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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Reds pick up options on Dunn, Valentin, and...Hatteberg?

Today the Reds picked up the options on Adam Dunn and Javier Valentin's contracts. Those two were not surprises--Dunn finally seemed to be getting some recognition around Cincinnati near the end of the season (why then and not earlier, I have no idea), while Javier Valentin is necessary given the Reds' current problems at catcher.

But they also picked up Scott Hatteberg's option, which is a surprise to me.

I really like Scott Hatteberg. He's an excellent hitter; one of those rare guys who can simultaneously avoid strikeouts and yet work lots of walks, while still hitting the ball with reasonable authority. He has massively outperformed my (and everyone else's) expectations since the Reds signed him in '06. Despite his age (turns 38 in December), at this point, I wouldn't be surprised to see him put up yet another solid season next year. ...

The problem is that I just that I don't see how there's room for him on this team.

Here's my current anticipated breakdown of the Reds' active position player roster as of now, not including Hatteberg:


C Javier Valentin/David Ross
1B Joey Votto/Jorge Cantu
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Alex Gonzalez
3B Edwin Encarnacion
LF Adam Dunn
CF Josh Hamilton
RF Ken Griffey
C David Ross/Javier Valentin
1B Jorge Cantu/Joey Votto
IF Jeff Keppinger
IF/OF Ryan Freel
OF Norris Hopper

That's 13 players right there. Given that the Reds will probably continue to carry 12 pitchers most of the time, the active roster is already full. And this is not including Juan Castro, who I'm guessing will miss at least some of next season after Tommy John surgery.

Votto should be starting at first base this season, at least against right-handers. He's earned that spot, and it's silly not to plug him in there given his potential. He has a good shot to be just as productive as Hatteberg, and has the potential to be quite a bit more productive than Hatteberg--especially once he gets a year in the major leagues under his belt. I don't think anyone would argue with that.

But it does make sense to platoon Votto during his first season (just as they have Hatteberg), because the rather large lefty/righty splits he showed in the minor leagues will probably only be exacerbated as he settles in at the major league level. So he will likely be alternating with Cantu (or perhaps Keppinger) at that position...and that means that the Reds will already have two guys who really can only play first base reliably (well, three if you count Dunn...).

So what does Hatteberg bring to the Reds? He'd be a great bat off the bench, of course, but if Votto and Cantu are alternating at first, I don't see where he's going to find playing time. Furthermore, unless there's an injury, the active roster is already full of position players without him. And even if there is an injury--which, of course, is not unlikely--can the Reds afford to carry three guys who shouldn't really play anywhere but first base?

The only reasonable explanation I can think of for this move is that the Reds will try to trade either Hatteberg or Votto this offseason. Trading Votto seems to me to be a mistake, because you'd be trading away a guy with excellent potential over whom you would have low-cost control for six more years. So perhaps they'll try to swing a deal for Hatteberg...?

The other solution, of course, is that we could see Votto start the season in Louisville with Hatteberg starting again at first base. But that couldn't possibly happen on an intelligently-run ballclub like the Reds, right? Right? ... ... right?