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What if Jose Peraza doesn’t get better?

He’s kind of an indispensable part of this here rebuild, isn’t he?

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MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Reds have had a Plan for a good long while now. They started selling off major pieces before the 2015 season, if you can remember back that far. They have turned over pretty much the entire roster. Of the 45 different fellas to suit up for the Reds during the 2014 season, only seven remain with the organization. That’s pretty much what “rebuild” means, you know.

C Trent wrote up a really good piece today about the strong correlation between having a strong farm system and becoming a winning team. I can’t believe there is a breathing soul out there who would question that, but here we are. You see, good, young talent often turns into good, accomplished talent. At least, that’s the hope, anyway.

Of course, it isn’t always a straight line. The Plan might be to turn everything on in 2018, but that rests on the hope that everyone is developing as hoped. Not every good prospect turns into an All-Star. We know that, and obviously teams know that.

They have liked Jose Peraza for a long time. They tried to get him from the Dodgers in the Aroldis Chapman trade that fell through when his domestic violence issues came to light. When that happened, they fashioned a deal with the White Sox to send Todd Frazier to Chicago, some other players to LA, and Peraza to Cincinnati. He was part of the Plan even before he was part of the Reds.

But I’m afraid he might be a weak link in this Plan. This season has developed into a kind of worst-case scenario for Peraza. In 369 PAs so far, he is slashing a paltry .246/.272/.319. In this current Juiced Ball Era, that’s good for a terrible 50 wRC+. He has played mostly at 2B, but the Plan all along has been for him to move to SS once Zack Cozart moved along. Whether that is this week or this winter, I’m not sure it really matters.

Peraza is very similar to Billy Hamilton in playing style. They are both small-ish kinda guys with amazing speed. Neither is developing as any of us had hoped (Hamilton has been nearly as bad at the plate as Peraza), but for one key difference: Hamilton plays elite defense and Peraza does not.

See, in order for a hitter like this to stick in the majors, he has to provide value in other ways. Usually, guys who are this bad at the plate are able to throw 92+ mph with serviceable secondary offerings. Billy is an awful hitter (71 wRC+ in nearly 2000 PAs), but his gold glove in CF and his game-changing base-running ability have kept him justifiably in the lineup. He’s not the superstar I thought he could be, but he’s fine.

I’m worried though that Peraza won’t be able to make up for his poor hitting. Now, I don’t think he will be a 50 wRC+ hitter forever, but even if he dramatically improves that up to Billy levels, it is still going to be hard to justify his place in the lineup. His defense just isn’t all that great. He has provided just around league-average value with his glove through his first full-season’s worth of playing time. That’s fine if your bat is about average too, but his bat is pretty far from average, I’m afraid.

I think the Reds have basically three options here, so let’s roll through them.

  1. Ride n’ Die with Peraza
  2. Hope someone else can cover shortstop well enough
  3. Find a shortstop outside the organization

I’m increasingly worried that option #1 is untenable, which is kinda the whole point here. As for #2, there aren’t many obvious options. They have Alex Blandino and Zach Vincej in Louisville right now, but Blandino hasn’t played SS regularly since A ball. Most folks think he can’t really handle the position defensively. Vincej is said to have a nice glove at SS, but he has never hit. I wouldn’t bank on him being appreciably better than Peraza.

They could move Eugenio Suarez back to SS. He availed himself quite nicely there in 2015 when Zack Cozart lost most of the year with a knee injury. But Suarez has worked very hard to fashion himself into a strong defender at 3B, and moving him back again would certainly be stressful. It would also create a hole at 3B. Nick Senzel is tearin’ ass right now, but he’s only just made it to AA. It would probably be a bad idea to rush him to the bigs. They could move Adam Duvall in from LF and open the spot for Jesse Winker, but that would downgrade the team defense at three different positions. And for an organization that has talked up positional versatility of late, they haven’t shown much of a stomach for this kind of dramatic experimentation.

#3 gets us back to Zack Cozart. He is a free agent at the end of the season, so maybe the Reds could persuade him to stick around. As I wrote last week, I don’t see many reasonable landing spots for him, so who knows what’ll happen. His great hitting this year will presumably make him more money on the market though, so I don’t think the Reds would be well-served to spend much on an aging middle infielder, no matter how donkalicious he is. Aside from him, there aren’t any attractive free agent shortstops gonna be out there.

If Charlie Scrabbles was in charge of the Reds (soon, baby) what I would do is go with option #1. Stick it out with Peraza and hope he hits well enough to not be a drag on the lineup. If he is, and if the team really is competing next year as is the Plan, then you can always see what’s on the trade market, if an upgrade is needed. Unfortunately, the Plan all along was for Peraza to be good. There isn’t really a good Plan B built in here, it seems.