CINCINNATI -- The Reds parted with one of their stars ahead of Friday's non-tender deadline, as arbitration-eligible center fielder Billy Hamilton was not offered a contract for 2019. As a result, Hamilton is now a free agent.
Hamilton made $4.6 million in 2018 after signing a one-year contract to avoid arbitration last offseason. He would have been eligible for free agency after the '19 season.
Cincinnati had shopped Hamilton to other clubs for a potential trade and found no interest -- even for a minimal return.
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"We didn't have any takers for a real value," Reds general manager Nick Krall said.
Also non-tendered on Friday were catcher Juan Graterol, outfielder Aristides Aquino and outfielder/first baseman Jordan Patterson. Graterol was claimed off waivers from the Angels in October, while Patterson was just claimed on Wednesday from the Mets. Aquino was the No. 16 prospect in the organization, according to MLB Pipeline. Krall said that negotiations were ongoing to bring those three players back on Minor League deals. The Reds now have 36 players on their 40-man roster.
Contract offers were tendered to the five other players eligible for arbitration: Scooter Gennett (third year), starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani (second year), reliever Michael Lorenzen (second year), backup catcher Curt Casali (first year) and shortstop Jose Peraza (first year).
The 28-year-old Hamilton has long been known for sensational defense and speed, but he has steadily declined on offense. In 2018, he batted .236/.299/.327 with four home runs, 29 RBIs and 74 runs in 153 games. After recording at least 56 stolen bases in each of the previous four seasons, Hamilton stole only 34 in '18. According to Baseball Reference, he had a 0.0 offensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and 0.7 defensive WAR. A former leadoff hitter, Hamilton batted ninth much of the season.
An electric addition when he was called up from Triple-A Louisville in 2013, Hamilton was a game-changer on the bases and in the outfield. He could do things that many could not, including tagging up and scoring on a popup to second base. In center field, there were many highlight-worthy diving and leaping catches that made Hamilton a five-time National League Gold Glove Award finalist.
However, Hamilton's all-out style cost him time on the field, as he was often injured, with several trips to the disabled list. And ultimately, his speed could not be utilized if he couldn't reach base.
The move to part ways with Hamilton came as RedsFest opened on Friday afternoon. Some of his teammates were stunned by the news.
"I just got here and heard that," third baseman Eugenio Suarez said. "Billy has my support. He was one of my best teammates on this team. For sure, we'll miss him a lot. I hope he gets a contract and continues to play in the big leagues."
Hamilton had spent most of the offseason working out at the Reds' Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Ariz. He was supposed to fly to Cincinnati for RedsFest on the same flight as outfielder Scott Schebler. When he noticed Hamilton was not on the plane, Schebler wondered why.
"I was in the [Redsfest] photo booth when I figured it out," Schebler said. "That was kind of wild to hear it that way. I don't know what to think about it right now. It's one of those moves you're not expecting. We'll just see where everything lands. He was a great teammate to me. I can only talk on how good he was to me. He was always happy and fun to be around. He'll definitely be missed."
In 690 career big league games, Hamilton hit .245/.298/.333 with 277 steals. He finished second behind Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2014, when he nabbed 56 bases.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, Hamilton was projected to receive $5.9 million in arbitration this offseason. However, sources told MLB.com that the club believed he could receive more.
"I think the most important thing is we didn't see him at the arbitration salary that he was going to end up getting," Krall said. "I don't think it closes the door to anything we can do with him. Now he can negotiate with 30 clubs. We didn't think locking him into the budget was the helpful thing for us right now when pitching is our No. 1 need."
Now, the Reds will potentially have to add a center fielder to their offseason checklist. If one isn't acquired, sources said that Nick Senzel could become a candidate to replace Hamilton. An infielder for his entire college and pro career, Senzel is listed as the organization's No. 1 prospect (No. 6 overall) by MLB Pipeline. He learned to play in the outfield during instructional league before stopping to have surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
Krall was not willing to commit to Senzel being one of the candidates. The same could be said about Schebler, who has filled in for Hamilton at center field in past seasons.
"We've got to figure out who is going to be the everyday center fielder and how we will fill that hole," Krall said.
The Reds would be willing to consider bringing back Hamilton as a free agent, but they will definitely explore all other options.
"It is a little early. It's a little fresh right now," Reds manager David Bell said. "Obviously, Billy was a big part of this team for a lot of years. Tough decisions have to be made in this game. We'll move forward and try to fill that spot."