The Reds head toward the offseason with three capable middle infielders to fill two positions for 2016. Zack Cozart was having his best offensive season before his injury even as his numbers were trending downward. He also has been one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball since taking over full time in 2012. Brandon Phillips continues to be a solid regular when healthy and a fan favorite. Eugenio Suarez has slugged his way into the conversation and as a 24 year old, has the most potential to improve and contribute long term.
Thom Brennaman has been championing a move to leftfield for Suarez and while I understand the idea, I think it’s a bad idea. Yes, the Reds do not have a clear choice for leftfield next year, but moving your best long-term option at shortstop to leftfield, a position likely to be filled soon by your best hitting prospect since the mid 2000s, seems shortsighted.
First, Shortstop is a much more important position than leftfield defensively. If a player can play an average shortstop, they provide more value than a very good leftfielder. If someone has the ability to plate shortstop, moving them to a corner outfield spot only decreases their potential value.
There are certainly questions about SuarezÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defense at shortstop, but while he will never be Cozart, he has the physical skills to be average or slightly better at the position.
In SuarezÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s short time in the majors between 2014 and 2015, he has shown slightly above average range and a strong arm. His one major bugaboo comes from too many errors, something he may be able to cut down on as he continues to adjust to the speed of the Major Leagues. Poor range and a weak arm are difficult to improve; many players have shown an ability to cut down on errors.
Frankly, the Reds donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have many good shortstop prospects, and Suarez represents their best chance at securing the position for years to come. And man does that bat play well at shortstop. Bryan Price may have recently said that the position is Cozart’s, but he has plenty of question marks as well.
Cozart has been an excellent defender for the Reds. He has been a very poor offensive player until this season. In fact, CozartÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best season where he played the whole year was 17% worse than league average with the bat. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure that 214 plate appearances should change our perception of him as a hitter. Even at his best offensively, he is still a below average offensive player.
And so a big question arises in regards to Cozart: will he ever be the same after knee surgery? If Cozart isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t an elite defender, he isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t an everyday shortstop. Handing the shortstop position to a 30 year old coming off of knee surgery who has never shown the ability to hit at this level is a pretty big gamble.
Suarez playing leftfield in 2016 may be convenient in theory as it gets Cozart, Phillips, and Suarez all into the lineup, but it only complicates things if you look further into the future. Jesse Winker is coming. Whether we see him in the next few days, next season, or in 2017, Winker will soon take over a corner outfield spot. Phillip Ervin may not be far behind, and Yorman Rodriguez also intends to force his way into the conversation.
Making Suarez an outfielder will only complicate that situation. The Reds then have too many outfielders and only Cozart as an option at short not just for next year, but for several seasons to come.Ã‚Â Top infield prospectÃ‚Â Alex Blandino projects better at second base because of range issues.
Moving Suarez to leftfield and back to shortstop only slows SuarezÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s development at a critical middle infield position, so that option makes little sense as well.
And we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even know if Suarez can play the outfield. He never has. Hanley Ramirez is an example of a former shortstop (and briefly third baseman) that moved to leftfield in order to accommodate talented players. Ramirez has been one of the worst outfielders in all of baseball. Ramirez was never a great defensive shortstop, but he is horrific in leftfield. Suarez might be better than Ramirez in left, but RamirezÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s story is a cautionary tale that should dissuade the Reds from making the same mistake the Red Sox did.
Look at how difficult it was for Marlon Byrd to transition from rightfield to leftfield. Byrd was a very good rightfielder, but this year, he has rated out extremely poorly by the best defensive metrics we have. Do we really want to take a shortstop who has never played the outfield and make him our everyday leftfielder? A guy who could lock down the shortstop position for the next five or six years?
What should the Reds do with Suarez in 2016? If the Reds are truly committed to getting younger, they might explore trading Brandon Phillips or Zack Cozart. Phillips likely has more value as a player not coming off major surgery and with a better track record. He probably wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bring back a lot on his own, and he does have full no trade rights, but the Reds might package him with others (Chapman? Bruce? Frazier?), and he may want to play for a contender before he stops being a starter.
I think CozartÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s injury will keep him from getting traded even if the Reds wanted to. If the Reds keep all three, they at least need to seriously evaluate whether Cozart or Suarez should start. Kevin had had a nice comparison last week between those two.
Right now because of age and the potential forÃ‚Â improvement, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d prefer to have Suarez as the everyday shortstop with Cozart as a strong bench piece. But if Cozart returns to full health without losing a step or two, he deserves the opportunity to compete for his job next Spring.
The Reds should not move Suarez to leftfield. He has too much potential as a middle infielder. With several outfield prospects knocking on the door and no real long-term solution at shortstop in sight, the Reds need to continue to develop Suarez as a shortstop. A middle infield of Suarez and the impressive Blandino should set the Reds up well for years to come.
Tough decisions lie ahead, but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why Mr. Castellini pays Walt Jocketty (or someone else this offseason) the big bucks. The Reds shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t solve one problem by creating another. Suarez is likely the future at shortstop. For a Reds team about to lose over 90 games, the future is now.