If there's one thing the Dodgers could really use headed into 2013 -- aside from a healthy Chad Billingsley, and maybe a rewind button on Adrian Gonzalez -- it's the world's best fourth outfielder, a guy with average or so offense who can fill in at all three positions. Someone who can step in and start effectively in left if Carl Crawford -- who the Dodgers say should be healthy by spring training, but he's a guy who missed 130 games last year and played in 130 terrible games the year before that -- is out for long stretches, or move over to center when Matt Kemp tweaks a hammy. This player would probably be a veteran in his thirties, someone who is probably good enough to start for a lot of teams, but would be happy with 200-400 plate appearances for a winner. Stan Javier was that guy on the 2000-01 Mariners, Tim Raines for the 1998 Yankees. Not every great team needs a player like this, but every great team with an old or injury-prone outfield could sure use one, and the Dodgers appear to fall into the latter category for 2013.
They probably have that very guy on their roster as we speak, but his reputation might price him right out of "that guy" range. Shane Victorino is 31 years old and has had one really, really good season. That season came in 2011, when he hit .279/.355/.491 as the Phillies' everyday center fielder, leading the league in triples and putting up either 5.2 or 6.0 WAR, depending on whether you trust Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs.
Victorino took a big step back from that this year, one that got bigger after he switched coasts on July 31. The thing is, though, that while Victorino's 91 OPS+ for 2012 does make it his worst season with the bat since just before The Departed hit theaters, it's not an age thing (or certainly not entirely, at least): the player Victorino was in 2011 just isn't who he's been at any other time in his career. His best single-season OPS+ outside of 2011 is 110, his best wRC+ 114. Aside from his one very good year, Victorino is a slightly above-average hitter who put up a series of above-average seasons by adding value in center field and on the bases. Those skills are likely to decline faster than the rest, making him more of an average starter than a good one.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, because at his present level he's just what the Dodgers could use. He's a quality stopgap if Crawford or Kemp go down. When he's not subbing for them, he can pinch run, pinch hit, be a defensive replacement, and during interleague play, push Andre Ethier to DH and make the Dodgers one of the only NL teams that doesn't have a disadvantage in AL parks. Baseball doesn't have a Ninth Man of the Year award like they do for sixth men in basketball, but if they did, Victorino would be a good bet to win it. He's not likely to make a huge difference to a team as a starter from here on out, but in that role? Man, he'd be fantastic.
Except: He's way too famous for that. He was famous before his great year in 2011, having played a lot of high-profile games with the Phillies. Announcers love to talk about how he's Hawaiian, and that even comes with a rhyming nickname, "The Flyin' Hawaiian." He's got a personality some people seem to like; he did studio work with TBS during the playoffs earlier this week.
What I'm getting at is that some GM is going to add all that up and think winner and pay Victorino too much money for too many years, and if I'm a Dodger fan, I'm just going to cross my fingers that Ned Colletti won't be that guy. Victorino be nice to have, and I know the Dodgers have their secret backroom deal for unlimited money and everything, but I don't think I'd want Shane Victorino at a Shane Victorino price.
Let's say the Dodgers let Victorino walk. Who else could they target to fill the same fourth-outfielder role I've decided is so important to the Dodgers that may or may not even be on their radar? The free agent pickings are quite slim. There are a lot of high-end players like Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan, and Michael Bourn, little in the middle, a lot at the bottom, but here are five to think on:
Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro as an extra guy would've been unthinkable two years ago, but he went to the Yankees basically to be exactly that, and it suited him well. It turned out they needed him more than they thought, but he was more than willing to be a platoon or part-time guy. He'll turn 39 in two weeks, and probably shouldn't play too much center, but could do it in a pitch, and if any part of his resurgence since joining the Yankees is real, he'd be an asset filling in at either corner spot. The best bet is that he re-ups with the Yankees, but if that doesn't happen right away, it's something I'd think about.
Scott Hairston. Jerry's brother, on the other hand, has already been filling this role for most of his career. Now 33, Hairston is an average hitter for his career, and has a .255/.300/.495 line (116 OPS+) in 543 plate appearances with the Mets over the past two seasons. That's an ugly OBP, but the power is nice coming off the bench. He's not great with the glove anymore, but doesn't totally embarrass himself at any outfield position.
Jonny Gomes. Switching it up a bit. You'd need to get Tony Gwynn Jr. back on the roster to caddy for Kemp, but that's what Tony Gwynn Jr. is good at, and Gomes can do what he's good at--hit the hell out of the ball. He'd be a great bat to have off the bench against lefties, against whom he'd probably actually be a better option (at least offensively) than either Ethier or Crawford. It seems like Gomes has been around forever, but he's just 32, so he's not a huge breakdown risk over the next couple years.
Reed Johnson. Like Hairston, Johnson has been filling this role for years already. He's got less power but more on-base ability than Hairston, and probably runs the bases and fields all three positions a bit better. He'll be 36 and is injury-prone himself, so I'd probably go strictly one-year deal with this one.
Torii Hunter. Okay, ending with a wild card: I have no idea how the Angels, or any other team, views Torii Hunter right now. He's no longer a center fielder, but as with Ichiro and Hairston, you probably wouldn't be too embarrassed to stick him out there for a week or so at a time as needed. He's also coming off a great year, the best of his career by either bWAR or fWAR. He's also going to be turning 38 just after the All-Star break, and can probably give a lot of the credit for his good 2012 to a .389 BABIP that's the highest of his career by more than 50 points (though part of it is that he's hitting more line drives and grounders than he used to). I do think some team will see him as a starter on a fairly pricey two-year deal, but he'd also be a great asset to a team with a potentially brilliant but injury-prone and heavily left-handed outfield -- maybe a better asset than Victorino, actually -- so one might reasonably decide he's worth the money.
As I said, there's not a lot out there, although Torii or Ichiro would be terribly interesting, at least. At the end of the day, maybe you reach a bit for Torii or Victorino. All I know is that if I'm trying to win it all -- and with what they've done to the payroll, the Dodgers clearly are -- I make sure to go into 2013 with something supporting Kemp and Crawford that's a lot more impressive than the kids of Tony Gwynn and Andy van Slyke.
Bill Parker is one of SBN's Designated Columnists.