The shoulder injury suffered by Jason Bourgeois this week gives the Reds front office the fig leaf they need to make amends for another dreary offseason performance. General manager Walt Jocketty should take advantage of the buyer’s marketÃ‚Â and acquire a major-league capable center fielder.
Bourgeois’Ã‚Â injury lays bare a gaping and embarrassing hole in the Reds roster — the extremeÃ‚Â lack of depth in the outfield.
The fact that a journeyman minor league player like Bourgeois has been considered Plan B for center field in the event of an injury to Billy Hamilton says volumes itself. Bourgeois has only 118 major league plate appearances since 2011. Over his 14 year professional career, he has 10 times the number of PA in the minor leagues than he does in the majors. Worse, Bourgeois is at the age (33) when even good major league players begin to slide. He seemed overmatched (17.6 K%, 2.9 BB%) in his call-up to the Reds last September when he hit .242/.265/.303, well below his nothing-to-write-home-about career line of .258/.303/.324.
Bourgeois isn’t lost for the season, just 4-6 weeks. But how much of a contribution should the organization count on from a player like him (age, underlying talent) after suffering a fractured shoulder?
The only reason Jason Bourgeois had been in competition for a roster spot was his speed. He was a plausible center fielder, a rare skill on the Reds bench.
That leads to the question, whoÃ‚Â backs up Billy Hamilton, who has been dealing with a sore right shoulder himself?
We’ve got Skip Schumaker for that. But remember, Schumaker is coming off a season where he hit .235/.287/.308. And that’s not his biggest liability as a replacement for Billy Hamilton. According to every available defensive metric and anyone who was able to watch with their own eyes, Schumaker is a terrible outfielder. While he struggled in all three outfield positions (and 2B) last year, center field was his worst. Do the Reds really expect a 35-year-old player, fresh off of major shoulder surgery, to be a plausible center field backup for Billy Hamilton?
If not Schumaker, who’s next? Cue Brennan Boesch.
Boesch is the subject of the latest PR boomlet emanating from the desert. He’s put together a few hits and mashed a couple home runs. (Boesch has yet to draw a walk in 21 plate appearances, but he’s smart enough to know that the Reds organization doesn’t put value on that quality. With a walk-rate of 2.5 percent last year, he’s right at home.) Boesch has manned center field the past few days and manager Bryan Price has praised his performance.
Let’s not lose sight of Brennan Boesch. Boesch lost his roster spot with Detroit by the time the Tigers reached the 2012 postseason. After the Tigers were unsuccessful in trying to trade Boesch, they released him the following spring. The NY Yankees picked up him, but he was eventually demoted to AAA and then released in July 2013. With no other team interested in taking a chance on him, Boesch sat out the rest of the season. The LA Angels signed him as a free agent for the 2014 season. Boesch tore up the Pacific Coast League but couldn’t carry that success back to the majors. He hit .187/.203/.293 for LA. He hit more pop-ups than line drives. At the end of the season, the Angels DFA’d him.
What’s more frightening, Brennan Boesch has exactly ONE INNING of major league experience playing center field. Playing behind Mike Trout is nothing of which to be ashamed. But that lack of experience isn’t a calling card, either. (By the way, that is one more inning’s worth of experience than he has at first base in the majors — the other position the Reds are using him this spring. Ah, glorious bench depth.) Even in his heyday as a hitter, Boesch was and has remained, a butcher in the corner outfield spots. To expect him to be an effective center fielder if something happens to Billy Hamilton is sheer folly.
The Reds can use the pretext of Bourgeois’ injury toÃ‚Â acquire another outfielder, a move overdue by more than a year. They must see through the gorilla dust of home runs hit off Louis Coleman and other meaningless spring training accomplishments.
The new player doesn’t have to be star- or even starter-caliber. Said candidate need only have demonstrated the ability to have done one of these things in the major leagues last year: (a) hit OK over at least 50 at bats; or (b) play a capable center field. Like Chris Heisey, for example.
Because right now, the Reds don’t have a player with either of those qualities on their bench.