One of the stars of the Cincinnati Reds during the first half of the 2019, Derek Dietrich deserves a second chance to prove he belongs on next year’s team.
On Friday, Derek Dietrich underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder. The left-handed slugger has struggled mightily since his meteoric rise earlier this spring. While a lot of fans want to see the Cincinnati Reds move on from Dietrich this offseason, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the versatile utility player.
Do you remember Opening Day? It wasn’t that long ago that Derek Dietrich became a hero overnight in the city of Cincinnati. Blasting a three-run homer over the fence in right field and giving the Cincinnati Reds a 5-2 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Dietrich won the hearts of Reds Country in the time it took the ball to leave his bat.
A non-roster invitee to spring training, Dietrich smoked a line drive home run into the bleachers with teammates Tucker Barnhart and José Iglesias aboard. Dietrich excitedly rounded the bases, pumping his fists. He was greeted at the home plate by Barnhart and Iglesias before bumping chests with Yasiel Puig and then acknowledging the sold out crowd with a tip of the cap.
Dietrich then went on a run that we hadn’t seen in sometime. The Cleveland native took Major League Baseball by storm during the month of May. Dietrich clobbered 12 home runs that month and slugged .841 while also collecting 22 RBIs. Only Aristides Aquino‘s historic performance during the month of August bested Dietrich’s efforts during the second month of the season.
Had Dietrich been a full-time player during the month of May, it’s possible he could’ve taken home NL Player of the Month honors. Instead, that recognition went to Josh Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates who slashed .390/.442/.797 with 12 home runs and 31 RBIs.
Now, Dietrich has struggled beyond belief since his three home run performance on May 28th against the Pirates. Since that game, Dietrich has garnered just 31 starts and is hitting just .128 in 133 at-bats. During that time, Dietz has 17 hits, 15 walks, 46 strikeouts and was hit by a pitch 17 times.
Not only are those numbers bad, but the power that Dietrich brought the plate has all but disappeared. He has just two home runs during that time and is slugging just .233. His OPS has fallen to .530 during that time as well. Dietrich has been awful for the past three-plus months.
But, I submit to you that the Cincinnati Reds should not given up on their fallen star. Dietrich exited Tuesday’s game with an injury to his shoulder, the same shoulder that shelved Dietrich earlier in the season when he made a trip to the injured list. Though he may not say it and we may never know for sure, I suspect that Dietrich has been playing hurt for awhile.
If that’s the case, there’s no way that I give up on Derek Dietrich if I’m sitting in Dick Williams chair. Now, with Dietrich entering his third year of arbitration eligibility, after making $2M this past season, he will no doubt be owed a raise. I’m not advocating for that, not at all. If the Reds want Dietrich back and he wants to return, it’d have to be with a contract extension, not arbitration.
What might that look like? Given what we know Dietrich is capable of when healthy, I think a similar contract to what we saw him sign this past offseason would be fair. Though Dietrich may be able to find more money on the open market, a player who ended his 2019 season on the injured list, hitless in last 21 at-bats, might not be very appealing to other clubs.
Dietrich offers versatility. He’s the best substitute for Joey Votto at first base. While Brian O’Grady is another option, the rookie has struggle a lot since he was called up to the big leagues. We’ve seen Josh VanMeter fill in for Votto on occasion as well and the results have not been pretty.
Derek Dietrich can also fill in at second base. With that position being a huge question mark entering the offseason, Dietrich could be a valuable pickup. VanMeter’s performance of late has raised some red flags, José Peraza seemingly has played his way out of Cincinnati, Freddy Galvis has a team option, and Nick Senzel may or may not return to second base in 2020.
Dietrich can also fill in defensively in left field. Talk about a position that has a lot of question marks. Will the Reds address the position in free agency? Can Jesse Winker stay healthy? Is Phillip Ervin able to hit right-handed pitchers? Can VanMeter improve his defense?
Now, I’m not advocating that Derek Dietrich be given a starting job in the Reds lineup, that’d be ludicrous. However, when healthy, there may be no better option for utility player who can hit with power from the left side. Despite the horrendous finish to his 2019 season, Dietrich still had an .829 OPS and an OPS+ of 109 against right-handed pitchers.
I’m not ready to give up on Derek Dietrich just yet. Who else, currently on the Cincinnati Reds roster, is going to provide what Dietrich is capable of bringing to a team? If health was a major factor in his decline, I think the Reds owe Dietrich a second chance.