I suppose it will not offend anyone if I call Todd Frazier an average MLB player. Maybe a bit better: Baseball Reference's "wins above average" (?) credits Frazier with 0.7 wins above average in 2012, and 0.8 wins above average this year. He turns an 81-win team into an 82-win team. Similarly, his OPS+ was 96 this past year, and his defense, difficult enough to evaluate and calculate, at least appears to be of at least average quality. At any rate, he's not Machado with the glove, nor is he Cabrera.
I'll use Frazier here to represent an archetype which to my mind presents a mildly significant problem to teams like the Reds. Let's examine:
1) Frazier's best on-field tool is clearly his power. The ball seems to jump off his bat when he connects, but you already know what the "but" is going to be. A powerful hitter who just matched his career high of 19 home runs signifies a player who has quite a few holes in his swing. Put a more generic way, Frazier's strengths are always, always, always going to be severely muted by his weaknesses.
2) While aging patterns are not strictly destiny, they are strongly suggestive, and Frazier will turn 28 right around the time he reports to Arizona for spring training. The peak season, according to the bell curves, is likely to already be in the rear view mirror.
3) Lest I appear to be Frazier-bashing, let me level-set: an average MLB player carries a considerable amount of value, especially when they appear to be as durable as Frazier was in 2013.
Put the three items together, and you have a picture of a player who has enough holes in his game to be a longshot to significantly improve, while also having just 2-3 peak athletic years in front of him, while also being good enough so that improving the position is likely to be cost-prohibitive due to the high trade value or salaries attached to the good-to-great level of third basemen around the league. Said another way, he's good enough that you have to keep him, but not good enough to provide consistent production week in and week out. Said yet another way, it can be really hard for a team to improve upon an average player at a position, especially a team which has trouble profitably swallowing sunk costs.
So what next? I expect that the Reds will keep Frazier through his arbitration years, but there will be some hair-pulling moments along the way. 2012 may very well be as good as we ever see, although I also believe that 2014-16 will come to rest somewhere above 2013's output, even if only barely. One cautionary note is that Frazier's on-base percentage, a bit sub-par as it is, was inflated quite a bit by being hit by 14 pitches in 2013. Take those away, and we're looking at an OBP under .300. It's a bit gauche in this day and age, but focus on the batting average: if Frazier can approach .260, the offense looks a lot more balanced and fearsome than the top-heavy experience of last year.
In 319 games and 1,186 plate appearances with the Reds, Frazier has hit .249/.318/.446 with the Reds (105 OPS+). In Scott Rolen's absence this year, Frazier logged 85% of all possible innings at the hot corner, flashing a more than capable glove in the process. He makes his debut on the honorable mention list this year, ranking #242 on the team's all-time list.