The Cincinnati Reds non-tendered Billy Hamilton after the 2018 season, and that’s just about the last ‘official’ transaction they’ve made involving center field. They picked up Yasiel Puig in the blockbuster deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but while he’s played there a tad in his career, he’s a career right fielder in his walk year. Similarly, Scott Schebler has played some center in his time, but the other former Dodger still profiles best as a corner guy.
The Reds didn’t sign Adam Jones, didn’t trade for Ender Inciarte, and didn’t sign free agent A.J. Pollock, either. In essence, they opened up one of the most crucial roster spots around for a guy who has never once played there in a professional game, in part because they’re pretty damn convinced he’ll be able to cut it there, at least for 2019. And as the Reds get set to play their third Cactus League game of the season today, we’ll finally get to see that plan begin to sort itself out.
Yes, Nick Senzel is in the Reds lineup in center field today, the team announced. Hoooo boy, does the top of that lineup look glorious.
Mark Sheldon of MLB.com spoke with Senzel about his pending debut, and has notes on Vlad Gutierrez’s solid inning yesterday as well as some injury updates on Curt Casali and Robert Stephenson.
True to form, the baseball gods are doing their best to make sure Senzel’s debut in center today isn’t the only piece of intrigue. The Seattle Mariners are providing a bit of that, too, as Yusei Kikuchi will make his debut for them against the Reds as well. Not only that, but they’re countering Senzel with a former Reds prospect as their own leadoff hitter, as Shed Long will top their batting order while also playing a new position - third base.
Long, of course, was the primary piece the Reds traded in their acquisition of pitcher Sonny Gray from the New York Yankees, who later shipped the 2013 12th round pick to Seattle for outfielder Josh Stowers. Gray was set to debut for the Reds in their spring training opener on Saturday before being scratched with elbow stiffness, however, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon relayed over the weekend. While anything arm-related with a pitcher is always a nerve-wracking, paper-tossing set of news, the hope is certainly that Gray’s issues are only minor, something that got a bit of endorsement earlier today when it was revealed that Gray played catch yesterday, per The Enquirer’s John Fay. Hopefully, he’ll be back on the mound soon, as that will obviously impact whether he’s ready to go come Opening Day.
In other news, the Yankees signed outfielder Aaron Hicks to a massive 7 year, $70 million extension earlier today, locking up their likely everyday center fielder well into his 30’s. While that isn’t exactly Reds-related on the surface, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman did make quite the interesting note about the future of the center field market after this season, since Hicks was slated to be the highest profile free agent after the 2019 season. With him now off the table and the Pittsburgh Pirates likely to pick up Starling Marte’s option, that leaves the likes of Juan Lagares as the top option at that position heading into the offseason. Considering the Reds didn’t go big on outside help there this winter, it certainly helps highlight exactly why they were so unwilling to include Senzel or Taylor Trammell in deals this winter, as it seems they think both will be able to help cover center for the foreseeable future.
Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan is no longer over at FanGraphs. He’s headed to the Tampa Bay Rays in some capacity, which is simultaneously great for him, great for the Rays, and terrible for FanGraphs. Jeff has long been one of the single best voices on the baseball internet, combining a superb writing style and a great talent for investigating the intricacies of baseball statistics, and it’s sad that we won’t be able to read him anymore.
Finally, The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans took a closer look at the projected bench for the Reds after the signing of infielder Jose Iglesias. It’s quite the talented group compared to recent bench vintages, and that’s a testament both to the Reds aggressiveness in acquisitions this winter and at least a bit to the odd void that is the current free agent climate. That the Reds were able to land both Derek Dietrich and Iglesias on minor league deals has augmented the heck out of their overall depth - they don’t yet need 40 man roster spots, so no fringe roster players have yet been waived to accommodate them - and that has set the stage for quite the battle for spots given manager David Bell’s insistence on carrying 13 pitchers. How healthy Alex Blandino is during spring camp will certainly impact these decisions, too, and it’s absolutely one of the more intriguing things to watch in what’s shaping up to be a very, very intriguing few weeks in Goodyear.