Reds Add Another Free Agent

As the hot stove league heats up the Reds have added another free agent in veteran 2b/OF Skip Schumaker. He's a solid major-leaguer however there may be some question on his fitness for regular duty at this stage of his career. He's a post-season veteran having played on four playoff teams and the Reds are counting on him as they again vie for another deep October run in 2014.

Cincinnati has been active in the free agent market this far this season. After signing catcher Brayan Pena general manager Walt Jocketty went back to a familiar well when he inked former Cardinal Skip Schumaker. Jocketty, a former GM at St. Louis, has repeatedly shown a tendency to reunite with redbird acquaintances like Schumaker who he drafted in 2001. Actually, he was employed by Oakland prior to his first GM job so it probably wasn't a coincidence that former Athletics Mark McGwire, Dennis Eckersley, and Tony LaRussa came to the Cardinals.

33 year-old Schumaker is coming off his first season not in St. Louis and hit .263 AVG/.332 OB for the Dodgers. He got a lot of action as a utilityman, appearing in 125 games, mostly at the three outfield spots and second base. Since debuting in 2005 he's a lifetime .285 AVG/.344 OB hitter in over three thousand plate appearances. He hit over .300 as a regular in both 2008 and 09 with the Cardinals.

The left-handed hitter's strike out frequency was higher than normal last season, but over his his career he's kept his whiff rate below 8% while hitting in the leadoff spot in over half of career starts. At this point in his career he's been labeled more as a utility player, but depending on other Cincinnati activity/inactivity this winter he might be needed for more regular action. Two hitters in the top half of the Reds lineup last season are a bit in limbo right now. Leadoff hitter Shin-soo Choo is currently testing the free agent market and trade rumors persist concerning all-star second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Phillips is the more likely of the two to return because he is still under contract and most feel it unlikely that Cincinnati could re-sign Choo for a salary that could fit into their budget. The Reds required some cash in the deal with Cleveland to use addressing Choo's arbitration before he ever played a game with them. Probably the biggest barrier to trading Phillips is that the Reds farm system currently has no middle infielder close to MLB-ready and they would have to replace him from outside of the organization. Now they've gone outside for Schumaker and if they could shed Phillips's contract it might make them a more serious contender to keep Choo in center.

Of course it's still early in the offseason and any notions of veering from the expected lineup in 2014 right now are more speculation than anything else. Schumaker would be a step down from Phillips at second. The longest-tenured member on the Reds roster once again dazzled defensively to win another gold glove and took advantage of hitting behind the two top on-base percentages in the league to crack triple digits in RBI for the first time in his career. Though his home run total is slightly less than desired for a cleanup hitter (exactly 18 dingers in each of his last four seasons), he still provides good pop for a middle infielder. Still, keeping Choo atop their lineup would offset those deficiencies.

Right now the expected lineup for the Redlegs next season has rookie Billy Hamilton in centerfield and leading off. He impressed after his expansion call-up this season as the most celebrated base-stealer in minor league history successfully swiped thirteen bags while getting caught only once against MLB competition. Still, most of his action was as a pinch-runner and he only stepped into the batter's box 22 times. Prior to that he struggled with contact after debuting at AAA and the 22 year-old may need another year in the minors before he's ready for regular duty with the parent team.

Another scenario comes into play when considering uncertainty in left field where 35 year-old Ryan Ludwick has another year remaining on his contract after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. Ludwick is another former Cardinal who resuscitated his career after the Reds signed him to a one-year deal before the 2012 season and his success at the plate necessitated that they commit to two years in order to re-sign him before this season. During his absence Xavier Paul put up adequate numbers for a backup, but they weren't good enough to prevent the Reds from looking elsewhere instead of counting on the journeyman for regular duty if needed.

The Reds now have a bit of flexibility while planning for 2014. Either Phillips returns at second with Schumaker, Hamilton, Ludwick, and veteran Chris Heisey providing four options for two outfield spots. If not, then maybe Schumaker has enough gas left in the tank to man second with Choo back in center and the other three providing depth in left. Perhaps Schumaker was wanted to provide infield depth after both of the team's primary backups hit under .220. It's still early and the scenario will become clearer as the winner progresses. Jocketty has not been bashful to pull the trigger on high-profile deals like the one that brought in Choo before last season and Mat Latos the year before.

The Pena signing will give him another trading chip in veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan who probably still has market value even though he struggled through an injury-riddled season hitting under .200. The hot stove league has yet to really heat up and Cincinnati has already reeled in two new faces. They've won 90 games in three of the last four seasons, so they will retain contender status going forward. It would not be surprising at all to see the Reds pull another "win-now" deal before opening day.


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