COMMENTARY| The Cincinnati Reds face the unenviable task of making a major change to their lineup, now that the team might be without the services of left fielder and cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick for the first half of the season.
Should the Reds quickly trade for an established cleanup hitter who hits right-handed and can play left field or trust their current talent pool to fulfill the needs created by Ludwick's injury?
The least expensive and most likely way for the Reds to replace Ludwick in left field is with a platoon of Chris Heisey and Xavier Paul. Promoting a minor league outfielder to fill Ludwick's roster spot would provide the depth needed to cover the outfield. The only real cost here would be the possibility of losing a player to waivers if the promoted outfielder is not currently on the 40-man roster.
Also if the Reds stand pat, the logical change to the batting order would be moving second baseman Brandon Phillips back to the cleanup spot, where he drove in 50 runs and hit .303 in 73 games last year.
Easy. Little cost risk and perhaps a first-half improvement if Ludwick was going to have the kind of first half of the season in 2013 that he had last year (.239 average in 205 at-bats).
But is "easy" the best way to go for a team that's pretty much all-in to win now.
Reds ownership has committed a $100-million opening day payroll. With that much at stake for ownership, all options are likely to be considered -- including trading for an established right-handed hitting cleanup hitter who can play left field.
The price for such a trade wouldn't come cheap due to limited availability of qualifying players and the likelihood that most teams aren't going to be willing to deal one of their best power hitters this early in the season. If salary alone for the following players isn't cost-prohibitive for the Reds, then the quality of players that the Reds would have to trade might be:
Josh Willingham: The Twins slugger is under contract through 2014 at $7 million per year for this year and next. The Twins need for starting pitching would make top Reds pitching prospects like Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino attractive, but is the price for either of these two too high for the Reds?
Carlos Quentin: The injury-plagued left fielder is under contract with the Padres through 2015 with a mutual option for 2016. The Reds aren't likely to risk $30 million in guaranteed salary for a player who can't seem to stay healthy unless the Padres were willing to eat at least half of the contract to shed themselves of Quentin.
Chris Young: The A's reserve center fielder is under contract through 2014, but can be dumped in 2014 with a $1.5 million buyout. His 2013 salary is listed at $8.5 million, and the A's outfield is crowded enough to warrant dealing Young and his low batting average (.239 career). Young won't command a top pitching prospect. He has primarily served as a leadoff hitter in his career, but has the pop that fits the bill for cleanup. However, he has only played center field in his major league career.
Michael Cuddyer: The Rockies right fielder has hit cleanup or fifth for most of his career, but he's only played a handful of games in left field. He's under contract for the next two years at a very pricy base of $10.5 million per season. The Rockies would likely have to eat a considerable portion of his salary in order for the Reds to deal, and the price in prospects may prove more than Reds would be willing to bear.
While the likelihood is that the Reds won't trade for a right-handed hitting cleanup hitter to replace Ludwick, there are options that the Reds should at least consider.
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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- Ryan Ludwick