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Exploring Reds' free-agent OF options for 2020

@m_sheldon
November 21, 2019

CINCINNATI -- The Reds need more offense -- specifically, run producers -- and they have an unsettled outfield situation. With payroll going up and the front office wanting to be aggressive with hitting upgrades, the free agent outfielder market offers many possibilities. “It's just making sure we give ourselves more

CINCINNATI -- The Reds need more offense -- specifically, run producers -- and they have an unsettled outfield situation. With payroll going up and the front office wanting to be aggressive with hitting upgrades, the free agent outfielder market offers many possibilities.

“It's just making sure we give ourselves more opportunities to score,” Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams said last month. “Have more guys on base earlier in the innings creates more traffic, and I think we'll have more success. We've got guys that can do that, but we're going to have to create a lineup that generates more offense.”

Rumors: Latest from Hot Stove

Williams and the Reds haven’t signaled who they are targeting to acquire, but here are some outfielders likely to get a closer look:

Nicholas Castellanos

Why Castellanos makes sense

The best hitting outfielder on the market, Castellanos had a great contract year and did it amid a pennant race. In 151 games for the Tigers and Cubs in 2019, he batted .289 with an .863 OPS, 27 home runs, 73 RBIs and a Major League-leading 58 doubles. After being moved to Chicago at the Trade Deadline, Castellanos thrived while batting .321 with 16 homers and a 1.002 OPS in just 225 plate appearances over 51 games.

Add the fact that Castellanos turns 28 years old in March, and the Reds should feel comfortable making a long-term commitment to a player who appears to be entering the prime of his career.

Why it might not work

A former third baseman, Castellanos has consistently rated as a below-average defensive player. That continued as a right fielder this past season as he owned a minus-9 defensive runs saved number, according to Fangraphs.

As arguably the best available offensive outfielder, there should be no shortage of suitors for Castellanos. Williams said the team’s already record payroll is going up in 2020, but a bidding war, combined with his agent being Scott Boras, could test those limits.

Marcell Ozuna

Why Ozuna makes sense

If there’s an argument that Castellanos isn’t the best hitter among free agent outfielders, the counterpoint would be Ozuna. In 2017 for Miami, he slugged a career-high 37 homers with 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS. Over the last two seasons for the division-rival Cardinals, the 29-year-old averaged 26 homers and 89 RBIs.

As MLB.com’s Statcast analyst Mike Petriello wrote earlier this month, Ozuna could rate highly among the analytics crowd. Petriello noted that the right-handed hitter had a 49.2 percent hard-hit rate that was in the 96th percentile in 2019. Ozuna also had MLB’s largest walk-rate increase -- from 6.1 percent in 2018 to 11.3 -- while cutting down on strikeouts and groundballs.

Why it might not work

Since being traded from Miami to St. Louis before the 2018 season, Ozuna had under-performing numbers from his two All-Star seasons in ‘16 and ‘17. With the Cardinals, Petriello showed these figures:

• 2018: .327 wOBA, .359 xwOBA, 32-point deficit

• 2019: .340 wOBA, .380 xwOBA, 40-point deficit

Earlier this month, Ozuna rejected the $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals, which means the Reds would lose a Draft pick for signing him. That is likely not a deal breaker, but it doesn’t help either. Ozuna has also been prone to baserunning and defensive gaffes, including during this year’s National League Championship Series against the Nationals.

Corey Dickerson

Why Dickerson makes sense

A left-handed hitter, the 2017 All-Star has consistently delivered offense with an .832 career OPS. In 78 games with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in 2019, he batted .304/.341/.565 with 12 homers, 59 RBIs and 127 wRC+. In ‘18 for the Pirates, he was worth 3.8 WAR and won a Gold Glove for his defense. He doesn’t strike out a lot, especially in the past couple of seasons.

Great American Ball Park has traditionally been a happy place for Dickerson. He has batted .373 with a 1.226 OPS and nine homers over 19 career games in Cincinnati. And the 30-year-old could be a good bargain. MLB Trade Rumors predicted Dickerson would get a contract in the two years and $15 million range.

Why it might not work

Injuries were the reason that Dickerson only played 78 games in the past season, including a right shoulder strain that knocked him out for the first two months and a left foot fracture in September. While the injuries have likely depressed some of his market value, it will also create a larger pool of teams in demand for his bat.

Alternatives

Right fielder Yasiel Puig, whom the Reds dealt to Cleveland on July 31, was popular with fans but is unlikely to be brought back after his half season in Cincinnati.

Japanese center fielder Shogo Akiyama is a free agent and .301 career hitter who averaged 23 homers over his last three seasons with the Seibu Lions. At 32 years old and with nine seasons under his belt, Akiyama wouldn’t have to go through the expensive posting system like others who come from Japan. The Reds have never had a Japanese player and could end that streak.

Of course, Cincinnati already has some in-house outfielders, but each has his own issues. Corner outfielder Jesse Winker and center fielder Nick Senzel are coming off injury-shortened seasons. Winker, a lefty hitter, and right-handed-hitting Phillip Ervin had some nice moments. But their splits against righty and lefty pitchers currently profile for platoon play. Aristides Aquino had a historical breakout of homers in August, but he nosedived in September.

Add it up, and the Reds have room to improve in this area.

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.