Cincinnati Reds Hot Stove: The Solution to the Center Field Problem

Jux BergSenior Analyst IOctober 18, 2012

Drew Stubbs has whiffed 588 times in 1791 career at-bats.
Drew Stubbs has whiffed 588 times in 1791 career at-bats.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Now that general manager Walt Jocketty has announced the 2-year extension of manager Dusty Baker and his coaching staff, the next glaring issue on the docket is what to do about center field and the leadoff spot in the batting order.

Reds fans know all too well that former first-round pick Drew Stubbs does not seem to be the answer.  

As recently as two seasons ago, Stubbs looked like the long term solution in center field and at the top of the order, despite his high number of strikeouts.  In 2010, the former Longhorn posted a .773 OPS while slugging 22 dingers and swiping 30 bases.  His batting average was at a somewhat respectable .255 while the on-base pct was a low, but not horrific .329.  

It was the first full season for Stubbs, so the outlook was positive that he would be able to improve upon those numbers.  

Then came 2011.  Stubbs struck out a whopping 205 times, while the OPS dipped nearly a hundred points down to .686.  

The organization hoped 2011 was just a sophomore slump.  Unfortunately, the free fall continued this past season when Stubbs hit just .213 with a barely fathomable .277 OBP and just a .610 OPS.  

What's the answer?

If you ask longtime Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman, he'll tell you it's probably time for a change. The Hall of Famer feels both Stubbs (change of scenery) and the Reds would benefit from a trade.

What will Jocketty do?  It appears that he has three options:

1) Sit tight.  

Allow top prospect Billy Hamilton to gain more experience in the minors at the CF position in 2013, while working with Dusty Baker to implement a platoon split between Stubbs and Chris Heisey. 

Stubbs crushes left handed pitching, to a tune of an .821 career OPS, while he virtually has no clue against righties, checking in at a drastically lower .655 OPS.  (.228 batting average vs RHP, .276 vs LHP)

Meanwhile, fellow right-handed swinger Chris Heisey's numbers show the opposite.  Heisey hits .277 against righties while only hitting .214 against lefties.

Assuming these figures shake out the same moving forward, you would combine the two players into a CF who hits around .275 with 20-25 HR and 30-50 SB.  Of course that is purely an assumption, but it certainly is an option.

2) Make a move.  

Whether it's a trade or going after a free agent, make a change.  If this is the path Jocketty chooses, he'll need to be careful not to plug up center field for too many years because that could potentially block speedster Billy Hamilton from an everyday position in the major leagues.  And getting Billy Hamilton to the major leagues as quickly as possible is the ultimate goal.

If Jocketty brings in someone from outside the organization, he'll want to limit the contract to one or two years.  That means he'll either need to make a trade for someone who is near the end of his current contract (Denard Span, Coco Crisp—both two years remaining) or go with a short term veteran free agent stopgap (Shane Victorino, Angel Pagan).  The thinking here is at worst, Hamilton is ready by 2014 and you can bring him along slowly, using his speed for pinch-running and a defensive replacement while starting him a few days a week to rest your veteran.    

3) Put a rush on Billy Hamilton.  

Based on the rest of the assumed everyday starting position players for the next two seasons, center field (and possibly left field if the Reds can't come to terms with Ryan Ludwick) looks like the only real need.  

Hamilton looks to be the guy to fill that spot.  The exciting switch-hitter stole a jaw-dropping 155 bases this season, an all-time organized baseball record.  He's only 21-years-old, but he's shown he can get on base wherever he's been in the minors (.410 in 2012 playing Single-A and low Double-A ball). The only real question is how fast this kid picks up the defensive side of the baseball, moving from shortstop to the outfield currently in fall ball.

This third option is just to roll the dice and throw Hamilton out there to start 2013.  That seems unlikely considering the Reds are already a contender and don't need to rush the kid.  But, maybe you strike gold and end up with a phenom along the lines of a Mike Trout.  It's unlikely, but it is an option.

There is no doubt something will change before Opening Day in 2013.  As Reds fans heat up their stoves for the winter, the question is, what changes will Walt Jocketty make at the top of the order and in center field?