As a relatively new Cincinnati Reds fan, I vividly remember the excitement I had about Billy Hamilton when he was in the minor leagues. He was the first prospect I followed from the start and, along with the excitement of following a good Reds team (which feels like decades ago now), the idea of an exciting youngster joining the fold and contributing right away was tantalizing.
And Hamilton did contribute immediately!
As a September call-up in the 2013 season, Hamilton had an OPS of .906, stole 13 bases in 13 games and added a jolt to the Reds that helped them make the playoffs.
Unfortunately, that spurt was as much of an outlier as there has been in Hamilton’s season. He’s never had a 13-game stretch with an OPS or an on-base percentage as high as his first 13 major league games.
His value defensively is unquestioned. By stats, he’s one of the 10 best defensive centerfielders in the league. By my eye test, there isn’t one better. His blazing speed, reading of the ball and athleticism allows him to make both spectacular plays while also making difficult plays look mundane.
Offensively, as mentioned, he’s regressed each of the last two seasons. Through Thursday, he’s hitting .195/.285/.279 with a 57 wRC+. If those averages hold, it’d be his lowest batting average and slugging percentages in a season, second-lowest on-base percentage and second-lowest wRC+.
He’s on pace for his lowest offensive fWAR of his career. Because of his inability to get on the bases, Hamilton’s Baserunning Rating is on-pace for a career low. And even as good as he is defensively, he’s also on pace for a career-low defensive fWAR, is currently worth -3 Defensive Runs Saved and is on pace for a career-worst Ultimate Zone Rating.
We’ve officially entered a time where Billy Hamilton’s defense is no longer good enough to make up for his offense.
Based on the current state of the Reds’ centerfielder options, the Reds either expected Hamilton to be the long-term answer in centerfield or woefully underprepared for the possibility Hamilton wouldn’t work out. There is no current clear-cut player to take his spot in the outfield, which is likely the only reason he still is in the lineup day-to-day.
With the season already lost and no chance at meaningful baseball, the Reds should throw things against the wall and try to find a solution before the days of competitive baseball return.
There are a couple of options, some tantalizing long-term solutions and few enticing short-term fixes, worth looking at.
25-man roster options
Scott Schebler – The first and most obvious solution if you’re benching Hamilton is to place Schebler in centerfield. Schebler is the only current outfielder who can play centerfield and has done so sparingly this season. With the Reds having an issue playing Schebler, Adam Duvall and Jesse Winker already, benching Hamilton and starting Schebler every day would at least solve that issue.
What the Reds would sacrifice defensively they would certainly make up for offensively. Schebler has a wRC+ more than twice as much as Hamilton’s. As a team, it removes what has often become an automatic out from the lineup and makes the lineup more potent.
Reds’ batting with Schebler starting in CF – .284/.342/.379 in 317 ABs
Reds’ batting with Hamilton starting in CF – .243/.321/.381 in 1775 ABs
It’s obviously a small sample size, but the Reds are simply better offensively with Schebler in center.
Jose Peraza – The only other player capable of playing in center, Peraza has played 113 innings in center, 97 of those coming in 2016. Statistically, though, Peraza is worse than Schebler defensively in center and should probably stay in the middle infield.
40-man roster options
Phil Ervin – Another familiar name for fans, Ervin has had two cups of coffee, spending 16 games up with the Reds this season after 28 games last season.
Despite spending 322 innings in center last season in AAA and starting one game in center this season, Ervin has played almost exclusively the corner outfield spots in AAA this season, playing just seven innings in Louisville in center.
With only advanced metrics in the big leagues, we can see Ervin struggled mightily in center in 63 innings last season, which would likely explain why he’s spent most of his time in the corners this season.
Jose Siri – While Siri made waves last season with a lengthy hit streak, his injury during spring training set him back. Even then, Siri hasn’t played above the High-A level he’s currently at and isn’t much of an option.
Non-40-man roster options
Taylor Trammell – At this point, we’re out of options for an immediate fix, but there are some options for the not-so-distant future.
Trammell is a name most Reds fans are familiar with. One of the top prospects in the system, the 20-year old is hitting .304/.412/.476 with a 158 wRC+ in High-A. Trammell has 199 plate appearances across 49 games in High-A. A call-up to AA could likely be in the cards in the very near future and, should he continue his success, it’s not out of the realm he battles for an Opening Day spot in 2019.
Mason Williams – Likely a name that no Reds fan has heard of, Williams is the current starting centerfielder in AAA. If you want solid defense, Williams has made one error in centerfield since 2015 in roughly 1,500 innings. While he was once a top prospect years ago in the Yankees’ system, his 88 wRC+ is an improvement over his 77 wRC+ last season. He’s not the offensive solution for the Reds.
Gabriel Guerrero – One last name to consider is Guerrero, another unfamiliar name. A prospect who has bounced around, Guerrero found his way to the Reds last season in AA, then began mashing in Pensacola this season, hitting .296/.336/.469 in 107 plate appearances, all while appearing exclusively in center.
Guerrero was called up to AAA in early May but has slowed at the plate, hitting .274/.314/.358 in 102 plate appearances. That figure is brought down by a slow start in which he hit .171/.211/.229 in his first 38 plate appearances in Louisville. Since then, Guerrero has hit .333/.375/.433 over 64 plate appearances.
All of that time in AAA comes with the caveat that he’s exclusively played in right field. He’s an intriguing option that needs more time to develop, but could be a call-up later in the season should his recent form hold and he shifts to centerfield at least sparingly.
There really isn’t a simple solution to the problem. The fix probably requires a list of moves. If it were myself, I’d move Schebler into centerfield, call up Trammell to AA and let Guerrero spend more time in centerfield in AAA. I’d also get creative with how I used Hamilton, using this article from FanGraphs in the preseason as a template. Hamilton is an incredibly unique player that requires a unique approach to getting the most out of him.
None of this is likely a fix that’ll help things this season, but it puts the Reds on a path toward a potential solution early next season, which is better than where they’re at now.
Reds Rule 5 Players and Predictions
We are coming up on the deadline for MLB teams to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft. Here are some players the Reds need to make some tough decisions on.
MLB teams have until November 20th to make their decision on the players eligible for the Rule 5 draft. They must decide to “protect” (add to the 40 man roster) to avoid another team selecting a player in the draft. I want to go over the list and make predictions on if the player will be protected or not.
Riley O’Brien RHP
O’Brien was acquired from Tampa Bay in the Cody Reed trade. A late bloomer of sorts, the 6’4” righty has a nice fastball. Being 25, he’s ready to battle for a spot in the pen right now. There isn’t great bullpen depth on the 40 man roster right now, so I can see O’Brien replacing a spot that players such as Romano/Alaniz/De Leon held in 2020. Prediction: Protected
Vladimir Gutierrez RHP
The former top 10 organizational prospect has been trending in the wrong direction. The beginning of 2019 was tough in AAA for Vlad but he finished the year strong. A suspension plus the lack of a 2020 minor league season makes it difficult to see how he is doing. However, he has enough raw talent to keep him on the roster. Prediction: Protected
Jacob Heatherly LHP
Checking in at #18 on the Reds prospect list, Heatherly is the only lefty on the list. We know the Reds will likely bring in lefty competition for the LHP bullpen spot next to Amir. Coming off an injury, I would bet he would not get drafted. Prediction: Not Protected
Alfredo Rodriguez SS
It feels like Alfredo has been in the Reds system forever. A 2016 pricey Cuban SS, Rodriguez was brought in due to his glove in hopes that the bat would come around. Long story short, it hasn’t. He’s now 26 and a change of scenery might be the best for him. I doubt he will get picked, though. Prediction: Not Protected
TJ Friedl OF
Friedl was exposed last year in the draft and not selected. He is a plus fielder and runner, but most other parts of his game are underwhelming. Prediction: Not Protected
Joel Kuhnel RHP
Most of us have a pretty good idea of what Kuhnel is. He has a fastball that is VERY good. I have always liked Kuhnel and wanted to see him get a longer look. There were plenty of opportunities for him to get a shot and more often than not he was overlooked. This one is hard for me, but I think him not getting more chances shows what the Reds think of him. Prediction: Not Protected
Mariel Bautista OF
Bautista has been with the Reds since 2014. I really do not think he is anything too special in terms of a prospect. He also doesn’t do any one thing so well that a team would select him off of that one skill. Prediction: Not Protected
Jared Solomon RHP
To be honest, I do not know much about Solomon. So I reached out to someone much smarter than me, our #RedsTwitter friend @RedsFan_Brandon . He predicted him to be protected. Boddy has been high on him and his fastball has improved. So I will stick with that. Prediction: Protected
None of these players are top 15 Reds prospects by most list. So losing any of them shouldn’t be the end of the world. Last year the Reds selected Mark Payton. Conor Joe was selected the year before.
Should the Reds look to be active in the free agent market they’re most likely going to have to cut payroll, first. Let’s start with some player who could get non-tendered before the December 2nd deadline.
This offseason…stop me if you’ve heard this…is going to be weird. Budgets will be unpredictable, although most believe spending will be at a minimum, and the Reds already have a lot of contracts that are set. Further additions and movement in the free agent market most likely will be preceded by some surprise cuts.
Based on the players leaving and the estimated totals of arbitration contracts, spotrac.com has the Reds at just over $126 million in payroll for 2021. They totaled out at a smidge over $144 million last year (if the season was to be as normal) with all of the transactions considered. The Reds could try to get back to that number, but the most likely scenario is that they hover around the $125-$130 million mark.
With the idea of making one or two moves to improve one of the worst lineups in baseball, let’s look at three candidates for being non-tendered.
(Just an FYI, only non-tender candidates are capable of being cut and their salary taken off the books. All other MLB contracts are guaranteed.)
As a fan, this one would hurt. He was a guy I watched with the Angels thinking if he were given everyday playing time, he would flourish. If I’m being objectively honest (and if I want the Reds to run similarly to the Rays) non-tendering him would make sense. He’s an athletically gifted outfielder who has a little bit of pop in his bat. In fact, he’s pretty much Phillip Ervin. The problem is, he figures to be a rotational outfield player, assuming everyone is healthy.
According to Spotrac, he will make around $3.2 million next year, or possibly the sixth highest dollar amount of Reds position players. That’s more than Jesse Winker’s possible $2.7 million and I think we can all agree that Jesse needs to be in the everyday lineup. Ik now he just got here from LA, but the dude was bit by whatever bug bit the Reds bats and slashed .163/.236/.327 in 20 games as a Red. Small sample size, sure, but am I counting on him to be light years better than that in what may not figure to be much more playing time? No.
This one I am less sure of being a good idea, but I am rolling with this whole “be more like Tampa” idea. The Rays, per Spotrac, aren’t estimated to give ANY of their relievers more than $2.5 million next year. The Reds are slated to give three relievers over $4 million.
I am not advocating a non-tender for Michael Lorenzen because of his versatility and potential for being the fifth starter in 2021. Barring a trade, the Reds are paying $9.125 million to Raisel Iglesias to get the last out of a game. They’re really going to pay Archie Bradley, who it felt as though David Bell didn’t trust as much as Nate Jones at times, $5 million to be a setup man?
Okay, this one really isn’t that surprising. It is time. We once regarded him as the Reds top prospect. We once regarded him as a future ace. We once proclaimed he reborn as a shutdown reliever. We now have no clue what to expect from him and it just does not make sense to continue to trot him out there expecting the complete career turnaround that we’ve all been hoping for since the “rebuild” began.
It won’t really save the Reds a ton of money, but freeing up BobSteve’s roster spot will open up an opportunity for one of the up-and-coming prospects or another Derek Johnson reclamation project. Frankly, I’d rather see any of those than BobSteve coming out of the Reds bullpen in 2021.
Mailbag: Senzel, Winker, Votto, and More
Time for an offseason mailbag to get your focus on what the Reds need to do th be better for 2021
It’s been a while and we have all had a chance to process that Reds playoff performance. Yuck. However, it is time for offseason talk. Let’s get into the mailbag.
What are the Reds going to do at catcher? The Reds and pitchers seem to like Casali and Barnhart behind plate..
The Reds once again went with the duo of Casali and Tucker behind the plate in 2020. The results were underwhelming, but not miserable. Tucker is a finalist for a gold glove while hitting .204/.291/.388 and an OPS+ of 77. Casali hit .224/.366/.500 with an OPS+ of 126. However, we all want to see the exciting prospect, Tyler Stephenson, take his reign of the position. I expect exactly that next season. Having a veteran backing him up is important so I’d imagine Tucker plays that role as he is under contract while Casali will enter arbitration.
In terms of how the pitchers like Casali and Tucker, I think that just comes with time. I am sure once the pitchers get to work with Stephenson more, they will learn to pitch well to him.
If there is a DH in 2021, shouldn’t #19 fill that role and let Da Wink and (place RH bat here) platoon at 1st?
The only thing the Reds have now is time (between now, and next season). So, what is their excuse for not putting Senzel at 2B, and give him regular ABs? (This makes Votto the DH, and Moose 1B)
What’s the odds of moving Senzel to 2nd, Moose to 1st and Votto to DH.
Well this is my intake everybody has one with the Outfield I guess we’re not going to have a DH going forward so Jesse Winker needs to be traded along with Nick Senzel I definitely keep Shogo, and hopefully we can keep Castellanos and let’s go try to get a productive outfielder
I want to clump all these together because it’s pretty much all the same gist. So, let’s breakdown what it could look like with and then without the DH.
WITH: Votto to DH, Moose to first, Senzel STAYS in center, second is open to add speed/OBP.
Explanation: Votto’s defense is terrible. His contract isn’t going anywhere, so put him at DH. He still has something left with the bat. When Moose signed he wasn’t signing on to play second for the duration of that contract. No way. Move him to first and the defense at first likely improves. Keep Senzel in Center. Injuries and swing changes have stunted the development of Senzel enough. Asking him to change back to second after 2 years of focusing on becoming a CF just feels like something they will not do. He hasn’t done any work (that we know of ) at second since he moved to CF.
Now for 2B. Bringing back the same team that barely sneaked into an expanded playoff (while maybe losing Bauer) seems like a bad idea. Changes have to be made. The Reds added plenty of HR power last offseason, now add a 2B that might be a better OBP guy. Speed and better baserunning would be welcomed as well. In theory, this could increase the defensive ability at second as well.
WITHOUT: Votto at first (with plenty of days off), Moose at 2B, Senzel in CF, Winker traded.
Explanation: Votto really doesn’t have anywhere else to go besides the bench. There is not an option at this point, when they play him he will be at first. Which leaves Moose at second. Again, not a thrilling defensive side of the infield, but Moose held his own at second but as he gets older his range will continue to drop. Senzel in CF for the same reason’s I listed above. Winker is traded. In this scenario, I am still looking to shake up the team from 2020. ( I am also assuming Castellanos is returning) An OF with Winker and Castellanos fielding would be far less than ideal. I really like Winker, but Shogo could be ready for a bigger role. Winker has trade value and could strengthen the team in other areas by moving him. If the Reds make a big trade like many fans are hoping for, they will have to move MLB talent. They do not have enough top-end prospects to trade. If they do move the top prospects, they will deplete their farm system because it lacks depth. Remember, to acquire top-end talent you have to trade high value. Prospects out of the top 5 usually aren’t considered too high by many other organizations.
Goldstar or Skyline and Cut or Twirl
I have never even had Goldstar. No need to. Skyline fills my needs. Twirl