[This post was written by Warren Leeman, who comments here as Shchi Cossack. We appreciate his thoughts from the old recliner.]
The Reds are in an enviable position regarding Todd Frazier. Although the Reds may not be competitive in 2016, the young starting pitching should shake out and be ready to go by 2017 and the Reds control Frazier’s arbitration through the 2017 season. If the Reds receive an offer for Frazier that simply can’t be refused, the Reds will consummate the trade and smile all the way to the bank. If the Reds do not receive a trade offer for Frazier that bowls them over, they keep Frazier on a favorable contract in 2016 and negotiate an arbitration contract for 2017 with a premier major league 3rd baseman playing the hot corner and hitting in the middle of the lineup. The Reds win in either scenario. Frazier and his contract are not problems for the Reds.
Devin Mesoarco and Tucker Barnhart have the catcher position covered. Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart and Eugenio Suarez have the middle infield positions covered. Joey Votto at 1B…enough said! The outfield is a problem. The top of the lineup is a problem. Those problems need to be addressed. Jesse Winker still needs some seasoning at the minor league level, but he’s getting very close to being major league ready. Even with Winker, the outfield and the top of the lineup issues remain. Billy Hamilton plays stellar defense in CF and represents a disruptive terror on the base paths, but Hamilton has never proven he can hit or get on base regularly at the major league (or AAA for that matter) level and after two seasons (and two years of team control) has made no improvement. Jay Bruce appears to be Bruce, inconsistent and unreliable. LF is still a black hole.
A clean sweep of the OF in 2016 would not be a bad start. Bruce, as a LH power-hitter who plays good defense in RF, does not have a hard-to-move contract and should return some value in a trade. Shoot for lower-level, high-upside prospects in a trade for Bruce. Hamilton has options remaining. It’s time to utilize one of those options. Send Hamilton down to AAA with specific instructions to avoid running into outfield walls, to avoid diving to make catches and to limit his base running to going from 1B to 3B, 2B to Home and 1B to Home. He has nothing left to prove regarding his CF defense or his base stealing capability. If Hamilton wants a ticket back to the show, he must prove he can hit and get on base at AAA and quit hitting the ball in the air. He must eat, sleep and breathe plate discipline, line drives and ground balls.
Unless the market for Dexter Fowler explodes, the Reds simply have to find a way to sign Fowler as a FA. I do believe the QO and draft pick comp will have a depressing impact on Fowler’s value. Steve Mancuso made an eloquent case for signing Fowler as the answer in the outfield. Signing Fowler will cost the Reds their first unprotected draft choice, but Fowler simply fills too many holes for the Reds to quibble over a post first round draft pick. The salary relief from trading Bruce will cover Fowler’s salary as a FA. If Fowler’s contract moves beyond a realistic option then a decision must be made to fill the hole in CF (Span, Y-Rod, etc.)
Last off-season, the Pirates signed Jung Ho Kang for his age 28 season to a 4 yr/$11MM contract with a $5MM negotiating fee. Kang plays premium defensive positions at 3B & SS, making his value significantly more than a corner OF with the same offensive capability.
.291/.387/.489 in 532 PA during 2013 (KBO)
.356/.459/.739 in 501 PA during 2014 (KBO)
.298/.383/.504 in 3560 PA during 9-season career (KBO)
.287/.355/.461 in 126 PA during 2015 for PIT (MLB)
That $16MM investment worked out pretty well for Neal Huntington and the Bucos.
That brings us to this off-season for the Reds and two more KBO options.
Hyeon-soo Kim is a FA LF entering his age 28 season.
.322/.396/.488 in 528 PA during 2014 (KBO)
.326/.438/.541 in 630 PA during 2015 (KBO)
.318/.406/.488 in 4768 PA during 10-season career (KBO)
Ah-seop Son was posted this week with the LF entering his age 28 season.
.362/.456/.538 in 570 PA during 2014 (KBO)
.317/.406/.472 in 517 PA during 2015 (KBO)
.323/.398/.462 in 3542 PA during 9-season career (KBO)
Kim, Son and Kang compare favorably offensively with Kang having demonstrated more power (+.050 ISO), but unlike Kang, they do not play a premier defensive position. I expect a similar investment (around 4 yr/$15MM) for each of the two OF to bring them to GABP and that cost would be more than offset by the anticipated off-season Aroldis Chapman trade. Both Kim and Son could fill a top of the order hitter role and play the corner OF positions. Both Kim and Son also hit LH and could even offer a platoon option with Adam Duvall, Suarez, Y-Rod, Tyler Holt or Ivan De Jesus, should the Reds move in that direction.
On top of the successful acquisition of Kang by the Bucos, the last Korean acquisition (some guy named Choo) by the Reds produced pretty good results too. The addition of Fowler, Son and Kim would dramatically transform the Reds lineup heading into 2016 and could possibly even provide enough offensive boost in the team’s run production to allow the young starters a chance to compete. Five of the 8 starters could put up an OBP of .350+ with the remaining 3 starters around league average. Then the bench impact would be enhanced by any of those players not starting (Barnhart, Kim, Son, Suarez, Cozart, De Jesus, Duvall, Y-Rod, Holt). If the Reds would miss on Son or Kim, then a look at Aoki as a FA on a 1 yr/$5MM, with a vesting for 2017, contract might be beneficial.
Then things could get really interesting in 2017. The experience during 2016 identified and separated the talent from the pretenders in the starting rotation, with every starter stretched out and ready to pitch. The Reds would enter the 2017 season with a solid starting rotation and more talent still waiting in the minor leagues for their chance at the show. The major league ready arms not making the starting rotation will fill out the bullpen. If Homer Bailey is healthy and productive, he might not even be among the best 5 starters. That’s not a knock on Bailey, just a comment on how good the starting rotation could be. The entire pitching staff could be pre-arbitration or cost certain.
If Kim and Son produce along the lines of Kang (sans the injury) and Winker is beating down the major league door … If Fowler produces to his career average and Hamilton learns to hit and get on base …Well the Reds find themselves in the supremely enviable position of having five proven major league talents capable of starting for just 3 positions. The Reds could find themselves with quality depth beyond their needs. Injuries be darned!
If the Reds have a need to fill behind a serious injury to a key player, they would have the means to do so without sacrificing the present of the future. If two of the five OF (Hamilton, Fowler, Winker, Son, Kim) come up short of expectations, then the Reds have their starting OF locked in place with cost certainty.
If Kim and Son produce along the line of Kang’s offensive production, the Reds may even want to dip into the KBO market again during the 2016/2017 off-season.
Jae-gyun Hwang will be a FA for the 2017 season as a 29 year old 3B.
.321/.388/.475 in 550 PA during 2014 (KBO)
.290/.350/.521 in 596 PA during 2015 (KBO)
.280/.343/.417 in 4131 PA during 9-season career (KBO)
It would start now with reflections back to the fabulous 2013 season when Shin-Soo Choo teamed with Joey Votto atop the NL OBP leader board, giving the Reds a real presence on the base paths and scoring runs by bushels and baskets. Now is the time to revamp the philosophy and personnel to accommodate the move to the future, by harkening to the past.