Shin-Soo Choo and the Cincinnati Reds 2014 Outfield Dilemma

Illya HarrellAnalyst IIMay 16, 2013

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 7:  Brandon Phillips #4 of the Cincinnati Reds celebrates with Shin-Soo Choo #17 of the Cincinnati Reds after Choo's two out ninth inning home run gave Cincinnati a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park on May 7, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

When the Reds sent Drew Stubbs to Cleveland and Didi Gregorius to Arizona in a three-team deal that brought Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati, it was assumed the team would let Choo walk into free agency after the season ended.

After all, in 2014 they would have Ryan Ludwick in left, speedy prospect Billy Hamilton in center and Jay Bruce manning right.

Everyone with more than a pinball in their head knew Choo would be a major upgrade at the top of the order. The Reds have not had a dominant leadoff guy since the days of Barry Larkin—whose last truly productive season was 1999.

Through the first quarter of the season Choo has been, not so arguably, the best leadoff hitter in the majors.

His current .322 average has him tied for sixth in the National League. He is leading the league in on-base percentage at .465, and his slugging percentage of .589 is good for seventh in the NL.

Put those numbers together, and Choo is leading the NL in on-base plus slugging at 1.054—a full .019 ahead of No. 2, Justin Upton.

No one—with the possible exception of his mother—thought he would take to Cincinnati in such fashion.

Point being, if GM Walt Jocketty lets this guy walk at the end of the year, fans will never forgive him. On the downside, his play may end up demanding a $13 million-$15 million contract.

That's just the start of where the trouble starts brewing.

The team will have the money if Bronson Arroyo tests the free-agent waters. Before the year began, that also seemed like a given. Arroyo will turn 37 before the start of next season.

However, according to Fox Sports Ohio, "Arroyo has never been on the disabled list and has made 323 starts without once missing his turn in a rotation."

The guy is Jamie Moyer minus 13 years. Moyer's best years were between ages 38 and 40.

If Arroyo does re-sign, it's likely Choo—having never made MLB big bucks—will walk away from Cincinnati after one phenomenal year.

Those are the fiscal issues.

Say Arroyo does test the market, leaving owner Bob Castellini with the quid needed to sign Choo.

What does that do to the 2014 outfield? Best case scenario: Choo in left, Hamilton in center and Bruce in right.

Now you have Ryan Ludwick, an injury prone, $8.5 million outfielder on the pine. Is he tradable? Not unless the Reds take a huge bite of his contract.

What about trading Hamilton or Bruce? Hamilton is probably untouchable, while Bruce is just a tick less untouchable than Hamilton.

But it does make a fan scratch their head. What kind of arm could the team get for Bruce—who is set to make a MLB reasonable $10 million next year?

If the trade is made, the Reds could put Choo back in his natural position (right field), while dropping him to the five hole. Then they can move the speedy rook Hamilton to center field and have him bat leadoff, and Ludwick can man left field until he gets injured and Donald Lutz takes over.

Having won the 2014 World Series (their second consecutive), all will be well in Reds country.


Contract info provided courtesy of Baseball-Reference. Stats provided courtesy of CBS Sports.