Rarely does a team find the proverbial “missing piece to the puzzle” in a single trade. The Reds, however, may have done just that by acquiring Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald for Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorius. Before going into detail about the trade, it should be noted that the Reds had three clear objectives coming into the offseason.
-Find a closer to finally give Aroldis Chapman a shot at being a starter
-Find a power bat in left field to hit behind Joey Votto
-Find a leadoff hitter, preferably left-handed, who gets on base at an impressive rate
Within the span of two weeks, the Reds managed to accomplish all three. Jonathan Broxton has had success in his career as a closer and performed well in a short stint with the Reds last season. Ryan Ludwick was a huge reason why the Reds stayed afloat when Joey Votto went down with his knee injury last season, and Shin-Soo Choo is both left-handed and has spent time in the leadoff role.
As far as the trade is concerned, was it worth it for the Reds? There are certainly some concerns that arise any time a small market club, such as the Reds, trades away nine years of team-controlled players for just a one-year rental. Another concern might be Choo’s ability to defend in center field, a position he hasn’t played since 2009. Even with those concerns in mind, this trade has to be viewed as a big success for the Reds.
From the rental standpoint, Choo provides the perfect fill-in center fielder for the 2013 season while Billy Hamilton continues to grow and mature in the minor leagues. Some other center field candidates that have been linked to the Reds, such as Denard Spann and Dexter Fowler, are team controlled for multiple years, making for a tough situation once Hamilton becomes ready to handle the center field role for the big league club.
Also, according to Walt Jocketty, trading for a player with multiple years of control would cost more in terms of prospects. By getting a one year guy in Choo, the Reds are able to hold onto both Homer Bailey and Mike Leake as well has highly touted prospects Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino. The Reds were fortunate with the lack of injury to the team’s starting pitching a year ago, but having pitching depth can’t be understated in the grind of today’s MLB schedule.
Whether or not Choo can be an effective center fielder is a valid question, but one must consider if the difference between Stubbs and Choo from an on-base percentage standpoint is enough to offset the difference in the field. Just one season ago, Stubbs had a slash line of .213/.277/.333, while Choo had a slash line of .283/.373/.441. Is the defensive disparity a worthwhile tradeoff?
The Reds had the worst leadoff batter on-base percentage in the MLB last year at .254. There’s no question that plugging in Choo at the top of the lineup will only increase opportunities with men on base for Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick, and Jay Bruce. Plus, if Choo proves he can’t play center field, Bruce could always shift to center, allowing Choo to play in his natural right field position.
Didi Gregorius, the other Reds casualty of this trade, has had a meteoric rise in terms of prospect rankings over the last year. His glove is certainly major league ready; in fact, many believe he has the skillset to become a superstar defensively at the shortstop position. This could be why Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers views Gregorius as a “young Derek Jeter.” Yet there are some concerns about whether his bat can be consistent enough at the Major League Level. At AAA Louisville last year, Gregorius hit .243/.288/.427, something he’ll need to improve upon to be an effective all-around player.
With Zack Cozart under control by the Reds for the next five years, Gregorius was essentially blocked, barring injury. There’s no reason to keep someone with significant value in a strictly backup role. The Reds organization placed a vote of confidence in Cozart’s ability to be the shortstop of the future, much like they did a year ago with Devin Mesoraco by shipping Yasmani Grandal off to the Padres in the Mat Latos trade. Cozart has had his own share of struggles at the plate, but he was also nominated as a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award in 2012, showing that he can still impress on the defensive side.
Also, because Scott Boras is Choo’s agent, it is almost certain that he will be seeking a huge deal for the outfielder on the open market after the upcoming season. The Reds can choose to give Choo a qualifying offer, and if he declines, the Reds will receive draft pick compensation. When examining the trade in this light, it becomes much more palatable to lose an upper echelon prospect like Didi Gregorius for a high pick in next year’s draft.
All things considered, this is a trade that was too good for Walt Jocketty and the Cincinnati Reds to pass up for the 2013 season. Reds fans should be thrilled that for two consecutive offseasons, Jocketty has been able to parlay expendable talent into difference-making acquisitions.
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