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Finding the Cincinnati Reds a backup shortstop

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The 25th man on the 25th (or so) best roster in baseball.

Baltimore Orioles v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The most boring offseason in recent MLB history has reached the nadir of its boritude, the holiday season inducing an even deeper slumber than that seen during the Winter Meetings. Despite the gargantuan money-schlubbing from the Miami Marlins, the rest of baseball hasn’t exactly crowded around the Hot Stove, and rumors of interest now seem as sparse as the interest in even the most coveted free agents on the market.

Even then, news from most every team in the game has been coming in more rapid than that of the Cincinnati Reds, who just might be the most boring team in that already boring world at the moment. No trades, no free agent signings, no pitchers to augment the worst staff of the 2017 season, no minor league deals, and only the ceremonial waving goodbye to Zack Cozart as a bit of transactional news. So, at the moment, the juiciest bit of gristle we have to chew on is that the Reds are in the market for a backup shortstop for the 2018 season.

You know the drill by now. Even with Cozart in the fold for the last half-dozen seasons, the Reds have still found ways to carry a slappy, glove-y infielder who can cover short on off-days and in an injury pickle, and that sure seems like their M.O. again for 2018 as Jose Peraza attempts to fill the starter’s role. The likes of Wilson Valdez, Kris Negron, Cesar Izturis, Ramon Santiago, and Ivan De Jesus, Jr. have played the part in recent years, with only the emergence of Eugenio Suarez during the 2015 season an example of a shortstop contingency plan actually capable of hitting themselves out of a wet paper bag. The troubling bit about the new need for a bench-bat who can cover short is one similar to those found in previous years, however: none of the guys on the market at the moment seem to have a glimmer of upside or potency.

A quick glance and scroll-down at MLB Trade Rumors’ clearinghouse list of current free agents presents a laundry list of .600 OPS’s, post-prime 35 year olds, and whatever a “Dusty Coleman” is. Erick Aybar’s 0.2 bWAR in 2017 looks rosy compared to the 0.0 mark posted by Alcides Escobar, while the combined -2.5 bWAR from Alexi Amarista, Jose, Reyes, and J.J. Hardy makes you wonder if any of the three will even get big league playing time at all in 2018. In fact, it’s enough to make a “Dusty Coleman” sounds borderline intriguing, his career .250 OBP in 71 career at-bats included.

If anything, it’s enough to make you wonder if the Reds shouldn’t look internally for a better, more promising option, though therein lies their initial problem. With Dilson Herrera coming off shoulder issues, out of options, and much better suited at 2B or 3B, the Reds are already staring at one of their 25-man roster spots being dedicated to a backup infielder who cannot cover short. Scooter Gennett, the presumptive starting 2B, is barely glovey enough to stick at that position, and won’t be playing shortstop at all unless the plagues of the apocalypse descend upon us - at which point we’ve all got much larger problems. Zach Vincej is no longer around despite seemingly being exactly the prototype for this particular role, as he was claimed by (and retained by) the Seattle Mariners after the season. And Suarez, it appears, will not be sliding over to play short anymore, a topic we looked closer into earlier this month.

That leaves only Nick Senzel and Alex Blandino as potential options, former 1st round draftees coming off solid seasons in 2017 who have also never yet sniffed the big leagues. Senzel, of course, is the future of the franchise, but while he’s played some short in his college career, he’s seen as much more of a reliable defender at 2B or 3B. The same can be said for Blandino despite his more extensive time at short through the minors, and odds are that the Reds would prefer both to be seeing regular PAs in AAA Louisville to begin 2018 rather than be riding the pine behind Jose Peraza, among others.

Thriftiness, the imperfect roster, and the desire to keep the best prospects playing everyday means the Reds will then undoubtedly dip into that thin, matte free agent pool for their guy, which is hardly something worth getting in a tizzy about. It certainly means that Eduardo Nunez is well out of their range. Yet here we are, with tabs open to investigate whether the likes of Hardy or Stephen Drew have anything left to give at age 35, or whether former Reds draftee Adam Rosales can hide his defensive deficiencies well enough by sprinting around the bases after the occasional dinger.

There’s at least one metaphor in the works in all of this, that the most interesting thing about what the Reds are up to is looking for the 25th man on their rebuilding bench. In many ways, the Reds are to Major League Baseball as the backup shortstop is to an active roster these days, the bottom corner blurb on the back page of the paper you don’t subscribe to anymore. It’s a placeholder position that only becomes relevant if something bad gets worse, and a bad team getting worse to get hopefully then get better is exactly what the Reds are in the long process of accomplishing (we hope).

But, if it’s something that still moves your needle enough at this point, it’s going to be J.J. Hardy. I’m just sure of it.