Where Will the Cincinnati Reds Turn to Replace Shin-Soo Choo?
With a reported price tag of seven years and $140 million, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has likely become too expensive for most teams in the majors. While this could actually push his asking price back down and give the Cincinnati Reds a better chance of re-signing him, it sounds like they're ready to move on to other options.
In reference to the All-Star outfielder, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty didn't seem too hopeful when asked about Choo at last week's winter meetings:
Walt on Choo - ‘i think we have to move on’— ctrent (@ctrent) December 11, 2013
The Reds' inability to trade second baseman Brandon Phillips to free up payroll space likely hasn't helped the cause, says Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, but handing out a contract in excess of $100 million to any player over the age of 30 is a risk regardless of how affordable it is for the organization.
Having a solid backup option in place would make the Reds' decision not to pursue Choo, who posted an .885 OPS with 21 homers and 20 stolen bases in his lone season with the club, that much easier.
Here's a look at the team's in-house option, three potential trade targets and one free agent that could step in and take over as the new Reds center fielder in 2014.
Billy Hamilton, In-House Option
Billy Hamilton is easily the top choice for fantasy baseball geeks hoping to pick him up in their league so they can capitalize on the massive amount of points he'd rack up for stolen bases. The reality, though, is that the 23-year-old speedster probably isn't ready to take on an everyday role in the majors.
Converted from shortstop to center field prior to the 2013 season, Hamilton probably has more than enough speed—he was widely considered to be the fastest player in baseball prior to breaking the minor league single-season record with 155 stolen bases in 2012—to make up for his lack of experience in the outfield.
He'd also cause teams to game-plan around him because of his potential to beat out any infield grounder. And once he reaches base, he's an immediate threat to steal second and third.
But despite the strong impression he made during his September call-up (7-for-19, 2 2B, 2 BB, 4 K, 13 SB), Hamilton's Triple-A debut (.308 OBP, 6 HR, 38 BB, 102 K, 75 SB in 123 games) was quite mediocre and shouldn't give the Reds much confidence in thinking he'll perform any better in the majors the very next season.
If they still believe that he'll be their regular center fielder in the near future, whether that's by mid-2014 or sometime in 2015, then finding a stopgap is their likely goal.
That doesn't limit them to a player signed for only one season, though. Re-signing Choo or signing another player beyond 2014 is a possibility as long as that player can play center field for one season before shifting to a corner spot once Hamilton is ready.
Alejandro De Aza, Trade Target
After acquiring Adam Eaton to be their everyday center fielder, the Chicago White Sox could be willing to trade Alejandro De Aza, who has a .764 OPS with 30 homers and 58 stolen bases in 338 games with the team since 2011.
The 29-year-old De Aza, who is still under team control for another two seasons, is still slated for regular playing time as the team's left fielder. But with Dayan Viciedo also in the mix for at-bats, it's clear that one of the two is expendable.
Viciedo, who is limited to a corner outfield spot, doesn't appear to be a fit for the Reds. De Aza, however, could be a player on their radar.
While he has nowhere near Choo's ability to get on base—he has a career .336 on-base percentage—De Aza could be seen as a poor man's version of Choo when it comes to his power and speed combination. The left-handed hitter had 17 homers and 20 stolen bases in 153 games last season.
And while that career-high power surge came at the expense of his on-base percentage (.323 OBP in 2013), it's important to note that De Aza reached base at a .361 clip in 185 games between 2011 and 2012. If he can put it all together, the expected drop-off between Choo and whoever replaces him won't be nearly as drastic.
Andre Ethier, Trade Target
Not only did Andre Ethier turn things around at the plate last June, finishing with an impressive .873 OPS over his last 82 games, but he also did it while filling in for the injured Matt Kemp as the Los Angeles Dodgers' regular center fielder.
Although he did win a Gold Glove award as a right fielder back in 2011, Ethier would be seen as nothing more than an adequate defensive stopgap for Hamilton in center field. He'd shift over to a corner outfield spot once Hamilton arrives for good.
Acquiring the 31-year-old Ethier wouldn't be cheap, however, in financial terms. Still due $71.5 million through the 2017 season, any trade will require the Dodgers to take on a portion of his remaining salary. How much they'll take on depends on the return a team is willing to give up.
If the Reds are willing to take on $52 million, putting them on the hook for a $13 million-per-season salary over the next four seasons—they could pry him away from the Dodgers for nothing more than a mid-level prospect or two, or possibly one of their better young low-level prospects.
Brett Gardner, Trade Target
After word had come out that the New York Yankees and Reds had discussed a potential Brandon Phillips-for-Brett Gardner deal, which Jon Heyman of CBS Sports says the Yankees turned down, Yankees team president Randy Levine told Ian O'Connor of ESPN Radio that the team has "absolutely no intention" of trading away Brett Gardner.
Heyman also heard that Phillips, who has a no-trade clause, had asked to rework his contract so he could receive more money, which could've been the reason a deal didn't happen.
While nothing has been confirmed regarding the reported trade talks, the Yankees' need for a starting second baseman is evident. And options are dwindling, so don't count them out from trying to acquire Phillips at some point and using Gardner, who has one year left of club control, as the trade bait.
Franklin Gutierrez, Free Agent
The Reds' chances of replacing Choo with a more affordable option on the free-agent market were limited heading into the offseason. Curtis Granderson or Chris Young may have been their best bets, but each signed deals with the New York Mets.
Any other hopes of obtaining a viable free-agent option to man center field for at least the start of the 2014 season ride on the injury-prone Franklin Gutierrez, who has played in only 173 games over the past three seasons due to a long list of ailments.
There's no questioning the 30-year-old's ability when he is on the field. Even after missing so much time in 2011 and 2012 and in between multiple disabled list stints in 2013, he managed to hit 10 homers and seven doubles in only 145 at-bats. He also won a Gold Glove in 2010, his last injury-free season in the majors.
Even if the Reds are believers in Hamilton coming out and holding his own from the get-go in 2014, Gutierrez would be a pretty solid backup plan. Counting on him as "the plan" would not be very smart, though.
If they're not sold on Gutierrez as a bounce-back candidate from the free-agent market, there's also former Cleveland Indians superstar Grady Sizemore, who hasn't played in a game since 2011 and hasn't stayed healthy for a full season since 2008.