For whatever reason, in a league that sports the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, and Manny Machado, the Reds still seem to think that shortstop is a defensive-first position. Throwing away a lineup spot to a glove-first, no-power bat in the 2019 offensive environment kills playoff aspirations more reliably than the Wilpons, and that’s before remembering that the Reds already lose a competent bat in the lineup with the pitcher’s spot and that there are only a handful of major league bat-first catchers. For as long as I can remember, the Reds have operated with essentially a six-bat lineup and hoped for a roll of the dice from the lower-third.
Zack Cozart reversed that trend for one season but otherwise its a string of Paul Janish, Orlando Cabrera, and Felipe Lopez all the way back to Barry Larkin’s retirement. In other words, the Reds have a middle infield problem and no reasonable plans to solve it.
The most recent attempt to plug the hole is waiver-wire pickup Freddy Galvis, a glove-first shortstop presumably taking over in 2020 for glove-first Jose Iglesias. Unless Galvis actually takes over for bat-first Josh VanMeter at second base, in which case the Reds have sacrificed nearly half of their lineup to below-average hitters.
Of the Reds middle infield options, only VanMeter and Derek Dietrich provide above-average value to the Reds on the offensive side of the ball. Dietrich in particular has matched both Jose Iglesias’ and Freddy Galvis’ value despite having 100 fewer plate appearances than the former and about half as many as the latter.
Of course, linear scaling of fWAR or bWAR to a full season’s worth of plate appearances has its issues, but it does offer a simple guideline: Josh VanMeter and Derek Dietrich offer more potential value to the Reds than either Iglesias or Galvis. In fact, Iglesias and Galvis’ defense only provide enough value to push them across the league-average starter threshold (2.0 WAR) whereas VanMeter and Dietrich’s bats give each the potential to be above-average contributors over a full-season worth of plate appearances. If you need more convincing, just go read Doug Gray’s article from last week about the ridiculousness of starting Galvis over VanMeter.
Even assuming that David Bell intends on starting VanMeter or Dietrich at second in 2020 and that Galvis’ starts at second this season are only a trial run, then the Reds still haven’t fixed their shortstop problem. Switching Galvis to short and letting Iglesias walk in free agency does nothing to better the Reds lineup. The only alternative — hoping Jose Peraza hits like 2018 Peraza but better — sounds like a pipe dream inside a fantasy novel. Either way, the lower third of the Reds batting order would maybe strike fear in the heart of the worst Marlins starter. Maybe.
So now to the point of this post: What to do about it?
The Reds could follow the plan apparent and start Galvis at shortstop in 2020. The best-case scenario there is that Galvis repeats his best hitting season (i.e. the one we’re currently in; 94 wRC+), which would rank him 24th in wRC+ among everyday major league shortstops. Not great.
If the Reds wanted to go the moneybags route, they could drop some sweet free agent cash on Didi Gregorius, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery, or…. Jordy Mercer? Beside Gregorius, there really aren’t any shortstops hitting the market who are worth paying.
In the system, the Reds have Alex Blandino (70 wRC+ in 147 MLB PA in 2018), Blake Trahan (48 wRC+ in 346 AAA PA in 2019), and Alfredo Rodriguez (97 wRC+ in 436 AA PA in 2019). Top prospect Jonathan India has only played a handful of professional games at shortstop, but no one expects him to play there moving forward. Nobody too inspiring in other words. Blandino probably makes the most sense, but given he’s a primary second baseman, having to slot him and his mediocre bat at shortstop everyday makes Iglesias or Galvis’ glove more appealing.
In sum, the Reds have no strong shortstop bats at the major league level, have limited options to bring in a good bat during free agency, and have no heir-apparent coming up through the minor leagues for 2020.
If the Reds want to compete in 2020, and all indications show that they do, fixing their decade-long inadequacy at shortstop will have to be the top priority. We saw how last offseason, when Dick Williams put his head down to “get the pitching,” it happened. As a staff, the Reds have the 9th best ERA and 10th best WAR in baseball. That’s a marked improvement over previous years, and now the Reds can depend on Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, and Sonny Gray to lead the team in 2020.
It will take a trade similar to the Homer-Bailey-plus-prospects-to-the-Dodgers deal for the Reds to fix their shortstop woes, but it could happen. Corey Seager blocks Gavin Lux for the Dodgers; Trea Turner blocks Carter Kieboom for the Nationals. If either team considers parting with their top prospects or their current starters, the Reds could fix their shortstop problem. Any of those four players would require a massive haul to be dealt, but Dick Williams has shown an ability to get creative.
If the Reds want to compete in 2020, the answer at shortstop can’t be Iglesias or Galvis just as Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano were never the answer to the rotation. If the Reds want to compete, the offseason of #GettheShortstop needs to start now.