COMMENTARY | The best trade chip the Cincinnati Reds have at their disposal is speedster Billy Hamilton. No one in the history of professional baseball has demonstrated the ability to steal bases like Hamilton (a record 155 swipes in the minor leagues in 2012).
Even if Hamilton doesn't reach a .400 on-base percentage in any of his future major league seasons, he's virtually a lock to score at least 100 runs each year as a leadoff hitter who can steal at will. Teams would undoubtedly covet Hamilton, and the Reds could use the kind of offensive help Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox could provide right now if both teams can reach a deal. Of course, the Reds would have to get more than just Rios in return, like a couple of prized prospects not so major league ready and several millions of dollars to cover the rest of Rios' 2013 $12.5 million salary.
Questions About Hamilton
Hamilton may be the Reds' top prospect, but there are question marks about him both offensively and defensively. Hamilton has shown he can hit well enough at each of his stops in the minors until this year (.243 in 69 games with Triple-A Louisville). He also began a conversion from middle infielder to center fielder this year. Allowing Hamilton to gain more experience at the plate and at his new position in Triple-A helps explain the Reds' reluctance to call him up, even though injuries to outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey should've opened the door for Hamilton to at least get a cup of coffee by now.
Instead of Hamilton, corner outfielder Donald Lutz has spent the past two months with the Reds. Lutz looks like he will be the team's future left fielder, but in bench duty for 31 games since his call up straight from Double-A, Lutz has knocked in just eight runs and scored only five times. Hamilton would not have replaced current Reds' center fielder Shin-Soo Choo, but he could have stolen 20 bases and at least tripled the number of runs Lutz scored during the same time frame as a bench player.
For a team that is near the bottom of the majors in stolen bases and often run-challenged (just 25 runs scored in the last nine games from June 12-20), having a real base-stealing threat like Hamilton available off the bench could've made a much more tangible difference for the Reds than Lutz has made.
The Reds are most likely just slowly grooming Hamilton as their center fielder for the future, but there may be enough questions about his future with the Reds that other options may be under consideration by the team's front office.
The faster the season unravels for the White Sox, the more likely it is that they move outfielder Rios this year. The Reds have been mentioned as one of the teams that could have interest in Rios, who is under contract for $12.5 million in 2014 with a $13.5 million team option for 2015. Rios would be an ideal fit for either the two-hole or the cleanup spot currently held by Brandon Phillips. Adding Rios to the Reds lineup now would provide a potent order with left- and right-handed hitters alternating from leadoff through the sixth spot (Choo, Rios, Joey Votto, Phillips, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier).
The addition of Rios would also solve any issues the Reds might have with Hamilton as their future center fielder, as well as enable them to skip the free agent sweepstakes that will be held for Choo at the end of the season. Should Rios join the Reds, he would be the most likely center fielder and leadoff hitter for the next two seasons. The question the Reds have to ask themselves is not so much whether the dollar cost would be worth such a trade, but, rather, would the trading of a potential game-changer like Hamilton be worth the loss.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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