It’s been covered everywhere: The Reds need a left fielder for 2015. Everyone knows it, including the Reds. The Reds also know that they have one of, if not the top left field prospect in the entire game of baseball with Jesse Winker. Right now, Winker has limited exposure in the upper minor leagues as his wrist injury took away most of the second half of the season. The team did send him to the Arizona Fall League to make up for some missed time and it’s almost hard to believe it could be going better.
Winker is hitting .359/.463/.594 with 14 walks and 16 strikeouts in 80 plate appearances. He is leading the league in average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS (by nearly 100 points over the guy in second place). The Arizona Fall League is a far cry from the Major Leagues, but all Jesse Winker has done is hit and hit well. He understands the strikezone, which is something that is usually the thing that holds young hitters back early in their careers at the big league level.
The reason that the question is being asked today is because the guy most often linked with the Reds early this offseason, Nori Aoki, is reportedly asking for a 3-year deal. From a skill perspective, Aoki is a good fit for what the Reds need. But the outfield is one spot where the Reds should have options from the farm relatively soon between Jesse Winker, Yorman Rodriguez, Kyle Waldrop or maybe even Donald Lutz. All played in AA or higher in 2014.
It is going to be hard to get the Reds a starting caliber left fielder on a 1-year deal. It might even be tough to find someone on a 2-year deal and that is pushing the limits on holding back your prospects, who will be cheap on a payroll that is going to need cheap players given the contracts the team is already locked into moving forward.
That makes Aoki, a guy that would help out the team but also hold back a top end prospect. Aoki isn’t a big time player, so keeping him for two or three years in order to keep a solid outfielder at a decent chunk of change doesn’t seem like good business.
The team could always go out on the trade market to try and acquire someone, and if the team had to commit to 3-year deals for someone of quality to stick in left field, the trade market would seem like a better option in my opinion. The Reds could acquire someone to bridge the gap, however long it may be, until one of the minor leaguers shows that they are truly ready.