Aug. 28, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Cincinnati Reds outfielder Chris Heisey against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Heisey: Cincinnati Reds Outfielder Unfavored by the Baseball Gods?

Chris Heisey must be wondering what the Baseball Gods have against him. The Cincinnati Reds’ outfielder simply can’t catch a break. The recent re-signing of left fielder Ryan Ludwick coupled with the acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo places the 28-year old in the familiar position of being the odd man out.

He has been battling for the left field spot since being called up to the big leagues in 2010. He was in a platoon situation with Jonny Gomes then and lost out as Gomes knocked in nearly 90 runs that season.

The next season he had to share playing time with Gomes, Fred Lewis and Jeremy Hermida.  Manager Dusty Baker couldn’t decide who to give the job to, so he kept the veteran Gomes in the lineup more than he should. Baker has a propensity to favor veterans over younger players.

Heisey’s splits were telling the world that he was the reincarnation of Jerry Lynch, that he could pinch-hit much better than he could be a position player. Lynch played in the sixties and couldn’t break into the starting outfield which included Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Gus Bell. He became notorious as one of the best pinch-hitters of all time.

As a pinch-hitter in 2010, Heisey hit four HR in only 23 AB and crafted a slash line of .348/.448/.957. The following year he left the yard 18 times showing the power that the Reds hoped he would generate, being the Reds’ 2009 MILB player of the year.

In 2012 his slash line increased but his power output dropped to an alarming level. For a man who had hit three homers in one game in 2010, he only hit seven for the entire 2012 campaign.

At the beginning of last season Heisey was in a platoon with Ludwick and they both faltered through the first couple of months. Ludwick found his stroke and Heisey was soon relegated to being a reserve for all three outfielders. His saving grace at that point was the fact that he could indeed play all three positions efficiently. Sabrmetrics may not substantiate that he is a real good defensive player, but highlights show what he can do.

As centerfielder Drew Stubbs‘ career continued on a downhill spiral, Heisey found himself spelling Stubbs more often. As the season drew to a close, fans were wondering if perhaps Heisey should not have a crack at the middle position himself.

During this offseason, Ludwick turned down his option to rejoin the Reds for $5 million and thus began dangling his feet in the free agent pool. Just when it looked like the Reds were going to lose him, GM Walt Jocketty and Ludwick came to terms on a two-year deal with a mutual option for the third.

Just like that Heisey’s shot at left field was now only the residue of a pipe dream. With the Reds’ missing opportunities to obtain a center fielder who could bat leadoff, it suddenly seemed a possibility that Stubbs may end up being a substitute for Heisey.

Jocketty worked with the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks to sculpt a three-team deal that would send Stubbs to Cleveland for right fielder Choo, along with utility infielder Jason Donald. The Reds did have to give up one of their best prospects in Didi Gregorius. It seemed a little harsh at first, but shortstop Zack Cozart had effectively blocked the career at Cincinnati of Gregorius.

That brings us to the current state of affairs in the Queen City. Choo is expected to bat leadoff and move to center field even though he has only played 10 games there at the MLB level. Though it is true that center field in GABP is a little smaller than most places, he will be playing half his games at other venues.

Perhaps a better move would be to switch Jay Bruce back to CF since that is what he was playing when he was promoted to MLB, being switched to the corner in favor of Ken Griffey, Jr. Both Choo and Bruce have outstanding arms and play a solid right field.

It would appear at this point that the Baseball Gods have just thrown another snare in the path of Heisey. He is expected to be the fourth outfielder, a job he has had now for three consecutive seasons.

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Heisey is still under club control until the 2017 season and the Reds are probably in no hurry to get rid of one of the best pinch-hitters and fourth outfielders in the game. It makes you think that deep down, Heisey would welcome a trade to a team that needs a third outfielder.

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  • beeker

    Few jobs are as frustrating and thankless as that of the “indispensable backup”.

    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      beeker –

      That is so true. If you are a true competitor, and Heisey is, it is difficult to sit and watch. As I mentioned in the article Lynch played very sparingly and yet seemed to always come through in the ‘pinch’. Smokey Burgess too.

      Thanks for your comments my friend.

  • Tyler Duma

    Hey Cliff, nice work. It seems like Heisey is being relegated to a full-time bench bat role with the Reds. He fills that role very well but I do feel for him because he’s never really gotten a fair shake in the outfield.

    Could have something to do with his splits against lefties?

    • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

      Hey Tyler,
      Thanks for the read and the comments my good friend.

      Yeah you have to feel for a guy like that. Yeah for whatever reason he goes against the grain and has a tough time with southpaws. Do you think he will still be the first reserve called for outfield duty?

  • metalhead65

    until they give him the same opportunity they gave gomes who pretty much sucked after the second half of 2010 then I say you can’t judge him not to be a everyday player. his platooning according to dusty after they got rid of gomes was 5 days lewis 1 day Heisey and when they finally gave him his shot after demoting lewis so dusty could not play him everyday he got hurt. but no matter what except for injury stubbs had to be in the lineup when it was obvious he could not hit anybody! how is Heisey suppose to be able to hit lefties if he is not allowed to play regularly? the man hit 3 homers in a game and dusty sat him the next day!