ESPN’s Buster Olney is among the best in the business. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. (Okay, you got me, I didn’t actually say it. I wrote it. But I just assume you’re all hearing my lovely voice in your head when you read any of the dumb things I write here at RN.)
Whatever. Buster Olney is very good at his job. So when I saw his most recent piece — entitled Could Billy Hamilton be on the move from Cincy? — my Spidey Sense started tingling. After all, as you know, I’m a fully-paid member of the Billy Hamilton Fan Club, and I think he’s poised for a big year in 2017.
So Olney’s piece is for ESPN Insider (which is a pretty good value, if you ask me), but here’s the lede:
The Reds are listening to offers on all of their players, including — sources say — center fielder Billy Hamilton, an elite defender who seemed to turn a corner in his development as a hitter last summer before suffering a season-ending injury Sept. 4, a few days before his 26th birthday.
In Hamilton’s last 47 games, he has batted .286 with a .360 on-base percentage, with 32 runs scored and 36 stolen bases (in 40 attempts). His on-base against right-handed pitchers jumped from .276 to .340. Hamilton ranked seventh among all outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved. He led all major leaguers — by far — in Fangraphs’ baserunning efficiency metric.
Let’s unpack that a bit. First of all, the Reds are listening to offers on all of their players. That’s a good thing. No one on this club should be untouchable. If the right team comes along with the right offer, make the trade. If the Angels want to trade Mike Trout for Joey Votto, let’s do it.
Next Olney says that the Reds are listening to offers on everyone, but that “sources” specifically include Hamilton among the list of “everyone.” Yes, that’s redundant. But I suppose I should be upset that Hamilton is reportedly on the trading block, right?
My reputation as an irrational Billy Hamilton fan — though well-deserved, admittedly — is getting out of control. Yes, I think Hamilton is a special player who can do things that no one else can. Yes, I think he’ll be an All-Star in 2017 if he can remain healthy. No, I don’t think he should be untouchable. As I always say, everyone should be available in the right package. I really don’t believe there’s any such thing as an untouchable player.
So far, there really isn’t much news to report in Olney’s piece. The Reds are listening to offers. That’s precisely what GM Dick Williams should be doing. Good work, Reds management.
Then there’s this:
For a big-market team with payroll and resource flexibility, Hamilton could be an incredible and devastating weapon, because of his once-in-a-generation baserunning skills. He could be used as a starter on some days.
But on other days — depending on the matchups — he could be used offensively in the same way that a closer is used to impact games, in being placed in high-leverage situations as a pinch-runner. Nobody is better at stealing bases. Nobody is better at taking the next 90 feet. The Royals demonstrated the potency of a dangerous baserunner over the last couple of years.
I’m not sure I can put it better than Chris did:
In which the author proposes B Hamilton as pinch runner. https://t.co/Tg7NLH40QB
— Chris Garber (@cgarber8) November 29, 2016
I don’t get it. I know I’m probably irrational when it comes to Hamilton, and I see the flaws in his game that are readily apparent. But honestly, this sentence doesn’t make sense to me: He could be used as a starter on some days. What?
Billy Hamilton just turned 26. He posted 3.1 WAR in only 119 games in 2016. His on-base percentage was almost exactly league-average last year, and he’s an elite defensive center fielder with off-the-charts baserunning skills. He’s under team control for three more seasons. Hamilton is a legitimate big league center fielder who continues to improve. As Mark Sheldon pointed out, however, the Reds should be listening to offers because Hamilton’s value right now is higher than it has been:
If the Reds were willing to move Hamilton, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, they would be selling high. That is based on his offensive improvement in the second half of 2016 following two down seasons. Overall last season, the 26-year-old batted .260 with a .321 on-base percentage and 58 stolen bases. He did not play after Sept. 4 because of a strained left oblique.
After the All-Star break, Hamilton batted .293 with a .369 on-base percentage and regained his spot at the top of the order following a demotion to the back of the lineup.
Defensively, Hamilton was a Gold Glove finalist for the third straight year. He led National League center fielders with 15 defensive runs saved and a 13.3 ultimate zone rating, according to Fangraphs.com.
Perhaps some team with deep pockets will want to acquire Hamilton to serve as a pinch-runner and occasional starter. But that’s selling Hamilton short, isn’t it? He’s capable of much more than that, and you have to think the club would demand more in return than you would expect to get for a glorified pinch runner. Right?
Sure, the Reds should be listening to offers for Hamilton. But let’s not forget what he can bring to the next good Reds team: He’s young, scrappy, and hungry — a diamond in the rough — and the Reds don’t want to throw away his shot at being a productive — possibly All-Star — center fielder for this club.