It's been over six years since the Cincinnati Reds last had a dependable, everyday LF penciled into their lineup, and you could make a very succinct argument that Adam Dunn had no business being in LF for the six years prior to that.
The likes of Laynce Nix, Jonny Gomes, Fred Lewis, Roger Bernadina, Chris Dickerson, Willie Harris (yes, the Willie Harris), Jeremy Hermida, Chris Heisey, Norris Hopper, Jerry Hairston, Wladimir Balentien, Darnell McDonald, some jerk named "Jim Edmonds" that's obviously not the actual "Jim Edmonds" since the real "Jim Edmonds" most certainly was never a Red, Yonder Alonso, Dave Sappelt, Todd Frazier, Xavier Paul, Kris Negron, Derrick Robinson, Shin-Soo Choo, Donald Lutz, Jason Bourgeois, Skip "Freakin'" Schumaker, Yorman Rodriguez, and Ryan Ludwick have each taken stabs at locking down position since Dunn's departure, but as you can tell from the distinguished and lengthy nature of said list, none has managed to stake an effective claim.
I know what you're thinking. "If only they'd given Denis Phipps one start in LF instead of RF, things would have been sailing smoothly since 2012," right?
Alas, Phipps' time was called before it even began, and the Ludwick era was ushered in to feature shredded labrums and a Cardinal-Cardinal tag team approach. The end result was a LF amalgamation that scored the fewest runs in baseball from the position in 2014 (51), and a .233/.288/.339 slash line that ranked in the bottom fourth in all of baseball in most every single major offensive statistic. FanGraphs went so far as to claim that the group created the least amount of runs in the game among LFs (or, since it's hyper-negative, destroyed more runs than any other gaggle in the game), and that coupled with below average defense made for the notorious distinction of being tabbed as the Worst Group of LFs in Baseball Not-Named Domonic Brown.
Dang. That's a pretty brutal damnation of a position, one so bad that's probably even worth throwing $4.5 million at it just to disappear.
What's that? Oh, right. They already did.
So, the page has been turned on another brief LF fable, only to find that the next page is blank, a fresh start that could potentially help the Reds turn things around in the 2015 season should Walt Jocketty manage to script something insightful. Remember, though, that printer ink is expensive, and that the story must be concise; after all, the very next page begins the tale of Jesse Winker, the kid who may just be the best pure hitter in all of minor league baseball.
The free agent LFs have been mentioned here, there, and elsewhere, with the lumbering Mike Morse & his awful defense discussed often alongside the never-plays-LF on-base ability of Nori Aoki. Today, we'll look at players who would potentially fit the bill as the 2015 LF if traded for, with the caveats being that they can't be super expensive, can't be LF-only if under contract beyond 2015, can't be St. Louis Cardinals, and aren't yet fluent in Sanskrit.
Here are three targets, listed in a particular order that you'll have to determine for yourselves.
Justin Upton - Atlanta Braves
There's no denying that adding Upton would give the Reds one of the elite OF bats in all of baseball, as the 27 year old is coming off an .833 OPS season that saw him club 29 dingers in 154 games played. He'll be in his last year under contract in 2015 (at $14.25 million), projects to be a lock to receive a Qualifying Offer from whichever team he plays for, and will be playing next season at the peak age while on the brink of free agency.
The question, though, is whether or not a trade to the Reds would be a fit.
Upton's name has been tossed around in trade rumors due to the pending end of his contract, but it's a move the Braves would have to be blown away to make. Atlanta's offense was putrid in 2014 despite featuring Upton heavily, and unlike the lowly Reds offense, the Braves can't really blame much of it on injured players that will be back to help them in 2015. If they were to flip Upton, that offense would take a colossal hit, and the Reds don't really have many offensive pieces to offer.
What the Reds do have, however, are top-end starting pitchers on short contracts at relative bargains, and that's the one thing that the Braves may be seriously interested in. Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana combined to throw 400 IP for them in 2014, and both are now free agents, and both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are coming off their second Tommy John surgeries, meaning their rotation could use a bit of help. A straight swap of either Mike Leake or Mat Latos for Upton wouldn't be a direct 1 for 1 deal given the scarcity of offense lately (and Latos' arm injuries), but the addition of a talented prospect on the Reds end might be something that would entice the new Atlanta front office.
Would you trade Latos and Philip Ervin for Upton? Would Atlanta?
Ben Zobrist - Tampa Bay Rays
The do-it-all utility man from Tampa has long been seen as a perfect fit for the Reds for the exact same reasons that he's been a perfect fit for the Rays: he can get on base, hit for a bit of power, and play plus defense at no fewer than five positions. That's enough track record to make any team salivate, but the fact that he's been operating on a contract that has made him one of the most affordable, cost-effective players in the game has made him the apple of every team's eye for years. With his option picked up for just $7.5 million, the 33 year old will be playing a mix of SS, OF, and 2B for the Rays in 2015 unless flipped elsewhere, but considering the team's losses over the few months (LHP David Price, GM Andrew Friedman, and manager Joe Maddon), there's somewhat of a belief that the Rays may shop Zobrist this winter instead of letting him walk after 2015. That, of course, has been their MO, and is why both Price and James Shields were traded when they were.
Zobrist has posted a .354 OBP in each of the last two seasons - which is dead on his career OBP of .354 - and has whapped double digit dingers in 7 consecutive seasons, too. He's seen his slugging percentage decline of late, but that's something each and every player in baseball can say, too, given the proliferation of pitching in recent seasons. He's a low-K player, too, getting him 140+ starts on the Reds in 2014 in LF, RF, SS, and 2B wouldn't be a tough thing to accomplish at all, and his on-base ability would be the perfect thing to pair with Billy Hamilton's electricity at the top of the Cincinnati lineup.
But if he's on the market, he'll be in high demand, and that's where trading for him would take both savvy and luck. The Rays don't need rental starting pitchers making more than Zobrist's salary, or if they did, they'd not want to trade away one of their most talented offensive players in the process. Like I mentioned in the hypothetical piece earlier this week (with Matt Joyce as the example), it may require a third team to make a Zobrist deal work, something Jocketty has pulled off multiple times of late.
Trade a pitcher, get a prospect, trade said prospect to Tampa for Zobrist.
Shane Victorino - Boston Red Sox
What, did you honestly think I'd make it through a piece about veteran OF bats in the last year of their contracts and not mention Victorino? Pffft.
Victorino will make $13 million from someone in 2015 - the last year of the 3 year deal he signed after the 2012 season - with Boston either paying him the entirety of it or paying most of it while trading him away to some team who will pick up the pocket change portion of it. The former Philadelphia Phillies OF spent the bulk of 2014 on the DL with hamstring and lower back issues, but is just a year removed from a 5 WAR, .294/.351/.451 season that helped fuel the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series, and the Red Sox have no fewer than a billion OFs that will be fighting for time in front of the green monster in 2015. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. are prized prospects that don't project to go anywhere, Daniel Nava is an OBP machine that's signed so cheaply that it's hard to see him moved, Rusney Castillo was signed for some $72 million out of Cuba last season, and Yoenis Cespedes is the prized return from their trade of longtime ace Jon Lester last summer; in other words, someone, if not multiple OFs, are headed for the door.
Cespedes carries a hype that has had some flapping heads calling him worthy of a trade of Johnny Cueto, but that's obviously not going to happen. Victorino, on the other hand, hasn't had much blab about him, but if he's healthy he could provide the kind of cheap, bounce-back performance that Walt Jocketty always searches for. Boston needs top-end pitching in the worst way (hence the fluff on sending Cueto their way), but if the Reds opted to seek Victorino in a deal for, say, Mike Leake, they'd get a pile of money sent their way and a prospect of note to counter Leake's potential QO after the season, too.
Leake to Boston for Victorino, $9 million, and one of Rafael Devers, Anthony Ranaudo, or Deven Marrero? I'd listen.