Cincinnati Reds: Jesse Winker’s long-term future is not at first base

CINCINNATI, OHIO - MAY 02: Jesse Winker #33 of the Cincinnati Reds warms up in the sixth inning. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - MAY 02: Jesse Winker #33 of the Cincinnati Reds warms up in the sixth inning. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

This isn’t a new idea. Several fans and pundits have surmised for a couple years now that Jesse Winker‘s long-term future with the Cincinnati Reds may be as an eventual replacement at first base for former MVP Joey Votto.

On Saturday, it was observed by the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Charlie Goldsmith, that Winker was taking ground balls at first base and working on turning double plays with Reds manager David Bell during pregame warmups. Is this a prelude of things to come?

Might Jesse Winker eventually take over at first base for the Reds?

With Joey Votto out for the next several weeks with a broken thumb, the Reds need someone to take over at first base. During the first couple games of Votto’s absence, unsurprisingly, Bell has turned to Mike Moustakas.

In doing so, Eugenio Suarez was moved back to third base and Kyle Farmer took over at shortstop. During Friday’s game, Nick Senzel manned second base and on Saturday evening, Jonathan India was back at the keystone.

David Bell could also insert Kyle Farmer at first base or even turn to Alex Blandino for a game or two. The one thing we know is that Cincinnati seems content not to look to the free agent market or even dip into their farm system in order to fill in for the former MVP.

The Reds have never really seemed to be interested in finding an eventual successor for Votto. The six-time All-Star is under contract through 2023 and has a team-option for 2024. By all accounts, Votto will be the Reds’ primary first baseman for the next two seasons.

Jesse Winker has never played first base for the Reds.

Do you know how many times Jesse Winker has played first base since he came to the big leagues? None! the 27-year-old never even donned a first baseman’s glove during his entire minor league career. So why should the Cincinnati Reds even consider the idea of eventually moving Winker to first base?

I’m sure most Reds fans will point to Adam Dunn, the former outfielder turned first baseman. Dunn was a spot-starter at first base during his time with the Reds, but started 151 games at the position in 2010 with the Washington Nationals. Dunn finished his career with 491 career starts at first base and 986 in left field.

Given that Cincinnati has a loaded outfield this season and many talented minor league outfielders on the way, if Jesse Winker could make the transition to an everyday first baseman, that would be an ideal scenario for a team that has no first baseman in their farm system ranked among their Top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline. Michael Triana might be their best bet.

The Reds will have access to the universal DH as soon as next season.

Rather than teach Jesse Winker an entirely new position, why not let the slugger do what he does best? The universal DH was Winker’s primary position in 2020, and though it is not part of the equation in 2021, it’s likely to return next season after it’s negotiated into the new collective bargaining agreement.

Winker is not a terrible fielder, but the team has better short-term and long-term options. Shogo Akiyama is better fielder than Jesse Winker, and both are under team control heading into next season. Nick Castellanos has the ability to opt out following the 2021 season, but if he returns, the outfield will basically be set heading into next year’s spring training.

Reds fans can expect an outfield of Akiyama, Castellanos, and Nick Senzel heading into 2022. The Reds do have some talented outfield prospects that will eventually find their way to the big leagues, but Michael Siani and Austin Hendrick are at least two more years away from making their major league debut.

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The idea of shifting to Jesse Winker to first base is intriguing, and one David Bell should explore in the event he needs someone to fill in for an inning or two. But as far as his long-term future is concerned, Winker should remain in the outfield or become the Cincinnati Reds designated hitter.