I dunno, Grady Sizemore or something

Rob Carr

Is Billy Hamilton "the guy" now?

We didn't actually think Choo would come back, did we? I don't think we did, except for the fact that it's season of perpetual hope.

Maybe there was a glimmer of something when a few big-spending suitors seemed to be backing away. But now that we know what he's getting paid - an average of about $18.5M per year over 7 years - we have closure. We can feel glad the Reds aren't climbing that mountain of cash. If you believe Zips' projections, in fact, Choo is being overpaid:

Even if Choo was never coming back and we all knew it, the Reds still need to re-create him. That compensation pick will be plenty useful, but it won't improve the team in 2014. And the Reds haven't really done anything so far to improve the major league squad. They signed Skip Schumaker, brought back Manny Parra, replaced Hanigan with Peña (gaining pitching depth at AAA in the process) and handed out some minor league deals.

If your baseline is "what the Reds looked like after Choo became a free agent," then the Reds are perhaps slightly better than they were in November. Peña isn't as talented as Hanigan, but he's also the back-up. Manny Parra shores up the bullpen, Skip replaces Xavier Paul and Holmberg gives the rotation some breathing room. A third of a step forward, a quarter step back.

If instead you compare the current roster to what the Reds had in 2013, then they're in a pretty big hole that a few peripheral moves has done nothing to fill. At the same time, some returning players who were injured or had down years will be better in 2014. So altogether it's not quite as simple as Choo leaving and taking competitive baseball with him.

Here's my crude accounting:

  • Starting lineup: Obviously, this is a problem. With Choo out, the Reds are returning just two guys who were above-average hitters in 2014: Joey and Jay (and Xavier Paul was above-average in a limited role, for the record). There's also Frazier, who was about average. I'm pretty optimistic that Todd, Devin, BP and Ludwick will be better next season. But I'm not expecting a huge leap from any of them. Anyway, I don't think it's enough to bridge the gap between Billy/Heisey in CF and what Choo brings to the table. Negative-four wins.
  • Bench: We don't know who the back-up SS is yet, but Schumaker is basically replacing Paul and another light-hitting glove guy will probably replace Izturis. No change.
  • Starting rotation: The Reds have six starter MLB-ready options, like they did last season. Cingrani can't give you Arroyo's quantity - at least not yet - but he'll probably give you more quality. And there will be more Cueto, too, hopefully. No change.
  • Bullpen: If Sean Marshall is healthy again, the bullpen should be better. Whenever Broxton returns, they actually have 8 arms for seven spots. Half-win improvement.
I totally made up the win totals here, but I think the magnitude is about right. The Reds have to find an above-average player to plug into the lineup to get back to where they were last season. Last season, it was 90 wins and a berth on the postseason undercard. It was a good season, but ideally they'd take that bad taste leftover from Pittsburgh and try to position themselves to win the division.

Absent another TRADE, can Billy Hamilton be that above-average player? To put things right, the Reds need him to be on the Denard Span/Coco Crisp/Bret Gardner tier of center fielders. Right now.

It's possible Walt Jocketty thinks he can. It's not clear whether Jocketty is trying to manage expectations - or play GM mind games - but he thinks Billy Hamilton can be the guy and all he has to do is practice bunting.

To be "The Guy," Billy has to radically improve on what he did in AAA last year - in the majors - right out of the gate. Meanwhile, the rest of the lineup needs to pick up a little slack too, without a major injury clawing everything back. That's a lot that needs to go right, so it might be just as well to hope for a Tradesmas Miracle.
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