Over at the Enquirer, Zach Buchanan has an interesting — and potentially worrisome, depending on how much you want to read between the lines — piece on Jesse Winker and Phillip Ervin, and where they fit into the Reds plans in 2018. Take a look at this, for example:
Instead, he gave a simple, confident and affirmative response. After hitting .279/.360/.486 in his first 126 major-league plate appearances, has the 24-year-old Cincinnati Reds outfielder proven his big-league bona fides?
“Yes,” Winker said flatly. “I think you can only base it off of the opportunity you get. Given the at-bats I’ve gotten and the time I’ve gotten, yeah, I’ve shown I can do it at this level.”
One way to read that is that Winker is supremely confident in his baseball ability. He’s a professional athlete at the highest level, so that wouldn’t be surprising.
Another way to read it is that Winker is frustrated with the fact that he hasn’t gotten to play much in Cincinnati, and feels like he has done enough to earn more time in the lineup.
Okay, perhaps that’s reading too much into probably-benign comments. On the other hand, a running theme in 2017 here at Redleg Nation (and elsewhere) has been puzzlement over the fact that Winker hasn’t gotten more of an opportunity to play on a Reds team that wasn’t going to win this season and needed to figure out what the youngsters had to offer for the future.
Winker has, somehow, accrued 126 plate appearances in the big leagues this season, and he’s mostly done exactly what we expected: .279/.360/.486. He does have seven home runs, after collecting only five in the previous two years at Triple-A. There are some reasons for that — smaller park, juiced baseballs, etc. — and some of it is probably random chance, but nothing else in his stat line stands out as an outlier. Winker’s slash line over his minor league career: .298/.398/.449.
Reds manager Bryan Price remains skeptical — or at least, he is publicly skeptical:
Determining how both fit into the big-league outfield picture for 2018 requires some advanced geometry. The Reds have three big-league outfielders they like in Billy Hamilton, Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall, although the latter has struggled significantly in the second half. Should all five candidates return for next season – and the Reds could always clear their logjam via trade – Reds manager Bryan Price doesn’t foresee a current regular losing his job.
Go read the entire thing for Price’s quotes and Zach’s analysis. It’s worth your time.
When you add this story to Price’s season-long hesitance to play Winker with any regularity, a picture begins to emerge. It’s a picture that a sizable contingent will use this as further evidence that Bryan Price needs to be fired immediately. I am not making that case, though I expect to see such arguments in the comments below. Feel free to state your case.
If you look at Price’s comments, I guess you can say that it looks like he’s just not committing himself to any particular course of action. If I’m Price and someone asks me whether Winker and Ervin will be on next year’s Opening Day roster, I’d be noncommittal too. Who knows? (Especially when it comes to Ervin.)
It’s that statement from Buchanan that “Price doesn’t foresee a current regular losing his job” that concerns me somewhat. To be fair, I don’t see any quote from Price in the piece that says exactly that, but Zach doesn’t have a habit of creating controversy out of whole cloth. The only quote that comes close is this one: “I don’t think you sign off on a player after they’ve made 12 starts or have 100 at-bats in the big leagues and say this guy’s destined for greatness.”
No one is asking Price to sign off on Winker being “destined for greatness.” But it’s clear — to me, at least — that Winker needs to be starting 140+ games for the Reds next year. He’s one of the cornerstones of what we’ve been optimistically calling “the next good Reds team.” I see no legitimate justification for having Winker in a bench role in 2018. None.
On the other hand, perhaps this is much ado about nothing. As noted, Price has no incentive to be committal about these matters in September of 2017. There is nothing for him to gain by stating publicly right now that this rookie will be starting ahead of an All-Star right fielder or a young left fielder who hit 30 home runs this season. More than likely, a trade or an injury will make this a moot point, and Winker will be in the Opening Day lineup.
But if Price truly “doesn’t foresee a current regular losing his job,” then we may have a problem. Combine that attitude with the prickly quotes from Winker in Zach’s article (there’s a second one that I didn’t include above; go check it out)…well, let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill.
Let’s just say that this is a situation that bears watching. And if you are anti-Price, you may have another data point to add to the list.