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Choo helps Reds' offseason wish list
Their offseason wish list — a closer, a left fielder, a center fielder/leadoff man — is virtually complete, and they filled all of those needs without giving up a starting pitcher.
Yes, Shin-Soo Choo has played only 10 career games in center field. Yes, he is under contract for only one more season, and with Scott Boras as his representative, is likely to depart as a free agent.
The Reds needed a leadoff man … and Choo owns a .381 career on-base percentage.
The Reds lost Gregorius, whom Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers compared to a young Derek Jeter … but truth be told, many Reds officials like their incumbent, Zack Cozart, better.
Heck, the Reds even got the Indians to kick in approximately $3.5 million to account for the salary differences in their end of the three-team trade — Gregorius and center fielder Drew Stubbs for Choo and backup infielder Jason Donald.
Oh, and by the way, the Reds are developing a ready-made replacement for Choo in 2014 — the one and only Billy Hamilton, who stole 155 bases in the minors last season.
Hamilton, 22, could even be ready by the second half, giving the Reds a chance to roll out a ridiculously good defensive outfield — Hamilton in center, Choo in left and Bruce in right.
That isn’t the plan, of course, not with left fielder Ryan Ludwick recently signing a two-year, $15 million contract, and with Chris Heisey still amounting to a quality reserve. The point is, the Reds are set, both for now and the future, at shortstop and in center.
Let the Gregorius-Cozart comparisons begin; Gregorius has more range and a better arm, according to one evaluator with knowledge of both players, but Cozart is steady in the field, runs better and offers more power.
It’s fair to ask whether six years of control over Gregorius and three of Stubbs will be worth one of Choo and four of Donald. But Cozart made Gregorius expendable, and Stubbs — after nearly getting non-tendered this offseason — would have been a longshot to return in 2014.
Check the numbers: Stubbs’ OPS has declined from .773 to .686 to .610 in his three full seasons. For all his speed, his defense in center also was flawed, according to some advanced metrics.
Perhaps Stubbs will revive with the Indians; he certainly possesses enough talent. But he didn’t fit for a Reds club trying to improve upon a 97-win season and a shocking Division Series loss to the eventual World Series champion Giants.
Cozart was miscast as the Reds’ primary leadoff man, as evidenced by his .288 on-base percentage. Still, he occupied that spot largely because Stubbs couldn’t handle it. The Reds finished last in the majors with a .254 OBP out of the leadoff spot.
Choo will fix all of that.
How Choo will fare in center is an open question, but the Reds view him as an above-average defender with good range and a great arm — and they also took into account that center field in Great American Ballpark is smaller than most.
The fit is not ideal for Choo, who will turn 31 on July 13. But he should be motivated in his free-agent year, and his overall package offers far more value than Stubbs’.
Put it all together, and the Reds will be nothing short of fascinating. Lefty Aroldis Chapman is moving to the rotation, joining right-handers Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey. Right-hander Jonathan Broxton, signed to a three-year, $21 million free-agent contract, will replace Chapman as the team’s closer.
Choo in center, Chapman as a starter — spring training will be interesting, to say the least. But general manager Walt Jocketty, lacking financial flexibility, unwilling to part with the pitching necessary to land Denard Span, Ben Revere or Dexter Fowler, would not allow the team to be stuck in a box.
Jocketty opened that box Tuesday night, and out popped Shin-Soo Choo.