It was a breakout season that ran out of gas. At the end of August, Eugenio Suarez was hitting .275/.386/.499, numbers that lined up for somewhere around a 130 OPS+, while carrying a plus glove. Suarez is nowhere near as good a fielder as Nolan Arenado, but offensively and adjusted for context those would have been Arenado-esque numbers. Unfortunately for Suarez, September happened and his hitting line instead settled around a 115 OPS+.
All the same, there is positivity abounding. The most obvious breakthrough came in the emergence of a near-elite walk rate, with over 13% of Suarez’s plate appearances ending in a free pass (up from 8% the prior year). Add in an above average power profile and the recipe for an above-average major league hitter is pretty much complete. The contact rate could be better, but now we’re just looking for issues to complain about.
The other interesting Suarez story can be found in the trend of his defensive value. In his four major league seasons, Suarez’s runs saved (or yielded) compared to an average fielder go like this: -4, -12, +1, +5. Incidentally, the big jump from negative to positive value happens to coincide with his move from shortstop to third base. It’s possible he could be a good defensive shortstop, but given that he’s just above average as a third baseman, that seems like an unwise bet. All things considered, he’s probably at the exactly right defensive position, given his skillset.
In great news that makes you wonder why you continue to follow this team, that turns out to be the same position that the best prospect the team has had in a decade plays. Cool.
It’s not a bad situation, per se. Having assets is better than not having assets and a nimble front office can trade away surplus assets like Yasmani Grandal or Didi Gregorius without too much threat of regret. Oh gawd.
Therefore, assuming we’re not condemned to the darkest timeline forever, we can wonder what could (or should) the Reds do with Suarez (or Senzel, who presumably will be ready to play at the MLB level sometime in 2018). The cleanest answer for the organization will be if the team is able to affirmatively certify that either player can play an effective second base. In my head, this should be tested with Senzel first as he has both played as a 2nd baseman some in college and has some development time remaining in the minors.
Or hell, move one of the players to a corner outfield spot. Anywhere that the displaced player can be demonstrate passable defense is a better outcome than a trade. The Reds have the misfortune of having their 2nd best player and their best prospect play the same position. That’s unfortunate, but shouldn’t obscure the fortune of having two (potentially) plus assets at below market value costs. That’s an invaluable resource at any time, but especially when trying to rebuild towards competitiveness. It’s critical that the Reds do everything they can to get Suarez and Senzel on the field together.
Eugenio Suarez has played in 412 games for the Reds, hitting .260/.336/.438 (104 OPS+) with 60 homers and 200 RBI. He makes his debut on the all-time Reds list this year, starting at #180.