The Reds addressed their most glaring need during this offseason, finding a solid leadoff hitter. General Manager Walt Jocketty orchestrated a three-team deal to acquire Shoo-Soo Choo, who hit .281 with a .331 on base percentage and 16 home runs last season with the Cleveland Indians.
Choo will replace center fielder Drew Stubbs, who was sent to the Indians in the trade. Stubbs saw his offensive production deteriorate each of the last two season, hitting just .216 in 2012.
While Choo will most likely be a valuable table-setter for the middle of the Reds order, Cincinnati must have some concern for the defensive downgrade in center. Choo has very limited experience there, having spent most of his time in right.
Besides the weaker defender in center, the Reds are likely to see a decline in the middle infield. Second baseman Brandon Phillips, a former Gold Glove winner, is a 32 year old whose range factor has steadily declined each year since the 5.00 he posted in 2007. His 2012 r/f was 4.55, which placed him outside of the top 10 second basemen in the league, even behind Atlanta’s Dan Uggla.
His double play partner, shortstop Zack Cozart, posted an even worse r/f in 2012. The rookie ended with a 4.28 range factor, considerably lower than the league average. He also committed 14 errors.
In spite of his below average defense, the Reds seem committed to Cozart. They moved top prospect Billy Hamilton from short to center field in the Arizona Fall League, and they traded top defensive prospect Didi Gregorious to Arizona in the Choo deal.
Thus, the most consistent strength of the Reds during the span that saw them win two division titles in three years is likely to become a serious weakness. Phillips signed a contract extension that guarantees he will be manning second base for Cincinnati until he is in his late thirties, when he will be more than a decade removed from his best defensive year.
Cozart has always been touted as more of an offensive shortstop, but his numbers
from last season must improve for the Reds to justify his defensive deficiencies. After all, he hit just .246, and a disappointing .225 outside of Great American Ball Park.
Cincinnati fans are justifiably happy with the Choo trade, having given up on Stubbs ever reaching his potential with the Reds. Their team finally got a bona fide leadoff hitter without giving up one of its starting pitchers. Still, the future of its middle defense suddenly looks much bleaker than it did in the recent past.
Doug Poe once delivered newspapers to Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan, three customers who have made him a lifetime fan of the Reds.