The Los Angeles Dodgers roster makes me shake my head in a disgusted, impressed, jealous sort of way. I mean, just try to talk yourself through most of their everyday lineup, for instance.
Who’s their 1B? Is it Max Muncy, or Cody Bellinger? Or is Bellinger their CF now?
Wait, isn’t Muncy a 2B...or is Enrique Hernandez, who just hit 21 dingers for them in 2018?
Corey Seager is probably their best player, and he didn’t even play for them for most of 2018 while they still made it to their second straight World Series. Justin Turner - former Reds draftee - has carved out an elite-level niche at 3B. Even their outfield is a scattered, covered, smothered delight, with the likes of Bellinger, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Hernandez, Andrew Toles, and top hitting prospect Alex Verdugo all set to get time there in 2019, too.
(That’s before we even get to the swirling Bryce Harper rumors. 100% valid, or not, the fact remains that the Dodgers are one of the few teams who can a) fit his contract demands and b) provide a market to match his star power, and heck, they had the gall to add Manny Machado to that above group for a stretch run in 2018.)
What’s funny is that when you head to the Dodgers 2018 BBRef page, there’s a bit of a surprising face as their fourth most valuable player from last year. He’s ahead of Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, even.
He’s Chris Taylor, who has compiled a brilliant 8.9 bWAR since the start of the 2017 season while playing almost everywhere around the diamond, doing all that damage while a pre-arb player picked up for a song from dealin’ Jerry Dipoto and the Seattle Mariners in mid 2016. And given the star-studded list of players - and versatility - mentioned earlier, he just might be the kind of player who might be available on the trade market this winter, which the Cincinnati Reds will certainly be monitoring.
Of his 332 career games started, 143 have come in the OF, with 79 of those coming in CF. Since the Reds jettisoned Billy Hamilton last week via non-tender, that’s become a much more pertinent aspect of their future roster that needs addressing, but the fact remains that the Reds likely needed to pursue an OF addition even if they’d opted to keep Hamilton around. The 2018 Reds got 575 PA out of Adam Duvall, Mason Williams, Rosell Herrera, Preston Tucker, and Gabby Guerrero, for instance, and none of those OF options are around anymore. Add-in Hamilton’s 556 PA and there’s a 1131 PA void, and we haven’t even mentioned the 221 combined PA from Brandon Dixon and Dilson Herrera - utility men in 2018 that each saw time in the OF - or even the 247 PA from Phil Ervin that, in theory, would be lovely to upgrade from as 4th OF production going forward.
There is obviously the hope that in-house options from the Reds will help pick up those departed PAs. Jesse Winker and Scott Schebler, in particular, stand to benefit the most from those openings, though both have fought through various injuries over the last few years, ones that in 2018 did much to create the opportunities for the above group in the first place. Beyond them, top prospect Nick Senzel is getting serious on-paper consideration for the opening in CF despite the fact that he’s never played a professional - or college - game there in his career. Ideally, that’s the precise kind of scenario that would make a versatile player that much more desirable, since there are zero concrete, predictable outcomes from the in-house Winker/Schebler/Senzel OF mix - and Taylor, of course, is pretty much the modern definition of versatility.
Drafted by Seattle out of the University of Virginia - as a teammate of former Red Kyle Crockett and former Reds draftee Nick Howard - Taylor was a SS by trade, even getting some time there as a freshman despite the presence of former Red (and eventual big league SS) Phil Gosselin, who primarily manned 2B for the Cavaliers. After being picked by the Mariners in the 5th round of the 2012 MLB Draft, the middle infield is exactly where he stayed, playing exclusively SS/2B until the June 2016 deal that sent him to Los Angeles for Zach Lee, at which point he picked up a handful of starts at 3B in AAA that year. 2017, though, finally saw him get a crack in the big leagues, as he made his MLB season debut on April 19th, manning 2B/3B through his first 30 games before the Dodgers began working him out in the OF for the first time thanks to Turner’s pending return from the DL.
Since that time, he has played almost everywhere, the 99 CF appearances sitting next to 176 at SS, 72 in LF, 45 at 2B, and 19 at 3B. As important to that versatility is the quality of defense he has provided on the whole, as he’s accrued a net 1.7 dWAR in his 2.5 seasons with the Dodgers - FanGraphs’ DRS and UZR/150 aren’t quite as high on his performance with the glove, but he still has managed net positive value overall from them, too. All told, that’s a right-handed hitter who has posted a 116 OPS+ in 1172 PA since the start of the 2017 season who, in theory, you could plug in anywhere on the diamond and feel as confident as having an everyday regular there.
Taylor, while an ideal filler of CF for the 2019 season, would also serve as a wide-ranging contingency plan for the Reds beyond, too. He’s only in his first year of arbitration eligibility for the 2019 season, meaning the Reds would have him for 2019, 2020, and 2021 before he reached free agency. His projected $3.2 million arb-1 salary, if correct, would mean the Reds would probably be on the hook for a grand total of some $17 million total for those three years, assuming he continues to play at this pace. That cost-conscious versatility would allow them to explore endless different scenarios with the rest of their roster depending on how the 2019 season plays out, as well.
Scooter Gennett, of course, is set to be a free agent after the 2019 season, meaning there could be an opening at 2B as early as 2020. Having Taylor around would allow the Reds to test Senzel in the OF in 2019, and if that didn’t work, 2B would be his without creating an OF void. Or, if Senzel took to CF incredibly well, Taylor is a viable option for 2B going forward. If Winker or Schebler continue to fight injuries, both Taylor and Senzel should be around to fill OF spots while Taylor Trammell marinates in AA-AAA, and...well, you get the picture.
It’s worth a mention that the Reds and Dodgers have matched up on a metric ton of deals in recent years, too. Schebler, along with Dixon and Jose Peraza, all came to the Reds from the Dodgers in the Todd Frazier deal, while the two clubs have also swapped Tony Cingrani for Hendrik Clementina, Dylan Floro for James Marinan, and Ariel Hernandez for Ibandel Isabel in just the last two seasons. Acquring three years of Taylor would be a much, much bigger prospect cost than those three most recent deals, obviously, but it’s safe to say these two front offices have a pretty decent working relationship at this time.
The Reds could simply roll with Senzel and Schebler, with Jose Siri as potential cover if need be, taking the inexperienced and unknown route in CF. They could dip into the free agent market, with injury-prone A.J. Pollock reportedly seeking an $80 million deal akin to the one signed by CF Lorenzo Cain just last year. The trade route, though, might be their best way to not blow a budget largely reserved for buying pitching, and Taylor just might be the best fit for 2019’s roster and the various scenarios beyond just next year, while also perhaps being the most readily available given his current team’s roster glut.