That the Cincinnati Reds hope to upgrade their pitching this offseason — either by adding a couple of starters or bolstering the bullpen or both — is not news.
The Reds added to their to-do list last week when they decided to not offer center fielder Billy Hamilton a 2019 contract, avoiding arbitration and making him a free agent.
Just like that, Cincinnati opened a hole in the outfield they need to fill. Whether Hamilton’s replacement comes from within the organization or from outside could be decided during baseball’s annual winter meetings, which convene at Mandala Bay in Las Vegas on Sunday and run through Thursday.
“We’ve got to figure out who is going to be the everyday center fielder and how we will fill that hole,” general manager Nick Krall said.
One possible scenario is moving Scott Schebler from the corner spots to center, where’s he made 49 appearances in his career, including 16 last season. That would create a spot for highly regarded prospect Nick Senzel, the team’s 2016 No. 1 draft pick. Senzel, exclusively an infielder before this season, was gaining outfield experience in instructional league action until undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
“I think right now, saying that Nick Senzel is this guy, that’s hard,” Krall said. “Nick played a couple of innings in instructional league while he was rehabbing. He’s going to go into spring training – and look, he’s played some outfield, he’s played second, short and third. He’s got quality versatility. He’s a very good athlete that can do a lot of different things. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities, but at the same time, I can’t tell you that he’s the guy. It’s not fair to him.”
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New manager David Bell was too busy putting faces to names and voices during Redsfest, the team’s annual two-day festival for fans, to speculate on Hamilton’s replacement.
“It is a little early,” he said. “It’s a little fresh right now. 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.”
Redsfest also gave the decision-makers the chance to discuss in more detail what they hope to accomplish in Las Vegas and beyond.
“I’ve been engaged,” Bell said. “I’ve been included in discussions. I’ve done a lot of listening because it helps my knowledge base of the organization as we talk through everything. I’ve been included in a lot in the front office, which has been great. There’s definitely been discussions, as you guys know. It’s definitely ongoing. I love our team, but we also know it’s the way the game works, especially this time of year going into the winter meetings. There will be a lot going on in the way of discussions.”
The underlying message at Redsfest, from front office to players, was impatience — which makes sense after five consecutive losing seasons, the last four ending with more than 90 losses, and sharply declining attendance.
“We’ve gone through the rebuild,” Krall said. “It’s time to start building this for where we want to go in the future. We’ve sold assets. We’ve got prospects. We’ve developed prospects. We have noticeable holes. We’ve got some money to spend. We want to get better. We’re looking to win. We’re not looking to get competitive. We’re looking to win, and it’s time to start doing that.
“This is not a finished product,” Krall added. “We’re far from finished. We’ve got to continue to get better. We’ve got to continue to make strides and be better with everything we’re doing.”
That’s just what one of those “developed prospects” – outfielder Jesse Winker – wanted to hear.
“It’s a new year,” Winker said. “We’re turning a page as an organization, and I think it’s time we start winning here. That’s the overall message that’s being said. It’s a very good message. It’s a very exciting message.”