If you’re a Reds fan and you’d rather simply relax, enjoy your Fourth of July holiday and see red, white an blue, instead of seeing just red, turn the dial to the right and get back to the family picnic. You won’t want to read the rest of this.
John Fay committed a important act of journalism this morning, writing a fabulous, thoroughly-researched article for the Cincinnati Enquirer about Joey Votto and his strained quad muscle. Fay interviewed several people, including an expert on sports injuries who analyzed Votto’s condition.
This post isn’t about that part of Fay’s article. But the short version (and you should definitely go read the entire article, every last word of it) is that the injury is going to limit Votto until he can take a long break to rest it. Longer than a regular DL stint. Quad strains are generally caused by overwork, usually from running. That’s why you apparently see them more often in soccer players than major league baseball players. That is, unless you’re Joey Votto, who likely conditioned his leg muscle to exhaustion. Preparing too hard.
But this post isn’t about that. It’s obvious from Fay’s reporting that Votto’s near-term future isn’t promising until his leg fully recovers. Sadly, that won’t be until 2015, unless he takes a couple of months off and tries to return for the post-season drive in September. Assuming there’s a post-season drive to come back to. Instead, expect the Reds first baseman to keep playing and get progressively weaker. Votto is already barely effective at the plate. He’ll get worse, though. And don’t expect another regular 15-day DL stint to work any better than the last one – which was 25 days long – from May 16 to June 10. And unlike his 2012 knee injury, there’s no indication the Reds have mismanaged this.
But that isn’t what this post is about either.
The Reds will certainly — not probably — certainly need a replacement for Joey Votto for meaningful stretches of this year. He’ll either require numerous days off all season, or one or two more trips to the DL, or a two-month rest. No matter what, there is NO CONCEIVABLE CIRCUMSTANCE where the Reds won’t need another first baseman. Believing that it will somehow get better, or that it really isn’t bothering Votto or that this will work itself out would require an astonishing amount of reality denial.
So who do the Reds have that can replace Joey Votto? Fay aptly and succinctly summarizes the Reds situation this way:
The Reds have no ready replacement on the roster or in the minors.
The Cincinnati Reds, a professional baseball organization, a professional baseball organization with the pretense of competing for the post-season, does not have a ready second-string first baseman. Sure, if the Reds want to re-arrange the Diamond Seats on the Titanic, they can play Todd Frazier at first, only to endure the pain of Ramon Santiago (.196/.274/.214) playing third base. Most major league teams try to avoid playing third basemen who have only one extra base hit in 65 plate appearance. Incredibly, there’s no back up third baseman either, in the major leagues or minors.
Or the Reds could play the affable Brayan Peña at first base, as they have on occasion. The problem with that plan is that Peña has predictably cooled off considerably since his improbable hot start. His 2014 hitting (.257/.291/.386) is now awfully close to his career (.258/.292/.363) numbers. And he’s a catcher who has never played first base. And Peña is Johnny Cueto’s catching caddy. So what do the Reds do for a first baseman in those 20 percent of their games?
[Out of a sense of patriotism and deference on this national holiday, I won't belabor the fact that I just made light of the Reds' second string catcher for slashing .257/.291/.386, meanwhile the Reds' clean-up hitter is batting .266/.297/.394. God Bless America.]
But the lack of replacement in the organization for Joey Votto still isn’t what this post is about. Or what has me seeing red today.
No, that would be Walt Jocketty and Jack Hannahan.
When John Fay asked Jocketty if the Reds had looked at the (obvious and 100 percent necessary) alternative of bringing in another first baseman via trade, Jocketty (I swear, this is what John Fay reports) said these words:
“Not really. We got Jack for that. He’s going to be back. If we got someone else, that would put (us) in a bad spot when he came back.”
Sadly, the Reds general manager wasn’t referring to Jack Bauer, or even Jack Billingham.
Although, maybe in a moment of candor, Jocketty was using the word “jack” colloquially, as meaning “nothing, zero” like:
Q: What did you do at work today?
A: I did jack.
Q: Who’s your back-up first baseman?
A: We got jack for that.
Short for jack squat. Because that’s what the Reds actually have to replace Joey Votto. In that case, the Jack I’d recommend would be Daniels.
But it was clear from the full context that Walt Jocketty was referring to Jack Hannahan.
Remember him? Hannahan is a third baseman signed as a free agent for the 2013-14 seasons.
Let’s take a closer look. At his best, Jack Hannahan is a defensive backup. He has never been a good hitter. Ever. His career line (.232/.316/.349) is terrible. Awful. He’s a late-inning defensive substitute at third base on a team that needs a slugging all-innings first baseman. Jack Hannahan, at his best, is nowhere near enough.
Second, there’s pretty good reason to believe Hannahan won’t be at his best since, you know, he’s recovering from … major shoulder surgery. Jack Hannahan had a torn labrum muscle repaired. That’s a pretty important muscle when it comes to hitting. Jack Hannahan hasn’t played an inning of baseball since last fall. And even then, he’s 10 days to two weeks from coming back, rust and all. But that’s Jocketty’s plan.
And that last sentence of the Jocketty quote — put us in a bad spot — that’s infuriating, too. The Reds front office doesn’t want to bring in a real replacement for Joey Votto at first base because, gosh, we’d be in such a spot, I tell you. We’d have that player and Jack Hannahan and Ramon Santiago to play the infield. So embarrassing. Such a bad spot. What would we ever do?
How about release Jack Hannahan? The guy makes $1 million/year. It would be a sunk cost loss of less than a half million dollars. I don’t need to tell you how insignificant that amount is in the grand scheme of winning the NL Central.
[You want a bad spot? How about relying on Jack Hannahan to play first (or third) base. That's a bad spot, Mr. Jocketty.]
But I seriously doubt he was referring to the lost money. Rather, it’s like Jocketty was saying he wouldn’t want to hurt Hannahan’s feelings. Boy, that would sure be awkward to bring in another first baseman, what about poor Jack? This is the Jack Hannahan who injured his shoulder in spring training 2013 and didn’t disclose it to the team. He continued to play hurt all year and later admitted it affected his game. He’s now missed another half of 2014 because he didn’t tell anyone until the end of the 2013 season.
Poor Jack Hannahan, we can’t replace him. Poor Ryan Ludwick. Poor Logan Ondrusek.
If you’re a Reds fan, our best hope is that Walt Jocketty was just slow-playing his hand. We can pray that he was just dissembling (dissembling is a word you use when polite company or site guidelines prevent you from saying what you really mean).
Because if Jack Hannahan is Walt Jocketty’s real solution to Joey Votto’s strained quad muscle, if the Reds front office would hesitate for a Billy Hamilton second to replace Jack Hannahan with someone who can actually hit – because of awkwardness – well that tells you exactly what’s wrong with your favorite baseball team.
Now, take my advice forget I mentioned any of this. I’m certainly going to try. Let’s go to our picnics, Nation. Enjoy our spacious skies and amber waves of grain. Prepare the fireworks. And watch the Reds take it to the Brew Crew without mercy all weekend.