Ryan Ludwick: Are the Cincinnati Reds Better Off Without the Veteran Outfielder?
According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Ludwick will decline his $5 million option for next season. Cincinnati is still reportedly interested in re-signing him, but the team must decide what the right price is.
Ludwick signed a one-year deal with the Reds in the offseason hoping to resurrect his career. It worked. Great American Ball Park is a great place for a hitter to go to, and the right-handed hitter took advantage of it. Now he will test the market to see how much he can get after being a productive player in 2012.
This past season was his most productive since 2008 when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals. After miserable stints with the San Diego Padres and the Pittsburgh Pirates, he found a place where he could succeed.
The 2012 NL Central champions had great chemistry. Ludwick was quoted by Jon Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer as saying that this was the best team chemistry he had every been involved with. His attitude towards the team has fans optimistic that he will return to the team in 2013.
So should Cincinnati try to re-sign Ludwick?
Ludwick's 2012 Production
The veteran had 26 home runs with 80 RBI for the Reds, and his .275 average was above .265 for the first time since 2008. His numbers had steadily declined for the past three seasons, but GABP offered him a chance to rebound.
When Joey Votto went down with an injury, Ludwick helped carry the team to first place. The Reds won 10 straight games and went on a 22-3 stretch after the All-Star break. His production allowed manager Dusty Baker to move Brandon Phillips back to the leadoff spot.
As expected, Ludwick's numbers were better at home than they were on the road. He hit for a better average and had a higher on-base percentage on the road, but almost every other statistic was better at home, including home runs, RBI, walks, triples, slugging percentage and OPS.
The outfielder could duplicate his production in certain ballparks, but his numbers would benefit from staying in Cincinnati.
Ludwick hit at least .300 in every full month after the All-Star break and in the postseason. Although his average was high down the stretch, he only hit one home run from August 19 to the end of the regular season. The Reds were one of the worst offensive teams in September, and the lack of power from Ludwick hurt the team.
He got on base in every playoff game and was one of the few bright spots when the series came back to Cincinnati.
The 34-year-old had a great season in Cincinnati, and his production in the second half was a big reason why the Reds were fighting for the No. 1 seed on the final day.
Many fans will hate to hear this: Drew Stubbs will be back in 2013.
There is a very small chance that he does not get tendered, and he has way too much talent to give up on.
Stubbs has great speed, a good arm and plays center field better than anyone in the league. He gets to nearly every ball hit his way and keeps runners from taking an extra base.
Phenom Billy Hamilton is transitioning to the outfield, but he is at least a year away from joining this team. Until then, Cincinnati needs to hope that Stubbs can put the ball on the ground and get on.
Chris Heisey is the alternative to Ludwick if Stubbs remains in center. Fans have been calling for Heisey to get playing time ever since his rookie season in 2010.
His numbers were decent in 2012, but fans expected more from him. He hit .280 until mid-September but finished at .265, which is a new career high.
The 27-year-old also finished with the lowest home run total of his career despite playing in 120 games.
Fans are amazed with his diving plays on defense, but he is not the answer in center. Any ball he dives for, Stubbs gets there on the run. Although Ludwick was strong on defense for the Reds, Heisey would be an upgrade over Ludwick on defense in left.
Xavier Paul hit for a high average in his limited opportunities, but he should not be considered for the left field job. His defense is the worst among all of the candidates, and his success at the plate was over a small sample size.
If Scott Rolen decides to return (unlikely), Todd Frazier could even see some time in left field if necessary.
Ludwick was a great signing by ownership last offseason, but now they must decide what he is worth.
Should the Reds re-sign Ryan Ludwick?
The Reds should not overpay to keep him in Cincinnati. If he wants to sign a multi-year deal for $5 million to $7 million per season, the team should be willing to do it. Anything more than that, let him walk.
Even though Rolen's contract is now done, the team still has several big contracts to work around. Votto, Phillips, Bronson Arroyo and Jay Bruce all have large contracts that will limit how ownership is able to improve the team. Mat Latos and Homer Bailey (whose no-hitter and playoff performances helped his cause) are due for nice raises in arbitration.
With the deals that the front office pulled off last offseason, it is hard to argue with anything that the Reds decide to do this winter.
For the right price, the team should bring Ludwick back to Cincinnati and keep the brotherhood together. If his asking price is too high, walk away and give Heisey a shot at the full-time job.
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