There is something about human nature that sees us latch on to the wonder of what if. It’s as if getting only a glimpse, only a taste of what something could be sears such an open-ended memory in our minds that those often end up filed on top of those that we manage to slow-cook for years in our heads.
In sports, that’s especially true. Players who show up only for short spurts, perform well, and hit the trail before we get to know their foibles often end up on the top of the heap, as we never had the chance to see them age, or diminish.
Often, those kinds of players end up as the perfect examples of right place, right time, as they’re often imported in specifically to augment a team that’s on the cusp of trying to win. As you recent Reds fans know, no team that’s rebuilding and bound for nowhere is really going to swing big for short-term pieces, but good teams almost always do.
That latter position is precisely where the Reds were entering 2020, should we ever get to see it play out, and have a pair of players that could fit that bill. Trevor Bauer obviously already got his feet wet with the club in 2019, but the blockbuster that brought him to Cincinnati was particularly tailored for a 2020 run, one that could see him go down in club lore if he recaptures his 2018 form.
We’ll get to pitchers that have filled that role in club history at a later date, but today has me thinking more about how Nick Castellanos could end up one of the bats that’s performed huge in a short Reds spurt. We’ve broken down the intricacies of his contract already - one that includes an opt-out clause after both 2020 and 2021, meaning his stint with the Reds could well end up a short one. If so, and if he does anything once the 2020 gets started akin to his short-stint with Chicago last year, it would be the kind of bottled lightning we’ll talk about for years...
...much like the players listed similarly below.
Shin-Soo Choo (2013)
Acquired from Cleveland in the 3-team deal that saw both Drew Stubbs (CLE) and Didi Gregorius (ARI) leave Cincinnati, Choo was always going to be a short-term band-aid for the Reds. He’d had a very solid career that had still largely flown under the radar prior to the swap, but was entering his age-30 season with only one year left before hitting free agency.
The 2013 Reds were, of course, trying to pick up where their brilliant 2012 campaign fell short, and adding Choo atop the lineup - even if he was being asked to play CF for the first time - looked like the offensive boost they needed.
Was it ever.
Choo became an offensive maestro in his lone season with the Reds, logging a career-best 712 PA and getting on-base at a brilliant .424 clip, aided in part by an odd one-year penchant for getting hit by pitches (an MLB-high 26 times). He added 21 dingers and a groovy 112 walks, to boot, and his 6.6 oWAR ranked as the 7th best in all MLB that year.
The Reds extended a Qualifying Offer to Choo after the year, which he wisely declined. He later signed the 7 year, $130 million deal he is now finishing up with the Texas Rangers, but his departure netted the Reds a compensation pick at the back end of the 1st round of the 2014 Draft, one they used to land current Red Alex Blandino out of Stanford.
Joe Randa (2005)
After a 5-year run as being pretty much the consumate Kansas City Royals player - low K, low HR, high contact, versatile defense - the Reds signed Randa in December of 2004 to help anchor their hot corner and allow the versatile Ryan Freel get time all over the diamond as a super-utility guy. Randa was 35 and had posted just a 92 OPS+ over his previous 4 seasons combined, but his plus glovework and veteranny veteranness had still propelled him to 8.8 bWAR in that time, or roughly a competent big league regular.
You remember how his Reds career began. Hell, you’ll never forget.
Those 2005 Reds stumbled, of course, with Dave Miley getting canned as manager and GM Dave O’Brien getting his after the season, but that was hardly the fault of Randa. After his Opening Day exploits he kept right on sluggin’, hitting .289/.356/.491 at the time of his July trade to San Diego.
That Travis Chick and Justin Germano - the return from the Padres - never really panned out is pretty much the only thing that keeps us from talking about the Legend of Joe Randa more often, as his quick dip into the shallow end of the Reds pool was otherwise movie-like.
Skip Schumaker (2014-2015)
Skip Schumaker played in 214 games for the Reds across the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and he was awesome. No need to look at the stats for this one, just trust me - he was awesome.
Kevin Mitchell (1993-1994, 1996)
It would seem as if I were cheating here by including a player who spent parts of 3 years with the Reds, but it’s my damn list and it’s going to have Kevin Damn Mitchell on it. Of course, injuries and the awful 1994 strike helped put the kibosh on what was otherwise one of the more legendary Reds stints in history, so there’s at least some tie that binds Batman to this story.
Put it this way - among the litany of Reds who have logged at least 874 PA across the franchise’s illustrious history, not one of them has a higher career OPS in the uniform than Mitchell. Not one.
Injuries thwacked the former NL MVP in 1993, and he played just 93 games - hitting a ridiculous .341/.385/.601 (160 OPS+) in 353 PA. In 1994, he was the battleship in the heart of a lineup poised to make a World Series run when the strike hit, and finished hitting .326/.429/.681 (185 OPS+) in 380 PA, picking up a 9th place finish in the MVP voting at season’s end before again heading into free agency.
He famously went to Japan in that free agent window, however, due to the uncertainty of the 1995 thanks to the strike, and knee issues (along with weight issues) continued to plague him, even after signing with Boston to begin the 1996 season. That Boston club sputtered and opted to flip a banged-up Mitchell back to a Reds club that was just 2.5 games out of 1st at the end of July, and he rewarded them by perking back up - he hit .325/.447/.549 (169 OPS+) for them in the 37 games in which he managed to play.
All told, that’s a .332/.414/.631 (172 OPS+) line for Mitchell in his 874 PA, good for 7.7 bWAR despite defensive metrics that didn’t love him. And for that, he will forever be Batman.