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Cincinnati Reds to non-tender CF Billy Hamilton

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The first surprise of the Hot Stove season!

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Barring a larger surprise, it appears the Billy Hamilton era with the Cincinnati Reds has come to a close. In a bit of a shocker, the club has opted to non-tender the defensive whiz at Friday’s deadline, as The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans broke this afternoon.

Hamilton, 28, was set to enter his final year of team control in 2019 after having made some $4.6 million in his second arbitration year in 2018. Apparently, the potential raise into the $7 million range was more than the Reds were willing to pay for his continued lackluster overall performance, as his production sank to a meager 0.3 bWAR during the 2018 season.

Of course, there’s still a chance Hamilton and the Reds can come to an agreement of some sort on a lesser deal, though that would certainly take some kind of close-knit friendship given this sudden, public parting of ways. Otherwise, Hamilton will become a free agent and able to sign with any other team immediately.

It’s worth noting that the Reds actively tried to trade Hamilton so as to get something of value while moving on. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon confirmed the club shopped him, but simply did not find any willing takers for the speed/defense specialist.

The obvious question now for the Reds is what they’ll do to address their CF void. Scott Schebler has played there some, albeit not in a stellar fashion. Top prospect Nick Senzel began to get limited reps there in instructional league play before needing elbow surgery, but his lack of outfield experience to date makes it somewhat hard to believe he’ll get that opportunity at the big league level immediately. Earlier this week, we looked at Jose Siri’s chances to seize the CF job at some point in the near future, and since he’s actually on the 40-man roster, that’s a distinct possibility down the road. For now, though, Phil Ervin sits atop the depth chart for CF, though it’d be a massive shock if the Reds do not further address CF via trade or free agency this offseason.

If this is truly it for Hamilton and the Reds, it will end one of the more exciting, frustrating, brilliantly futile tenures among players in Cincinnati. His brilliant defense in CF will long be remembered as some of the absolute best to have ever donned the jersey, and his 277 steals rank 8th all time in Reds history. However, his inability to do much of anything while in the batter’s box will also not soon be forgotten, his career 70 OPS+ while spending so much time as the team’s leadoff hitter seared on many Reds fans’ brains.