-in Greg Miller. In retrospect, not a bad deal for the Astros, but at the time, considered a steal for the BoSox.

Even Mike Cameron only got the Mets Xavier Nady earlier this year.

The only instance I can see of a team making a killing on a top-notch centerfielder is the Marlins trading Juan Pierre (who I don't think is a top-notch centerfielder, but still...)

The Marlins got Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, and Renyel Pinto for Pierre. That's a better haul than what any of the other centerfielders mentioned above returned, other than maybe Junior Griffey.

And Pierre is a worse player than any of those other centerfielders.