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2022 Center Field Targets? – Cedric Mullins II

Two weeks ago I looked at who I think would be best for the Yankees shortstop problem in 2022. I landed on Amed Rosario as the best option. Last week I looked at who I think would be best for the Yankees first base problem in 2022. I landed on Freddie Freeman as the best option.

This week, I look to center field to see if there are any good solutions for the Yankees going forward. Yesterday we looked at a player who played for a team that went 52-110 last season. Today we look at another player who played on a 52-110 team: Cedric Mullins II.

 

Cedric Mullins II: A Quick Overview

A later round draft pick in the 13th round of the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Cedric Mullins II came out of Campbell University (Blues Creek, NC). He signed on to play professional baseball for $100,000, and started in Class-A- ball that same season. Mullins then spent the next 4 seasons (2015-2018) in the minor leagues, slowing going up one level at a time before cracking into the MLB on August 10th, 2018. Mullins then rode the Bowie-Norfolk-Baltimore Shuttle through the rest of 2018 and all of 2019. Now, Mullins may be one of the few players who benefited from the lack of a minor league season in 2020 as he was coming off the heels of a terrible 2019 campaign, but still made the MLB roster for 2020 and played very well. Last season, Mullins had his official break-out as he was an All-Star, the AL Silver Slugger for Center Fielders, and was 9th in the AL MVP voting. The 2022 season is Mullins’ final pre-arbitration year and then he’ll have 3 years of arbitration before becoming a free agent as a 31-year-old going into the 2026 season.

Over his (very short) MLB career, Cedric Mullins has hit to a combined .265/.333/.451 (.784 OPS/111 OPS+) extended triple-slash with 259 hits, 37 home runs, and 86 RBI’s over parts of 4 seasons. He’s put in 2138.1 innings in center field to a -7 DRS and a -13 UZR. Combined, he’s accumulated +5.4 bWAR/+4.9 fWAR.

In 2021, Cedric Mullins had his first real extended stay in the MLB and did phenomenally. He hit to a .291/.360/.518 (.878 OPS/135 OPS+) extended triple-slash with 175 hits, 30 home runs, and 59 RBI’s over 159 games. In center field he played 1264.0 innings to a -1 DRS and a -5.7 UZR. Combined, he collected a +5.7 bWAR/+5.3 fWAR.

So far in his professional career, Cedric Mullins has been on the IL just twice, both coming in 2017 with undisclosed minor league injuries that kept him out for about 2-3 weeks apiece.

 

The Case For Cedric Mullins II:

It’s not very often that a player like Cedric Mullins is traded. There’s good reason for this because the Orioles are likely looking at him to be a cornerstone type player as the team is rebuilding, but this may be the correct time for the Orioles to sell high on the young, and controllable, center fielder.

Cedric Mullins saw a massive improvement in the 2021 season as he dropped away from being a switch-hitter to stay on the left side of the plate full-time. While a shift from being a combined 72 OPS+ player during his parts of 3 seasons in the MLB as a switch-hitter (2018-2020) to a 135 OPS+ hitter can not be attributed to one simple thing, much of what can turn a hitter from below to above-average hitter is due to small changes. A massive change like this could very well be a major part in why he went from a comfortably-below to a comfortably-above average hitter last season.

Cedric Mullins also has one tool that I have yet to talk about much with our other center field talents: speed. He was the only player in the entire MLB last season to record a 30-30 season (HR:SB), of which only happened twice in 2019, twice in 2018, and didn’t occur in 2017. It’s a rare occurrence year-in and year-out and requires player to have a very good Power-Speed # (Mullins ranked 4th in the MLB last season). Having a high number there is highly indicative of an athletic player. The 3 players above Mullins in 2021 were Shohei Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Jose Ramirez.

Another important note about Mullins is the good history between the Yankees and Orioles. Since 2017, there have been 5 moves between the two clubs. And, even though the last trade between the two clubs came in 2018 it was a trade were the Yankees acquired Zack Britton from the Orioles. Zack Britton was a major player on the Orioles, which means that there at least was not a worry between the Orioles about trading top-tier talent within the American League East.

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The Simple Pro’s: Team Control and Contract, Left-Handed Bat, Speed, Yankees-Orioles Trade History

 

The Case Against Cedric Mullins II:

Now, it’s not very often that a player like Cedric Mullins is traded. There’s good reason for this because the Orioles are likely looking at him to be a cornerstone type player as the team is rebuilding, and as a rookie player after a break-out year it is a big risk to go after a Cedric Mullins II.

How many recent players have had incredible rookie years/beginnings to their careers and been unable to follow that performance up for the Yankees? Miguel Andujar’s 2018 campaign (130 OPS+), Clint Frazier (in general), Luis Severino (yes), and Gary Sanchez (yes, as well). Heck, the MLB even wrote an article about “forgotten Rookies of the Year”. Suffice it to say, Cedric Mullins may be a rising star in the game. He could also be a one-year wonder and never play up to the hype again. The risk on what he may be may be too steep for the Yankees to want to call.

Especially when that call, and trade, is going to be extremely costly for the Yankees. Cedric Mullins is a +66.2 MTV player according to BaseballTradeValues. To put that into perspective, the Yankees don’t have any player who is worth over +60 MTV. Their highest value player is Anthony Volpe (+59.8 MTV) and he’s essentially been listed as unavailable by the Yankees. And, if the Yankees are hesitant to trade Oswald Peraza (+25.5 MTV, the 4th highest value Yankee) as well then their isn’t really a possible trade that can made for the Yankees to acquire Cedric Mullins.

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The Simple Cons: Breakout or Fake out?, Acquisition Price

 

Ethan’s Thoughts:

I fully believe that Cedric Mullins is going to be for real at the MLB level. I also don’t think he’s going to be impossible to get from the Baltimore Orioles.

The Yankees do not have the most stacked farm system, but they do have a lot of good middle-of-the-line talent that they can trade away if they believe that an upgrade at center field is worthwhile. The Baltimore Orioles, with Cedric Mullins or not, are not competing for the AL East this year, next year, or likely the year after that. Which means that the Orioles are essentially going to waste Cedric Mullins’ prime years unless they trade him now (or soon).

The Orioles are going to build around Adley Rutschman: the #1 prospect in the MLB. He’s played just 43 games at Triple-A (all coming in 2021) and will be making the MLB in 2022. I think the Baltimore Orioles recognize that and I think that’s why Cedric Mullins is an available asset.

The Orioles need a ton of up-and-coming, close to the MLB talent, that will be ready to make the jump with Rutschman. Across the Yankees Top-30 prospects, 4 of them (3 in their Top-11) have already played in the MLB and additional 6 of them are slated to make their MLB debuts in 2022 (including 3 of their Top-10). The Yankees have the talent to make the move with the Orioles. They also need to be willing to move on from a top prospect (Peraza, Volpe, Dominguez) if they want to even consider the move plausible.

Now, I also don’t think this will happen. If I was the GM and the only upgrade I needed to make was center field I would try my hardest to get Mullins. Hypothetically, the move the Yankees should make is getting Ketel Marte. Realistically, they’re going to go with an Aaron Hicks/Brett Gardner combo again.

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