Cincinnati Reds: Exploring the options for center field in 2019

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 14: Ian Happ #8 of the Chicago Cubs hits a three-run home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the seventh inning on September 14, 2018 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 14: Ian Happ #8 of the Chicago Cubs hits a three-run home run against the Cincinnati Reds during the seventh inning on September 14, 2018 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

After non-tendering Billy Hamilton for the 2019 season, who will the Cincinnati Reds look to acquire to man center this coming season? Will it be a free agent on the market or a trade candidate for a team looking to acquire prospect talent?

The 2019 season left a lot to be desired for Billy Hamilton, which is most likely why he was non-tendered by the Cincinnati Reds for the coming season and allowed to walk in free agency.  The Kansas City Royals picked him up quickly to man their large center field on a team-friendly deal. Who might be roaming center field for the Reds in 2019?

Billy Hamilton was a fan favorite in Cincinnati and had many memorable moments as a Red, but unfortunately, flare and speed don’t win you ballgames. Today’s game is about more than just defense; you must be able to get on base.

When you break down the analytics of Hamilton’s tenure in the Queen City (0.3 WAR .236 BA 68 OPS+ in 2018), you come to realize that while he had these highlight moments, he couldn’t hit Major League pitching with any consistency and he left many fans shaking their heads in key situations.

More. What can the Reds expect from Tanner Roark?

Fear not though, the Reds have options for 2019, whether it be through free agency, via trade or someone already on the Reds 40-man roster. The real question is, does the cost outweigh the production if the team pursues a free agent? Will the asking price be too high in a trade?

Here are the candidates Cincinnati could pursue to replace Billy in center this coming year (keep in mind the Reds had Shin Soo Choo play center in 2013, so not all these players are prototypical center fielders):

Free Agents:

The best way to break these guys down is to rank them into tiers based off expected earnings for 2019, as well as, rate them in terms of how I believe they would perform offensively and defensively in GABP (using a 1-10 score for offense, defense, and value – combined score up to 30).

Tier 1:

  • AJ Pollack – Top center field free agent on the market, has had injury concerns throughout his career despite posting solid numbers when healthy. It has been reported that he is looking for a four-year contract, which would coincide with the Reds plans for prospects like Jose Siri and Taylor Trammell.  Offense – 8 Defense – 7 Value – 4 Total – 19

Tier 2:

  • Nick Markakis – Posted great numbers for Atlanta last season at the age of 34. He would be someone to buy low on, but, you would be risking defensive vulnerability should he play center. Markakis has been the definition of consistency throughout his career as an Oriole and Brave. Offense – 8 Defense – 4 Value – 7 Total – 19
  • Avisail Garcia – Another buy low candidate who had a down year for the Chicago White Sox last season and was non-tendered.  Many people forget he is only one season removed from an All-Star year in which he hit .330 with a 138 OPS+. Garcia is a great candidate for a bounce back season and somebody the Reds should kick the tires on before another team recognizes his potential value. Offense – 6 Defense – 5 Value – 7 Total – 18
  • Denard Span – The 34-year-old posted solid numbers (1.9 WAR 112 OPS+ .261 BA) last season with Seattle and Tampa Bay. Even though he might be a defensive liability, he brings a skillset the Cincinnati Reds need in a top of the order table-setter. GABP could also be a good fit for him as he would have much less ground to cover in such a hitter-friendly park. Offense – 7 Defense – 4 Value – 7 Total – 18
  • Adam Jones – The long-tenured Oriole has been set free to fly to (slightly) greener pastures. While his best playing days are behind him, there is still value in what he brings to the table. His overall WAR of 0.3 might leave fans wondering why a player with a similar score to Hamilton would even be mentioned considering my harsh criticism. His -2.3 dWAR analytically destroyed the good offensive season he put up with minimal talent around him. Offense – 8 Defense – 4 Value – 7 Total – 19

Tier 3:

  • Cameron Maybin – Maybin is probably the cheapest option Cincinnati could pursue, but, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t contribute as a role player on a team-friendly deal. A couple good seasons mask an otherwise lackluster career in which he has played inconsistently due to injury. The talent is there, it just has been a matter of consistently showing it on the field. Offense – 4 Defense – 5 Value – 5 Total – 14

Free Agency verdict: If the Cincinnati Reds choose to add a center fielder through free agency, it’s unlikely they will pay up for A.J.Pollack. His desired contract and injury history will scare some teams away and may even drive his asking price down as the offseason steams ahead.

In the second tier of free agents, my two favorites are Adam Jones and Avisail Garcia. They provide tremendous upside as players who will most likely be receiving one or two-year deals. It remains to be seen if either of these players will be on the Reds radar, but, Jones absolutely should be.

Jones has played center his whole career, provides offensive upside, and fortunately for him, GABP would help hide his nosediving defensive ability as he ages. Nothing about Maybin excites me and I would hate to see the team waste money on a bench option like him when there are other players in the organization who could contribute at a higher level.

Trade Options:

Same rating scale as Free Agents. Value equating to what kind of offer it would take to make a deal (1 = top prospect, 10 = bucket of baseballs).

  • Joc Pederson – The young Dodger is in a crowded outfield in LA (Matt KempCody BellingerKike Hernandez, and Yasiel Puig) and would provide serious pop to the lineup (25 HR in 2018 in fewer than 400 AB’s and 125 OPS+). The only concern would be asking price, considering the Reds deal for Puig and Wood never materialized. Offense – 8 Defense – 6 Value – 4 Total – 18
  • Ender Inciarte – Inciarte has made a career out of hitting for a high average and playing elite defense. While the defense would be a welcome addition to the Reds outfield, his hitting might be what brings him to the Queen City. His 91 OPS+ in 2018 is nothing spectacular, however his ability to get on base at the top of the order, albeit, hitting singles, would at least give serious RBI opportunities for Joey Votto and company. Offense – 7 Defense – 9 Value – 3 Total – 19
  • Jackie Bradley Jr. – The world champion centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox is reportedly on the market. The 2016 All-Star regressed the last two seasons but, still posted respectable numbers in 2018 (a not so pretty .234 BA while still managing a 92 OPS+ and 2.1 WAR). Offense – 6 Defense – 6 Value – 6 Total – 18
  • Ian Happ – This one will surprise many and confuse most. Considering he plays for the division rival Chicago Cubs, this might be a head scratcher. Now let me show you why trading for Ian Happ makes sense. First, in 2017 and 2018, Happ hit .405 in GABP and tore the Reds apart. Second, he plays second base, third base and all outfield positions and would be the perfect super utility player the Cincinnati Reds are lacking. The Cubs just signed Daniel Descalso and are said to be making a run at Bryce Harper which would leave Happ as nothing more than a bench bat. Finally, his roots at the University of Cincinnati would help reacquaint him with the city as well. Can Cincinnati make an offer the Cubs couldn’t refuse given their weak farm system? This one might be a long shot but a player like Happ would give power and versatility to a lineup in need of a centerfielder. Offense – 7 Defense – 5 Value – 5 Total – 17

Trade Options Verdict: Joc would be a great addition and wouldn’t take more than a couple mid-tier prospects (maybe Jeter Downs and Vladimir Gutierrez). Inciarte would fit nicely, but, the asking price on him will be higher given the Braves don’t need to move him.

JBJ could be had for the least of all options since their desire to clear his salary is high, however, I would only give up a single prospect for him considering the Reds longer term plans in the outfield.

Happ could be an intriguing option if the Reds were to ask what the Cubs would need in return for him. He’s a Reds killer and having him on the right side of those games would be nice.

Next. Jose Siri is tearing it up in the Dominican Winter League

We just gave you a lot of options for who the Reds could pursue as their center fielder for the 2019 season. Who do you think will man center for Cincinnati in the coming season?