It was nearly 12 years ago in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox made a trade that flew under everyone’s radar; sending Henri Stanley to the Dodgers for utility man and speedster, Dave Roberts. Part of the reason the trade went nearly unnoticed was because the Red Sox, on that same day traded Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs…but all in all, a small move, that at the time no one could have predicted the ramifications that trade would have on baseball history. That fall, the Red Sox were down to their final three outs in the 2004 ALCS to their rival Yankees…down three games to nothing…and the greatest closer in history, Mariano Rivera was taking the mound to send the Yankees to the World Series.
Down one run, Kevin Millar led off the 9th inning with a walk and the recently acquired Roberts was inserted as a pinch runner. The entire world knew Roberts was going to try to steal second base, and after several pickoff attempts, Roberts did exactly that…stealing perhaps the biggest bag in Red Sox history. Several pitches later, Roberts scored on a single to tie the game, the Red Sox won in extra innings, and would not lose again that post-season. Winning eight straight games to comeback and beat the Yankees and eventually would go on to sweep the World Series.
I highlight this story because Roberts wasn’t an All-Star Player; he would be a career .256 hitter and play for several teams in his career…but I start with this because Roberts was used in a way that made him a weapon against opposing teams. He was used in a way that whenever he came into the game, managers and pitchers got tight and distracted and his speed was used as a tool to change games. Just think if he was as fast as Billy Hamilton…think of the extent of the damage Roberts could have done in his big league career!
For nearly three years we as Reds fans have waited patiently for Billy Hamilton to “figure it out” at the plate; hoping he would perfect his bunting skills, learn to consistently hit the ball on the ground and improve his plate discipline to increase his walk rate. In 1100 career at-bats, Hamilton’s OBP percentage sits at a sad .288. In this period of time, Hamilton has still managed to instill fear in opposing teams, swiping 127 bags in only 284 career games while playing Gold Glove caliber defense in center field. For three years, the Reds have sat back and hoped that Hamilton, still only 25 years old would harness his natural tools to become one of the most dangerous leadoff hitters in baseball, but to this point, that waiting hasn’t produced the results we have all hoped for. So what to do? How do the Reds turn this man into the weapon he can be, instead of the liability at the plate he is?
My solution is simple, and luckily for the Reds, the answer is now inside the organization; Jose Peraza. Acquired this off-season in the three team deal for Todd Frazier, Peraza is currently playing short stop in Triple-A to make sure he gets every day at-bats. While his current position as a short stop can raise many questions as to the possible future of Cozart within the organization, I would like to see the Reds give this athletic 22 year old a shot at playing center field with the big league club; just like they did with Hamilton three years ago. Peraza provides similar qualities as Hamilton, with great speed, athleticism and youth, except he gets on base at a clip of .342 in his career, a number that would suit the Reds much better at the top of the lineup.
If the Reds were willing to give Peraza a shot at CF with the big league club, a position he has played in the past, this could dramatically change the composition of the Reds lineup as well as make them a much more feared and complete team late in games. As we all know, the Reds currently have a thin bench; there is no legitimate power threat, no guy you would trust to lay down a bunt when called on, and no one you would want to be able to insert to steal a base when it is most needed. This is why I propose taking Hamilton out of the everyday starting lineup and putting him on the bench, to be the weapon he can be, that can affect and change any game at any time. Imagine having Hamilton always available and at the ready when you need a perfectly placed bunt put down…or when a guy like Mesoraco or Bruce gets on base late in a close game, to have Hamilton to insert on first base to swipe second…or as a late inning defensive substitute to sure up the outfield. Placing Hamilton on the bench and hitting Peraza leadoff would give the Reds a deeper, more dangerous bench, and allow other Reds starters, like Cozart, to hit in a spot in the order more suitable to his skills.
In a perfect world, Hamilton would already be getting on base at a much higher rate and be the dynamic leadoff man we all want him to be, but as of right now, he is more of a liability with three or four at-bats every game then he is a weapon. Let Hamilton continue to work on his game, day after day, and in the meantime, give him a role he can accept and flourish in. There is still plenty of time for Hamilton to round out his game and improve his approach at the plate, but in the meantime, let’s see what Peraza can do for the Reds in the leadoff spot while we turn Hamilton into the weapon he was meant to be.