Manager Dusty Baker conceded during the Winter Meetings that the Cincinnati Reds remain in need of a lead-off hitter. If that hitter happens to play center field, well, all the better.
According to Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago White Sox are listening to offers for a pair of hitters in left fielder Dayan Viciedo and center fielder Alejandro De Aza. While Viciedo’s power bat would be a fit in virtually any lineup, De Aza is the one who could fill Cincinnati’s most pressing needs.
The Reds won 97 games last season, but so far this Winter they have done very little with their roster. But the opportunity exists to extend the gap between their club and all the others in the NL Central.
Drew Stubbs is an elite defensive center fielder, but to say he’s had struggles at the plate would be an understatement. Cincinnati has tried Stubbs often in the lead-off role thanks to his speed, but he is prone to ridiculously high strikeout rates and doesn’t walk much. Not a good combination for the guy asked to be the catalyst of your order.
Cincinnati’s center fielders were among the least productive in baseball in 2012, combining for a .621 OPS and an alarming 205 strikeouts. While it wasn’t always Stubbs, whomever Baker penciled in to the top spot in the order was a colossal failure. Lead-off men for the Reds managed to reach base at just a .254 clip. Only the pitcher’s spot was as ineffective in getting on base.
De Aza, 28, has just one year as a full-time big leaguer but 2012 showed what he’s capable of at the plate. A left handed hitter, De Aza occupied the top spot in Chicago’s order and posted a .349 on base percentage. He has great speed but isn’t a tremendous base stealer, swiping 26 bags in 38 tries. Single-season defensive metrics are not very trustworthy and we only have one significant sample of De Aza’s career, but UZR shows him as slightly below average with the glove.
Chicago will be seeking wither a left handed bat to help balance their lineup or they’ll look for prospects in return for either De Aza or Viciedo. While the Reds don’t have a left handed bat to part with, they may be able to package a couple of young players in return for De Aza (and, frankly, if Ryan Ludwick is not re-signed, the Reds could use Viciedo as well). He’s a first-time arbitration-eligible player, so there are three seasons of team control remaining for the Reds.
Failing a move like this one, Cincinnati will be left to hope that they can match up with Scott Boras on a one-year deal for Michael Bourn. The Reds were a landing spot a year ago for Ryan Madson, another Boras client who mis-read the market and had to sign late. The same could happen with Bourn. Though Madson missed the 2012 season with injury, so Cincinnati may be a bit gun shy this time around.
The opportunity to win big in the playoffs is there for Cincinnati but they have a glaring weakness that must be addressed. If they aren’t going to dig deep for the money to pay Bourn, De Aza represents a much cheaper alternative and would still be a significant upgrade from their current center field situation.