Baseball’s Hot Stove season has hit full stride, which is probably a good thing considering it’s supposed to be four degrees where I live come Wednesday. One thing’s for certain: when temperatures are so low they only need one syllable, it’s time to crank up that stove.
ESPN’s Buster Olney did just that on Monday morning, intimating that in the Texas Rangers are among the teams that have interest in acquiring Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton.
The Rangers are among the teams taking a look at Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 5, 2016
That Texas would be in the market for an outfielder of any volition isn't terribly surprising. Their primary CF from last season was Ian Desmond, who both entered 2016 having never once started a game in CF in his MLB career and has since become a free agent. Two other one-time CFs, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Gomez, were brought in mid-year to help the scramble in the OF, and they both are now free agents, too. Each of Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar have logged OF starts in their brief stints in the majors over the years, but Gallo specifically seems targeted as the team's 1B of the near future (after Prince Fielder's forced retirement and Mitch Moreland hitting free agency, too) while Profar seems likely to Zobrist around the diamond.
That leaves Shin-Soo Choo and 21 year old Nomar Mazara as the only two likely locks in the Rangers' OF, and while Mazara has never played CF at any level in his professional career, Choo has missed over 1/3 of Texas' games over the last 3 seasons - and Cincinnati fans who remember 2013 know CF is out of the question for him full time anyway.
Hamilton, who is arbitration eligible this year and is under team control through the 2019 season, would certainly fit on paper with Texas positionally, and he'd also add a speed dimension on the bases to a team that has just one player on its roster that stole more than 14 bags last year. And though he has long struggled at the plate since breaking into the big leagues, there's some hope that the breakout he saw in 2016's second half was more than just small sample size noise, and improvement in that aspect of his game could vault him into being a legitimate 5 WAR player over a full season. It's that combination of cheap control, obvious existing skill, and unlocked potential that makes him attractive to the Rangers, but it's also why the Reds are merely listening on their CF - not shopping - as we detailed just last week.
In short, the Reds would trade Hamilton, but it would take an offer so good they simply could not refuse to make that happen. As Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted yesterday, that may not be something the Rangers are willing to do, as well as something they're not even equipped to do anymore. Blockbuster acquisitions have been the Rangers' hallmark in recent years, as the likes of Cole Hamels, Beltran, Gomez, and Jonathan Lucroy have all been added to the fold, and while that landed them 95 regular season wins in 2016 and a solid existing core, it has thinned their prospect cache significantly - as have the graduations to the big leagues of the likes of Gallo, Profar, Mazara, and Rougned Odor.
The Reds, of course, are rebuilding, and that does (and should) mean that everyone is available in theory. Their primary goals as an organization at this point are to accrue as many talented, young players with as much team control as possible, and to open up positions for them to play around the diamond. A trade of Hamilton would accomplish the former in this instance - though it's reasonably up for debate whether he's considered young enough and controllable enough to be what the team should be looking for in the first place. And since there has been no movement on the trade fronts for either Zack Cozart or Brandon Phillips in the infield, a trade of Hamilton would open up playing time for the talented Jose Peraza - which would accomplish in part the latter goal mentioned above.
Barring an unforeseen overpay, I don't see this rumor playing out. The prospects in the Texas system, while talented, don't appear overwhelming in individual quality, and I'm not sure another trade focused on quantity is the route the Reds want to take at this juncture, especially not with a player possessing the upside of Hamilton. It would also mark selling low on Hamilton still in several regards, as his repeated injuries have kept him off the field often enough to leave us all wondering what a full year of his numbers would look like.
One thing is for sure, and that's that Billy is absolutely valued league-wide by those who consider defensive runs saved, total zone, and baserunning metrics to have the importance in overall player value they deserve, and that there's much more to the current Reds' CF than a .248 career batting average and a sub .300 OBP.