The Reds enter Thursday with a commanding eight game lead in the N.L. Central and are knocking on the door step of the best record in baseball. In addition, they’ve got everything you want to see in a playoff caliber roster: an offense capable of putting up runs, a bullpen with multiple shutdown arms at the back end, and a rotation that has both depth through the backend and studs at the front. All in all, things are looking pretty rosy in the ‘Nati these days, with arguably the best collection of talent since the 1990 season. So the Reds have no problems these days, right? Not so fast my friend.
As I’m sure you’re aware, Joey Votto will be returning from the disabled list at some point, at which time Todd Frazier, currently the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year in the senior circuit, will have to find another place to get his playing time. Manager Dusty Baker recently addressed this problem in typical Dusty fashion:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We played him in the outfield some already. Where is he going to play in the outfield?Ã¢â‚¬Â Baker said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Is he a center fielder? WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got Jay Bruce, an All-Star, in right field. Is he going to play in front of Jay right now? (Ryan) LudwickÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got 25 home runs? Is he going to play in front of Ludwick right now?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sometimes when youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re on really good team, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to wait your turn to play”
Now, my first reaction here is to blanch at Baker’s predictably condescending attitude towards the younger guy, but once you get past the statement that the 26 year old with a wRC+ of 140 needs to “wait his turn” for playing time, Baker isn’t really wrong about the objective situation. In addition to the 25 home runs, Ludwick has a wRC+ that, at 139, is virtually identical to Frazier’s, and while Rolen’s full season numbers are pedestrian at best, he’s been extremely productive recently, posting a wRC+ of 144 in July, and following that up with a 164 mark so far this month. So, for the moment, there isn’t necessarily a strong argument in favor of benching either of those guys in favor of Frazier. One potential answer, as Fay suggests, could be to bench Drew Stubbs and move Jay Bruce to centerfield, creating an opening for Frazier in right, but that’s an out of the box type of solution that basically no team would try in the Reds’ situation.
Of course, this is the sort of “problem” that 29 other teams would love to have right now, and might actually be a positive for the team if Baker can deftly deploy his resources over the rest of the season. Frazier’s combination of versatility and production gives the Reds the ability to rest three different regulars who could definitely stand to avoid over exertion down the stretch without sacrificing much, if anything, in the way of talent in the lineup, and they’ll also have a wonderful insurance policy in the event that either Rolen or Ludwick stops hitting between now and October. It’s far from certain that Dusty is capable of doing that, however, which probably remains the Reds biggest real problem this season.