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Free-agent market offers Reds options in CF

Williams says investment on pitching could affect outfield budget
MLB.com @m_sheldon

CINCINNATI -- As the non-tender deadline came and went, the Reds' offseason to-do list expanded in dramatic fashion. With Billy Hamilton not being tendered a 2019 contract, Cincinnati now needs a center fielder in addition to its search for pitching.

That one additional need creates multiple questions. Who could the Reds get? How much would this player cost in dollars as a free agent or the return package in a trade? And finally, what type of center fielder does Cincinnati want? The answer to the last question also remains open.

CINCINNATI -- As the non-tender deadline came and went, the Reds' offseason to-do list expanded in dramatic fashion. With Billy Hamilton not being tendered a 2019 contract, Cincinnati now needs a center fielder in addition to its search for pitching.

That one additional need creates multiple questions. Who could the Reds get? How much would this player cost in dollars as a free agent or the return package in a trade? And finally, what type of center fielder does Cincinnati want? The answer to the last question also remains open.

"It can go one of two ways," Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams said. "You can try to get the defensive specialist that you had [in Hamilton], but you would just try to get him a lower number than we would have been required to go to in arbitration. Or you can pay up for a center fielder and try to get the complete package that you want. I think we're open to either avenue."

As the offseason unfolds, changing circumstances will affect who Cincinnati gets and how.

"Some of it will be dictated by how much we feel like we've got to invest in pitching," Williams said. "If we feel like we have to invest a lot in pitching, we might have to spend less in the outfield. If we acquire some pitchers that cost less, we might be able to put more money into the outfield."

There are possibly two internal options as well in corner outfielder Scott Schebler, who filled in for Hamilton in center field. The other would be Nick Senzel, the No. 1 prospect in the organization according to MLB Pipeline. An infielder, Senzel played center field and left field during the fall instructional league.

In 2018, Hamilton batted .236/.299/.327 with four home runs, 29 RBIs, 34 steals and 74 runs in 153 games. He was valued at 0.3 wins above replacement. Being that he was third-year arbitration-eligible and a year away from free agency, the Reds didn't want to pay a higher salary for a player who wasn't producing offensively.

Here is a quick look at some free-agent center fielders who could be fits for Cincinnati.

A.J. Pollock
2018: Batted .257/.316/.484 with 21 homers, 65 RBIs and 2.5 WAR in 113 games with the D-backs.

Pollock, who turns 31 on Wednesday, brings more offense and is well-skilled defensively. According to FanGraphs, he was sixth in the Majors with six defensive runs saved last season. Pollock has been injury prone as well and hasn't played more than 120 games since his 2015 All-Star season. He also rejected Arizona's qualifying offer, which means the club that signs him would have to provide Draft pick compensation.

Video: A.J. Pollock is hitting the free-agent market

Adam Jones
2018: Batted .281/.313/.419 with 15 homers, 63 RBIs and 0.2 WAR over 145 games with the Orioles.

A fan favorite in Baltimore, the 33-year-old Jones endured a decline of production at an inopportune time before heading into free agency. His defense has also been less reliable, as he played mostly in center but also right field last season. In center field, Jones had a minus-18 DRS, according to FanGraphs. And after a miserable 115-loss season with the Orioles, he has stated his preference to sign with a team ready to win now.

Video: Adam Jones enters free agency after productive 2018

Andrew McCutchen
2018: Batted .255/.368/.424 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and 2.8 WAR over 155 games with the Giants and Yankees.

McCutchen, 32, is well known to Reds fans from his prime years with the Pirates from 2009-17, when he batted .291 with 203 homers during those nine seasons. He hasn't played center field since 2017 and played in the corners last season. McCutchen's diminished range would be less of an issue at Great American Ball Park.

Video: Andrew McCutchen set to hit free agency

Denard Span
2018: Batted .261/.341/.419 with 11 homers, 58 RBIs and 1.9 WAR over 137 games with the Rays and Mariners.

Span, who turns 35 in February, has seen his speed decline from his prime years with the Twins and Nationals, and he played in left field last season. But he still showed he can hit and get on base, and hitting and playing defense would also be easier at GABP. Span could work on a short-term deal perhaps.

Video: OAK@SEA: Span ropes a 2-run double to the gap

Other free agents on the market: Carlos Gomez, Jon Jay, Cameron Maybin and Austin Jackson. There is also Hamilton, who the Reds are open to bringing back at a lower dollar level. Hamilton was projected to see a significant raise in arbitration from the $4.6 million he earned last season.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

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