It's Red Reporter birthday week around this block of the internet, and we promised we'd take time to celebrate what the site was, what it's become, and to highlight some of the classic posts of our past.
This is not one of those. Not exactly.
When the Cincinnati Reds took the "What is my Spirit Animal" quiz on Facebook last week, the answer was David DeJesus. Walt Jocketty got a koala, Steve Smith got a hummingbird, a donkey got Adam Dunn, and the Reds, well, the Reds got DeJesus, a guy whose career and skill set have been the yin to the Cincinnati roster yang for years now.
DeJesus has been a solid, yet unspectacular complementary piece that would have fit perfectly on the Reds for most of his career, and as a result, he's been the single most mentioned potential trade target for the latter half of the now 10 years that Red Reporter has existed. Not because he's a superstar that would change the face of the franchise, but because he's always provided something the Reds have distinctly lacked and has never been close to unobtainable. He's a useful lefty bat who mashes right-handed pitching, can play each of the three outfield positions competently, avoids strikeouts, and - most importantly - always plays for the baseball version of "dirt cheap."
Through the disastrous 2008-2009 seasons that featured Corey Patterson and Willy Taveras in CF, for instance, DeJesus was busy hitting .294/.356/.442 for a Kansas City Royals team that was going absolutely nowhere.
He made a grand total of $6.1 million for those two seasons. Combined.
In fact, he's made more than $4.7 million in a single season just once in his 12 seasons in the big leagues. And of the three players for whom he's been traded on his five team journey during those years, one's a big league reliever with -0.5 career bWAR, one has pitched 2 career innings in the big leagues (at age 26, and allowed 3 ER in those 2 IP), and the third was a 23 year old pitcher with a near 1.4 WHIP in A+ ball in 2014. Hardly the kind of prospect cost that cripples the acquiring team. In all, he's hit .277/.352/.416 in 5599 career plate appearances, and has compiled 22.7 bWAR and 24.7 fWAR over the course of his career.
At age 35, he finds himself in the same exact scenario he's been in for nearly every single winter of his career, though: signed to an extremely affordable contract while playing for a team that's not supposed to be a contender. The Tampa Bay Rays have shed David Price, Joe Maddon, Andrew Friedman, Matt Joyce, Ryan Hanigan, Yunel Escobar, and Ben Zobrist since the 2014 trade deadline, as the same franchise business model that watched them wave goodbye to Carl Crawford and James Shields prior to their gigantic paydays (Shields pending) has led them down a younger, cheaper path. DeJesus is under contract for just $5 million in 2014 (with a $5 million team option for 2015), and while that's cheap for a veteran in today's MLB, the Rays may look to move him while he's still shown enough life to be marketable.
You've read this far on a Reds blog, which means you've begun to wonder what the hell this has to do with a team that has no money and just acquired Marlon Byrd to round out their outfield. It's probably time I got to that.
The Byrd trade found the Reds their supposed LF, as he'll be slated to patrol that side of the outfield along side Billy Hamilton in CF and Jay Bruce in RF. While we can debate about Byrd's fit, his cost, and his age for days, what's clear is that he and his $4 million from the Reds in 2015 will be tasked with starting most games in left field while the team simultaneously tries to cut costs, manage pending free agents, and still function like the team that has made the playoffs three times since 2010.
The outfield problems, though, are two fold. First and foremost, Byrd's contract comes with a vesting option that kicks in if he reaches 550 PA in 2015, and being on the hook for $8 million for a 39 year old LF with rapidly rising contact issues in 2016 is a terrible idea (Jesse Winker's presumed arrival notwithstanding). Problem number two, of course, is that Skip Schumaker and Jason Bourgeois are currently penciled in as the 4th and 5th outfielders, and that's an idea awful enough to make the Grinch cry and beg to start his own 501(c)(3). (Pardon me while I try again to wrap my head around the idea that a team with plans to roll out an OF group involving Byrd, Schumaker, and Bourgeois thinks that's good enough to be a contender in 2015.)
So, the Reds have a LF that they'd like to be good, but not good enough to warrant playing enough to net 550 PA in 2015. They want LF as a whole to be solid enough to help them contend in 2015, what with the All Star Game coming to GABP and stars in their prime, and all. The Reds don't want to pay Marlon Byrd $8 million in 2016, but the only way to prevent that involves a plan to depend on Skip Schumaker or Jason Bourgeois getting significant PA's in the OF. But - and I don't need to remind you of this - a team depending on Skip and Bourgeois getting significant PA's in the OF has about as much chance of contending as the Red Reporter wiffle ball team.
Enter DeJesus. Acquiring Dave has proven repeatedly to not cost top prospects, and he's obviously older now than the last time someone sent one the opposite way to bring him in. At 35, he's no longer the kind of player you want playing every single day, but he's still capable of covering CF from time to time, his DH experience means he's proven he can hit after sitting on the bench for a while, and he's a damn significant upgrade over both Skip and Bourgeois both at the plate and in the field. Most importantly, though, is that his $5 million 2015 salary (and $1 million option buyout, if needed) is $2 million cheaper that letting Byrd's 2016 option vest, and spelling Byrd with a capable LF like DeJesus would actually do the LF part of keeping the Reds competitive in 2015. Hell, you can even make an argument that DeJesus might be better in 2015 than Byrd himself is. And, if he isn't, the Reds can wave goodbye to him after 2015, too.
DeJesus the Red would keep an $8 million option from vesting, would be a 2-3 win improvement over whatever Skip "provides" in 2015, would satiate the masses at Red Reporter after years and years of pining, and would barely crack a piggy bank to make happen. Sadly, the $3 million Skip's going to make in salary and option buyout this year will mean he'll be the one getting reps in LF, and that's going to make me want to kick things through September. The age of "David DeJesus: productive major leaguer" has a shelf life that's nearing a past-due date, and it seems that'll prevent the Rutgers product from having the chance to play alongside fellow alum Todd Frazier while he's still got goods to provide, unfortunately.
Of course, that probably just means Walt will sign Dave to a 2-year contract this time in 2017.