For the Reds, the Off Season Will Flow Out of LF

redslogo2The biggest decision facing the Reds to begin the offseason is the choice of a left fielder. It is unlikely the Reds will spend money to go after a free agent like Matt Holliday or Jason Bay: instead, the choice is between which incumbent will get a commitment. The candidates: Jonny Gomes, Wladimir Balentien, Chris Dickerson, and perhaps even Willy Taveras.

CINCINNATI - JULY 19:  Jonny Gomes #31 of the ...
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The first choice of Reds fans would be the popular and powerful Gomes. A fun-loving type, Gomes won over Cincinnati baseball fans much as he had in Tampa Bay, and is regarded as a strong, positive force in the clubhouse. Gomes hit .267 and belted 20 HR in 291 AB during the 2009 season, posting the team’s second highest OPS+ behind only Joey Votto. The knocks on Gomes are a sluggish glove in the corner outfield spots, and a bat that performs better against lefty pitching than right-handers. Most of Gomes’ work in 2009 was against lefties. There is also the matter of cost. Gomes would be the most expensive of the LF options, requiring either a multi-year agreement, arbitration, or exposure to the free agent pool. After his solid season, Gomes figures to get a seven- figure deal. He has indicated he would accept arbitration if the Reds offer it, but wants to go where he can play full-time.

Balentien is a choice similar to Gomes, though he is four years younger and has a less impressive track record. Unfortunately, Reds manager Dusty Baker did not see fit to use Balentien regularly down the stretch to test his readiness, instead favoring lesser choices like Darnell McDonald and Laynce Nix. Balentien is a better fielder than Gomes, but has had struggles at bat even though he has shown excellent power potential. He has the highest ceiling of any candidate, but also carries the most risk.

CINCINNATI - JULY 02:  Chris Dickerson #21of t...

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The other two candidates and their availability also depends on how the center field job is awarded. If youngster Drew Stubbs is awarded CF on the basis of his solid audition at the end of 2009, then both are available for LF duty. If that is the case, Dickerson would be a strong candidate for LF, and to lead off. Dickerson kept pushing himself into more playing time last year, doing good things every time he was in the lineup. He also has good speed and excellent on-base skills, plays strong defense, and hits for some power. If Gomes is not retained, the most likely situation is a Dickerson/Balentien platoon, as Dickerson is the only left-handed hitting candidate for the job. In any case, Dickerson will get plenty of playing time in center and/or left, if he can stay healthy enough to remain in the lineup. This was his biggest problem last year.

Willy Taveras during an at bat, on the August ...
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The wild card in this situation is veteran Willy Taveras, signed for $4 million for 2010. Taveras was signed to fill the center field and leadoff roles, but played badly in 2009 and was also sidelined for a great deal of time, which allowed first Dickerson and then Stubbs openings to impress. Now, given
manager Dusty Baker’s love of veterans, Taveras might get a lot of center field play anyway, but a Juan Pierre-like move to left field with Stubbs in center is not out of the realm of possibility. This is the true unknown for 2010, what will be done with Taveras. Many Reds fans would just as soon he be tarred and feathered, but if the club cannot move him, he is likely to be on the roster, and if he is Baker will find ways to play him.

The first marker to look for is whether Gomes is offered arbitration. If he is, the other dominoes will fall. If he is not, then things will only have begun to get interesting.

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