Left pondering: Decision time for Reds
No fewer than five names in mix for vacant corner outfield spot
CINCINNATI -- For many years, the Reds could have written Adam Dunn's name in the lineup for left field not just in ink, but in cement.Once Dunn became established in the Majors in 2002, he was generally a lock to play 150-160 games, hit 40 home runs, drive in 100 runs and score 100 runs. But as he prepared to head off for free agency, the Reds traded the longtime No. 44 to the Diamondbacks in August for three players, including pitcher Micah Owings. When manager Dusty Baker fills out his lineup card this season, he will be bypassing ink or cement. Baker will instead likely need a pencil and eraser as he decides among names like Jerry Hairston Jr., Chris Dickerson, Jonny Gomes and perhaps Jacque Jones or Norris Hopper. "We'll see. Right now it's a situation where I will have to see," Baker said recently. After the 2008 season ended, the Reds identified a right-handed-hitting run producer for left field as a top offseason priority. But for numerous reasons, they were never able to find the right fit. The club's prudence in not wanting to part with big dollars or promising players to get someone, didn't score points with frustrated fans. Realistically, however, none of the names rumored or linked to Cincinnati this winter appeared to be the dramatic difference-makers that would have assured contention. So while Jay Bruce is a lock to man right field and free-agent acquisition Willy Taveras patrols center field, left field will be a more fluid situation in 2009. Heading into Spring Training, the job could be a three-way platoon among the right-handed Hairston and Gomes and left-handed-hitting Dickerson. "Depending on who is pitching, it'd be one of those three guys probably," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty recently said. While Dunn was essentially a mortal lock to hit 40 homers and drive in 100 runs per season, the Hairston-Gomes-Dickerson trio combined to hit exactly 20 homers last season. Only Gomes has ever hit at least 20 homers on his own or driven in 50 runs in a season. Although each candidate will demonstrate more range and be a defensive improvement over Dunn in left field, they all bring pros and cons offensively. After signing a Minor League deal during Spring Training last year following two poor seasons, Hairston emerged as a nice surprise. In 80 games at six different positions, the 32-year-old batted .326 with six home runs, 36 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. When he led off the lineup, the Reds had a 25-19 record. Hairston, who is also insurance at shortstop should Alex Gonzalez have a setback in his return from a season off, would probably bat second behind Taveras when he plays.
|"I don't want to make predictions or judgments before going down there [to camp]. We have an open mind about this."|
|-- GM Walt Jocketty|
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.