Another day and another shortstop option seems to be out there in the minds of the Cincinnati Reds. We’re less than one month away from the first game of spring training and Cincinnati still hasn’t accomplished their one stated goal this offseason: Finding a shortstop. With the free agent market down to Didi Gregorius and a bunch of guys who aren’t upgrades or need to have a significant rebound to be an upgrade, the trade market could be a viable option. One player that’s potentially out there is someone who has already been traded this offseason – Amed Rosario.
Mike Puma of The New York Post noted this morning that the Reds have been discussing whether or not Rosario makes sense or not. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s try to dive in. Amed Rosario will be 25-years-old in the 2021 season and he’s played in parts of four years in the big leagues. He’s a career .268/.302/.403 hitter, with a career OPS+ of 91. He’s been a well below-average hitter in three of those four seasons, with the 2019 campaign being his lone above-average season at the plate and it came by the thinnest of margins when he posted a 101 OPS+ for the Mets.
Cleveland acquired Amed Rosario in the deal with New York that sent Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets three weeks ago. If the question the Reds front office is asking is should they try to acquire him, shouldn’t our question be why they don’t already know that answer? Cleveland clearly wasn’t all that interested in acquiring him in the deal with the Mets if they are going to turn around and trade him three weeks later, which means he was going to be available to anyone else once the Mets had things lined up for Lindor. This discussion should have already happened. And perhaps it did and the tweet from Puma was simply worded poorly.
Let’s talk a bit about what Amed Rosario brings to the table. Offensively, he hasn’t exactly performed much as a professional, even in the minors. To be fair, he was always incredibly young for the level he was playing at while in the minors – he debuted at 21 with the Mets – but his OPS by season in the minors were .637, .691, .631, .833, and then .833. He was trending upwards as he reached the big leagues, but then went back to an OPS in the 600’s for three of the next four years.
When he was in the minor leagues he was viewed as an elite level prospect. Heading into 2017 he was rated as the 8th overall prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America. At the time scouting reports noted a strong ability to hit, but only fringy power potential. Defensively he stood out for his athleticism, good hands, and a strong arm at the shortstop position.
That scouting report hasn’t quite translated to the big league field. Not yet at least. Defensive metrics are a bit sketchy and not entirely reliable, but Baseball Reference has his defensive WAR at -1.8 for his career so far, with no season in the big leagues having a positive defensive WAR. Fangraphs defensive values see things a bit differently. In his career, his UZR is at -1.5, but he’s had two positive value seasons with the glove and two negative value seasons with the glove. This is where you really want to lean on what your scouts see, giving you a better feel of exactly where he falls on the defensive spectrum.
At the plate, we covered a little bit of that above, but let’s take a little bit deeper of a dive. In 2019 he had 30 doubles, 7 triples, and 15 home runs in 157 games for the Mets. That’s a solid amount of power for a shortstop. Where he’s struggled the most, though, is getting on base. Amed Rosario’s career on-base percentage is just .302 and it’s that low because he rarely walks. In 403 career games he has 67 walks. Among the 260 players since 2017 began who have at least 1000 plate appearances there are only nine players in baseball with a lower walk rate than Rosario, including form Reds Jose Iglesias and Jose Peraza.
There’s upside with Amed Rosario. He’s at an age where you should still expect some offensive improvements to come. But he’s also got a a glaring weakness in his offensive profile – he swings at a lot of bad pitches (he chases pitches out of the zone 40.2% of the time for his career – league average during this period is 30%). In some ways, his profile sounds similar to former Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips – big time prospect who didn’t quite put everything together, more known for his defense at age 25 than for his offense, with a low walk rate but some offensive tools to work with.
Unlike the acquisition of Brandon Phillips, the cost will likely be far higher for Amed Rosario, who has been better in the Major Leagues than Phillips had when he was acquired. Because of that, and his service time, he’s also going to cost more money. Rosario is owed $2,400,000 in 2021, and he’s under team control through the 2023 season. He’ll be arbitration eligible in both 2022 and 2023.