Should the Reds trade Drew Stubbs for Shin-Soo Choo?

Reports surfaced last night that the Reds have expressed interest in the Cleveland Indians’ rightfielder, Shin-Soo Choo. The Pirates are reportedly the other team with major interest in Choo.

Given Cleveland’s rumored preference for a major league player with at least three years of club control remaining, Drew Stubbs is the Reds player it makes the most sense to exchange for Choo.

Let’s rule out everyone else. Chris Heisey is nowhere near good enough. Jay Bruce is too similar to Choo. Ryan Ludwick is under team control this year plus a cheap option next year, so he doesn’t meet Cleveland’s three-year criteria. The Indians might prefer starting pitching, but the two players who meet their team-control criteria are Mat Latos and Mike Leake. Latos is too good, too young and too cheap, plus we traded the farm system for him. Mike Leake likely isn’t good enough, although he might get the Reds a big part of the way there. Maybe Leake plus Ondrusek or Arredondo. Homer Bailey isn’t a match because he’s already in his first arbitration season, so only two more years of team control. An outfielder makes more sense for the Reds than a pitcher, because with Choo, Stubbs, Bruce and Ludwick all on the team, the Reds would have an inefficient surplus in the outfield. Maybe before Ludwick’s resurgence, the Reds might have considered playing Choo in LF, but not now.

So, figure Stubbs is the guy. Should the Reds make that trade?

To those who judge Stubbs by his prolonged slumps and two hundred strike outs a year, this is an easy decision. But if one takes Stubbs’ 2010 and 2011 seasons as his upper and lower limits, the decision is more complicated. Even with his struggles and trip to the DL this year, Stubbs (27) is on pace to once again hit nearly 20 home runs and steal 35 bases. Stubbs is a centerfielder with tremendous range and a strong, accurate arm. His speed as a base runner means he reliably scores from second on a single and from first on a double. The Reds have Stubbs under team control through the 2015 season.

From the Reds perspective, there is plenty to like about the game of Shin-Soo Choo (30). He hits left handed. His career OBP is .383 and he’s consistently produced 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases a year. He is as talented in right-field defensively as Jay Bruce, including the arm. Prior to the 2012 season, Choo had never hit lead-off. But Indians manager Manny Acta, being the open-minded, modern-approach skipper that he is, took note of Choo’s high OBP and moved him to the top of the order early this year, a place where the Korean player has thrived.

What about Choo’s contract status? He will become a free agent in 2014. He’s currently in the second year of arbitration eligibility and makes $4.9 million. His final year of arbitration next season would bring along a considerable raise. The Reds would control him through the end of 2013. Choo’s agent is Scott Boras, so don’t count on being able to sign Choo to an extension.

What is the downside of making this trade?

The potential risks are these: (1) The Reds would have no natural centerfielder. Choo hasn’t played CF regularly and only once in an emergency since 2006. The burden would likely fall on Jay Bruce, who has played CF occasionally in the past, but may not have the speed to play there every day; (2) With Choo becoming a free agent in 2014 and Stubbs in 2016, the Reds lose two years of team-controlled outfielder; and (3) Team chemistry. Would such a major trade jeopardize the unity and momentum of a team with the best record in baseball?

Keep in mind, at this point, the trade is nothing more than barely-informed (but fun) speculation.

Stubbs-for-Choo is a trade with genuine benefits for both teams. If the Reds don’t believe Jay Bruce can handle center field everyday, then the right action is to roll on with the current roster. But if the Reds feel Jay Bruce can play a passable center field for the remainder of this season and the next, (until another speedy player named Billy Hamilton is ready to play there in 2014) then they should agree to Stubbs-for-Choo if it’s on the table.