The Reds have been clear so far this off-season that they see Zack Cozart as the starting shortstop for next year. Baseball America recently called him the safest bet in the Reds' system to be a successful major league baseball player, but he only saw 38 PAs last year before needing elbow surgery. He's a good prospect to be sure, and I'm perfectly comfortable with him as the starter next year. But the Reds don't have anyone else to play SS in case he fails or isn't fully recovered from surgery. They are most assuredly looking for a solid veteran backup much like Orlando Cabrera or Edgar Renteria. Paul Janish constitutes good depth in case of a real emergency, but I'm not totally comfortable with him as the primary backup. And I don't think the Reds are either.
So that means the Reds are in the market for a decent and inexpensive player who can serve as Cozart's caddy and mentor or, if worse comes to worse, fill in as the starter. This is a familiar refrain, yeah? They've been looking for a guy like this for what seems like forever. They got Cabrera just before the '10 season started and though he served as the starter for much of the season, he wasn't all that good. They got Renteria just before the '11 season and though he served as the starter for about half the season, he wasn't all that good. And they were probably the best available options at the time.
The point is, good shortstop help is hard to find. There is some real talent at the position right now all around baseball, but there is a sharp division between the haves and the have-nots. Hopefully Cozart can be The One to finally fill the Barry Larkin-shaped void to the left of the 2-sack, but if he ain't, the Reds need a fall back plan.
So that leads us to the title character of this piece, Jason Bartlett. There was much debate around here this time last year when he was put on the trade block by the Rays. He eventually ended up in San Diego where the Padres didn't play well and aren't looking to do so any time soon. So Bartlett, who will make $5.5 mil next year, is being shopped around. The Padres are looking to move either Bartlett or his keystone mate Orlando Hudson due to their exorbitant salaries (read: more than the league-minimum). The question, of course, is whether or not the Reds should take a look.
First, let's look at Bartlett's numbers. He has a career .319 wOBA, which is just a shade below league average. It's worth noting though that that number is inflated by an impressive '09 campaign in which he posted a .389 wOBA. Realistically, we probably shouldn't expect much better than his James projection of .304. His defensive numbers have been on a distinct downward trend his entire career. He's gone from a plus SS to an average SS to a minus SS over the past six years or so. So to sum it up, given a full season of playing time, he's probably a 1-2 WAR player at best. And odds are better-than-slim that he struggles to keep his head above the replacement line.
That's probably a decent value for the money, and I suspect the Padres wouldn't balk at letting him go for little more than the salary relief. A C-grade prospect is probably all it would take. If the Reds really wanted him though, they might coax the Padres into taking a better prospect in exchange for eating some the salary. But again, it seems dumping the cash is their top priority. So it's probably a no-go for the Reds as that $5.5 mil is definitely better spent on pitching or a left fielder or anything else, really. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Dusty Baker might be keen to see him as the starter and end up Janishing Cozart to the bench for weeks at a time. So it's just not a good fit all around.
A front-line pitcher should be the top priority, and after that, bullpen help. Then probably a left fielder. Back up shortstop is a low priority this off-season, though it does need to be addressed. Just not for the price of a Jason Bartlett.