Some of the decisions within this series have been blatantly obvious, while others are just a little more difficult to pin down. There are two very strong choices at center field based on last season, and the name of the game will be figuring out whether or not those brilliant seasons can be sustained going forward. I don't believe the decision will be easy when trying to be objective.
The center fielders of the AL East are mostly unchanged from last season, with only Colby Rasmus not spending the entire 2011 season within in the division. The main story of 2012 at this particular position will be whether or not Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson can build upon their extremely successful years by repeating their high level of success.
Take the jump to see what all of the center fielders of the division brought to the table last season and discuss what to look foward to in the season ahead.
You can find the other AL East by Position posts here: catchers, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, and left field.
In 2011, Jacoby Ellsbury hit 32 home runs, while his previous career high was only nine. Is his power for real now when it never had been before? I'm not sure, but the Red Sox will definitely be hoping that it wasn't a fluke. Ellsbury is strong both in the field and on the base paths, so he doesn't need to hit 30+ dingers to be valuable, but he was one of the few bright spots down the stretch for the Red Sox last season. The jury is still out on whether that can be repeated, though.
After a session with Kevin Long toward the end of 2010, Curtis Granderson has been a different hitter. His struggles against lefties were well publicized and the natives became restless over what they lost in Austin Jackson. Jackson crashed back to Earth, and Grandy started hitting lefties like there had never been an issue. Like Ellsbury, Granderson also topped his career high in home runs by double digits (previous high was 30), and managed to have a higher batting average against lefties than righties to close out the year. Grandy had a great case going for AL MVP until he trailed off a bit at the end of the season, but he's off to a great start in Spring Training this year, hopefully picking up right where he left off.
B.J. Upton is a bit of an odd case. He has a reputation for being lazy, was called out on the matter by his Rays teammate Evan Longoria, and he's sort of in the shadow of his his brother, who is one of the game's elite young players. Upton is a fine defender, and only trailed Ellsbury in stolen bases among the AL East center fielders last season. With a decent amount of power and speed to assist with the ground he covers defensively, B.J. Upton is pretty much middle of the pack at his position within the division, which is certainly not a bad thing when you are competing against Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson.
The 2011 season was a tale of two teams for Colby Rasmus. Before being traded to Toronto from St. Louis, he was hitting .246/.332/.420 and only hit .173/.201/.316 afterwards. That's definitely not the player the Blue Jays thought they were getting, and they will be expecting him to turn things around going forward.
The Orioles' Adam Jones finished third among AL East center fielders with 23 home runs, but had easily his worst year on defense with -1.7 dWAR. If he could learn to be more patient at the plate and take walks, his standing within the division would improve, as the rest of his offensive numbers are quite good.
If you believe Randy Levine, the Yankees plan to keep Curtis Granderson once his contract is up despite working to get under $189 million in payroll over the next few seasons. Maybe that is all blowing smoke, but if it isn't and Grandy continues his hot hitting, the Yankees will have to part with a sizable chunk of change to retain his services. He's certainly endeared himself to Yankee fans, but is signing him to a new long term deal the smartest idea for the success of the team? I guess we'll see.