The early news about Ryan Ludwick’s right shoulder isn’t encouraging. Reports this evening describing the injury as a torn labrum have prompted speculation that the Reds’ left fielder will miss four to six months, depending on how serious the tear is. The surgery will take place tomorrow and then we’ll know better.
Tomorrow, expect the club to call up an outfielder from AAA Louisville. Chris Heisey and Xavier Paul will play left field. The batting order will be reshuffled. Everyone with the club will repeat the cliché “the next guy has to step up.”
But don’t let those easy moves and tired quotes fool you.
This injury is a serious blow to the Reds plans, because their roster is paper-thin for starting position players. If the Reds stick with their stated course of replacing Ludwick internally, they have three realistic options for a clean-up hitter: (1) Jay Bruce, (2) Todd Frazier, and (3) Brandon Phillips.
Dusty Baker’s biases will make the first two options unlikely. Baker won’t want to cross the streams with Jay Bruce batting after Joey Votto, even though Joey Votto hits lefties plenty well. Baker will say that Frazier is too unproven for such an important promotion (tell that to Mike Trout and that Harper kid in DC).
Baker’s instinct instead will be to use Brandon Phillips in the #4 spot, because Baker is familiar with it. While no internal solution could fully compensate for losing Ludwick (.275/.346/.531), shifting Phillips to the clean-up spot will cause a cascade of bad effects. Phillips (.281/.321/.429) has considerably less power and worse on-base skills than Ludwick.
Baker will almost certainly shift Zack Cozart to the #2 spot in place of Phillips. Cozart was painfully ill-suited for the top of the order last year, but the one person who didn’t seem to mind was Baker. Maybe Baker will bat Chris Heisey second, which would likely be better than Cozart.
But no matter how the Reds reshuffle the deck, the Big Question would remain: Should the Reds trade from strength (pitching) to acquire a new starting outfielder who can bat clean-up?
I come down on the side of a big trade.
Plenty of people will draw a parallel to the Reds coping without Joey Votto last season. But there are crucial differences. For one, Votto was out for a short time compared to the prospect of Ludwick being gone most, if not all, of the year. Second, the Reds were extremely fortunate last year. Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick surprised everyone with how well they hit during the time when Votto was gone. Frazier hit .250 or less in three months. Ludwick himself was still hitting .201 on June 13. Both players defied the odds and were All-Star performers while JoeyMVP was on the DL.
And sure, that could happen again. Maybe Chris Heisey will step up and hit (and walk) like a regular major leaguer. Maybe Brandon Phillips will hit ten more home runs than he’s hit since 2007. Maybe Zack Cozart (.246/.288/.399) will all of a sudden learn how to get hits and take a walk. His 2012 OBP was a dismal .288.
That’s a lot of maybes. Too many. With the Choo Window open for just six or seven months, the Reds can’t afford to do anything but their utmost to win right now.
If the surgery reveals that Ryan Ludwick will miss four-to-six months, as expected, I’d package Mike Leake, a decent prospect and a reliever (Arredondo) and see what can be found on the trade market. Commit to Aroldis Chapman as a starter and entrust the bullpen to Broxton, Marshall, Hoover, LeCure and crew. Josh Willingham anyone?
A single head-first slide. A play of infinite hustle. And suddenly the Reds have to move from Plan A to Plan B.
General Manager Walt Jocketty put together an excellent team for Opening Day. He played it safe with the Chapman decision. But that was a world of two broad, healthy shoulders on Ryan Ludwick.
Now, it’s time for the Bold Walt to do what it takes to find the Reds a thumper for the middle of the lineup. The pitching depth can handle it.