The Rolen era ended with a whisper. Well, his whisper. My howls of agony and perhaps yours too, but his whisper. What I'm trying to say is, he's gone and the Reds need to find a replacement. They have a very decent option in-house, as you may know, but Frazier's flexibility should not be discounted. The market for left fielders may be a bit steeper than that for third basemen. It is my intention to compare the two markets to see what makes the most sense for the Reds.
There are two complexities here. No position exists in a vacuum, and money spent on a third basemen comes out of money that could be spent on another position player or a closer. Also, Frazier's flexibility means that he can play a few dozen games at each position, allowing for the opportunity to keep some older, gimpier, fellas fresh.
There is also roster construction to keep in mind. Brandon Phillips is not going to hit lower than fourth. He grounds out too much (lifetime 47.8 GB%, last year 47.1%) to bat second. I think Frazier would be a heck of a #2 hitter. He has an incredibly low GB% (his 32.9% last year is 11th in the league with PA >200), and his .331 OBP is...well...not terrible (fourth on the Reds last year). If the Reds can't find that "true leadoff hitter," I think they'll be better off getting a slugger to plug into #4. The downside is that this means Cozart/Hanigan/Stubbs is 6-7-8. I think we could all agree on the suboptimism of this. So let's look at the options:
The Status Quo
Todd Frazier is at worst competent. He appears to be a league-average defender at third and can hit at least at a league-average rate. I doubt he'll ever hit much more than .280/.340/.500; his .318 BABIP is very high for such a fly-ball hitter (the only two guys with a higher BABIP and a similar GB% were the massively-overachieving Jonny Gomes and Scott Reddick) and he could easily start to flounder as he sees more pitching. His .491 OPS in September/October last season is a bit...humbling. All that said, he's shaping up to be a solid 2-3 WAR player. That is a very nice thing for a guy under team control, and it could give the Reds the opportunity to apply more money to outfield problems.
The Local Kid Returns, Part Three
Kevin Youkilis could perhaps not be any more Cincinnati if he was Baptized in Fountain Square. He's also in his age-34 season and has an injury history as long as one of his at-bats. His defense has fallen off a bit and his offense has as well. All the same, his career-worst OBP last year was .336, which you may note was higher than Frazier's. He's probably not good for more than 120 games, which means that he'd be getting the Rolen treatment of missing day games. My plan would be to play him for about 100 and keep him as a nifty bench-bat for the others. As we have seen before with Rolen and Griffey, only good things happen when local kids come back to play for the hometown Reds.
Quick! Someone Get Whatever Pills Bronson's Taking, But More Of 'Em!
Eric Chavez had his first healthy season since 2006 last year. Eesh. Still, he's a competent fielder and a rare-to-be-seen-on-this-team lefty. As long as he only faces righties, he'd be in a heck of a situation and would make a great platoon partner with Frazier. I could see him in a similar role with Youkilis and in fact, a real devious mind may consider platooning the two of 'em. He has a neat gif history and is perhaps the greatest power threat discussed so far. He could fall apart at any moment, sure, but then again, couldn't we all?
The Universally Loathed Player That Would Objectively Hate Cincinnati But Would Be Fun To Have Around
Alex Rodriguez isn't going anywhere. He's staying in New York. Let's all say that.
But here's the fun part: He's on the books for five more years and over $100M more. What else could the Reds get from the Yankees to take him off of their hands? Rodriguez, ALL OF the money, and a LOOGY? More? Taking on Rodriguez may also net the Reds some of the spare pieces they need to compete.
David Wright may be extended by the Mets, but it seems like they're listening to offers. Hamilton and Bailey would certainly be an offer they listen to. Except for an injured 2011, Wright has been extremely valuable in every season he's played. He would fit in comfortably hitting fourth and would be another piece of an extremely talented Reds' infield. He would be a tremendous asset to the Reds and could be let go with no hard feelings at the end of the year in a Greg Vaughn-type move. I would feel extraordinarily comfortable with a Votto-Wright-Bruce lineup every night and you should too. It gives the Reds a Tigers-esque lineup but with stellar defense. That is not something easily discounted.
The Rapidly-Declining Part-Time Player
Sure, I mean, I guess Placido Polanco could be taken on in a Cairo role. He does have a history of getting on base. But if Polanco gets >300 PA for the Reds, they're gonna wish he hadn't.
So whoop-de-do Basil, what does it all mean? The Reds made the mistake in 2011 of resting on their 2010 laurels. I'd hate for them to go the same route. They need improving, tweaking, and all that sort of thing. The question is where the improvements come from. If the Reds are assuming that Frazier has the same year he did last year, he may just disappoint. If the Reds think they can get away with Paul and Cairo as the first bats of the bench, they're going to lose some agonizing games. Third base represents some opportunities to pick up some dudes (Youk, Chavez) relatively cheaply who can give them marginal increases. It also is a place where the Reds can make a huge splash to really solidify their position in the Division.
I'm curious to see what you think ought to happen. I think that the outfield market is going to get too rich for the Reds quite quickly, and I'd hate to see that. All of the FAs (Youkilis and Chavez included) are on the wrong side of 30, and some of those speed-reliant outfielders can fall of a cliff quite quickly. So do you agree with me that the Reds should look to improve third base? Or think that all hands should be on the outfield deck, which is not really a deck at all but a grassy lawn, but all hands on the lawn sounds like a weird childhood game so lets just end it with the metaphor business?