Cincinnati Reds: Where does Jesse Winker fit in next year’s lineup?

CINCINNATI, OH - APRIL 23: Jesse Winker #33 of the Cincinnati Reds singles to drive in the go ahead run in the sixth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park on April 23, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 10-4. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - APRIL 23: Jesse Winker #33 of the Cincinnati Reds singles to drive in the go ahead run in the sixth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park on April 23, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 10-4. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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With the addition of outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, what are the Cincinnati Reds plans with right fielder Jesse Winker heading into the 2019 season?

Last week, the Cincinnati Reds traded for Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, along with left-handed pitcher Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer. Puig and Kemp typically man the corner outfield spots, which just so happens to be the same position Jesse Winker plays. Where does last year’s rookie fit in heading into 2019?

Before the season ended, the plan for 2019 was for Jesse Winker to become the permanent right fielder and Scott Schebler would take over duties in left field on a consistent basis. In fact, as last season came to a close, Schebler found himself routinely starting in lefty field as preparation for what was to come in 2019.

Plans change, however, and the Cincinnati Reds now have a boatload of corner outfielders and no ‘true’ centerfielder on the team heading into next season. Puig’s position of preference is obviously right field and it’s hard to see the Reds steering away from that. He’s spent some time in center field, but that was over two years ago and on a very limited basis.

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Schebler has some experience in center field as well. While he only played 16 games at that spot last season, unless the Reds make a move to address the center field position between now and Opening Day, he is likely to be the team’s starting centerfielder by default. There is also the possibility that Nick Senzel snags that spot, but I’d lean toward Schebler for now.

So, if Yasiel Puig is your starting right fielder and Scott Schebler is now manning centerfield, who takes over in left field? Well, the Cincinnati Reds did make the trade for Matt Kemp and he’s pulling down over $20M next season, but if all the players currently on the roster are with the team on Opening Day, I tend to think the nod will go to Jesse Winker.

Personally, I see the Reds making a trade between now and the start of the season and including either Schebler or Winker in that deal. While moving Kemp and his $21.75M salary would appear much more pleasing to the Reds’ payroll, you’d have to assume that in moving Kemp the Reds would be giving up some major prospects as well, regardless of who they’d get in return.

However, for the time being, let’s concede that all four outfielders are on the Cincinnati Reds roster when the team takes the field at Great American Ball Park on March 28th against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’d expect Jesse Winker to draw the start over Matt Kemp on most nights, with Kemp getting a spot start for Puig or Winker, or coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter.

Yes, $21M is a lot to pay for a fourth outfielder, but it was a lot to pay for a starting pitcher who won just one game last season. I think we all know who that was. Kemp had a solid season in 2018, even making the All-Star Game, but Winker is a big part of the future (maybe) for the Cincinnati Reds.

Before his injury in July, Winker had an on-base percentage of .400 with 7 home runs and 43 RBIs. Winker was part of a four-man outfield rotation with Billy Hamilton, Adam Duvall, and Schebler. Once he started to receive more consistent time in the lineup, his bat began to shine. Yes, defensively, he may be a bit of liability, but if you’re the Reds, you have to have his bat in the lineup on a regular basis.

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Who knows what lies ahead for this team as we head into 2019. A lot of speculation about the how the outfield will be constructed has already been tossed about, but if the team sticks with the outfield it currently has, they have options. As far as Winker goes, if he’s healthy, he should be in the starting lineup almost every night.