Josh Reddick signed after 2016, after the Astros took a step back from their 2015 surprise playoff appearance. In response, the front office decided to sprinkle in some veterans with the young core. That decision was undoubtedly a winning one. In fact, the Astros haven’t stopped winning since that decision was made.
Reddick was seen as a safe bet, a strong defensive outfielder with a proven ability to hit enough to merit starting as a corner outfielder. After signing for 4 years and 52 million, Reddick was better than advertised in 2017, accumulating 3.4 Fangraphs WAR by compiling a wRC+ of 127 and running the bases deftly. Although he graded out poorly on defense, his respected throwing arm kept runners at bay and we saw him save games with his glove. We also loved his intensity, if not his underwear.
In 2018 and 2019, the same intensity and defense showed up, but some alarming trends happened at the plate. Reddick was very streaky, and ended both of the past two seasons with a wRC+ in the 90s. That’s slightly below average. His BABIP dropped from .339 in 2017 to .258 and .288 in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Those low numbers confirmed what we saw: lots of pulled ground balls. Not all the trends were bad: Hard Hit % remained the same, and the pull happy 2018 was slightly reversed in 2019.
Reddick has not been a bad player. He’s almost earned his 52 million by producing 5.5 WAR (if 1 WAR is $8 million on the open market, he’s earned 44 million) in three years. But Reddick presents a roster problem for the Astros. And the roster problem doesn’t begin and end with Kyle Tucker.
But let’s start with Tucker, who projects to be more valuable in RF than Reddick, largely on the basis of the power he’s expected to produce. Reddick has hit 31 HR over the last two years and 1000 PAs. Tucker would likely hit more than 31 HR in 2020 if given a full-time job. Tucker would be on a rookie contract, and for a team strapped for cash, offloading Reddick’s 13 million would provide needed relief. Keep in mind, Reddick’s is not a dead contract. He’s a viable starting OF, soon to be 33 years old, and a good veteran presence. Still, we’ve not heard a whiff of a rumor.
Tucker doesn’t fit as a bench bat because he’s left-handed, as are Alvarez, Reddick, and Brantley. But he’s had over 1000 PAs in AAA, and he’s just not going to learn to hit MLB pitching in the PCL. He’s too good to keep down. Let him play.
The good news is that there’s a 26th roster spot. Most teams, Astros included, will go with a 13/13 alignment, meaning 13 position players. Here are the locks with Reddick on the team:
OF (4): Springer, Brantley, Reddick, Alvarez
C (2): Maldanado, Stubbs/Garneau (one of the two make; not both)
IF (5) Gurriel, Altuve, Bregman, Correa, Diaz.
That adds up to eleven. Those locks leave room for two additional position players, with three leading candidates: Tucker, Straw, and Toro. Tucker has been covered, and I would be shocked if he’s left off. Straw we know: he provides elite base-running and OF defense. He can also play in the dirt, and he held his own in 128 MLB PAs last year (104 wRC+), largely by drawing walks. He produced almost the same WAR as Reddick in a quarter of the plate appearances.
Toro looked like a major leaguer in his September debut. He switch hits, can serve as emergency catcher, and can play all four corners. He seems like a perfect fit for the 26th man. But unless somebody goes on the IL, there’s no room at the inn for Toro. The team is better with Tucker starting in right field and Toro as 26th man. The more used to playing third base he gets, the more the team can evaluate what a post-2021 infield looks like with Correa gone.
But if the team can’t find a taker for Reddick, it won’t be able to field it’s best opening day roster.