Whichever Cincinnati Reds employee was responsible for shepherding Billy Hamilton around Redsfest this weekend had to make a last-minute adjustment to another speedy center fielder – Reds Hall of Famer Eric Davis.
The change was made because hours ahead of Friday's 8 p.m. non-tender deadline, the Reds declined to offer Hamilton a contract for the 2019 season, making him a free agent.
The electrifying center fielder was paid $4.6 million in 2018, when he batted .236 with four home runs, 29 runs batted in, 74 runs and 34 stolen bases after piling up at least 56 in each of the previous four seasons. He also was a Gold Glove finalist for the fifth time and played in a career-high 153 games, but he was eligible for arbitration for the third time, which played a part in the decision.
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“He was arb-eligible, and that was going to be a pretty big number,” Reds Chief Operating Officer Phil Castellini told WCPO-TV on Friday at RedsFest. “We needed more production from center field. I’m sure that’s one of the hardest decisions (the baseball operations) guys had to make.”
The move gives the Reds additional budget flexibility, President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams said. The team hopes to beef up the pitching staff by adding veteran pitchers.
“We were not comfortable committing to that salary level for Billy,” Williams said Friday night during one of the Redsfest Main Stage programs. “This was a difficult organizational decision to make. It’s not something we did lightly.”
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Hamilton signed a one-year contract for the 2018 season to avoid arbitration and could’ve been a free agent after the 2019 season.
The Reds reportedly tried to trade Hamilton, but couldn’t get a satisfactory return package.
Cincinnati has five other players eligible for arbitration in 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 Reds also non-tendered outfielder Aristides Aquino, catcher Juan Graterol and outfielder Jordan Patterson, leaving the team with 36 players on the 40-man roster.
Over 690 career big league games, Hamilton has hit .245 with 277 steals. He finished second behind Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2014 when he stole 56 bases.
As a free agent, Hamilton could end up back with the Reds.
“Who knows?” Castellini said. “We could be having this same conversation in spring training about how we got him back.”
Redsfest continues Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
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