Yonder Alonso had been penciled in as the starting left fielder for the Reds going into 2012. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. After being dealt along with three others to San Diego for newcomer Mat Latos last weekend, the team must look elsewhere to fill the void in left. Enter fan favorite Chris Heisey.
Despite only receiving 279 at-bats in 2011, the 27-year old slugged his way to 18 homers, 50 RBIs and 9 doubles all the while sporting a modest .254 average. Now consider this, if we were to pro-rate those numbers out to 600 at-bats - which would signify Heisey playing everyday in left over the course of a season - his stats would look like this: 37 homers, 104 RBIs and roughly 20 doubles. That kind of production is worth around $10-$12 million on the open market. Heisey's salary for 2012? Try just under $500,000 -- which isn't too far off from the league minimum.
The lack of confidence placed in Heisey by the organization is absolutely puzzling in my opinion. They continue to scour the free agent market looking to A) spend money they don't have, and B) find offensive productivity that they're already paying for in Heisey! Can we honestly say that Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick, or Pat Burrell is such a proven upgrade over Heisey, or even other internal candidates such as Dave Sappelt or Denis Phipps for that matter? Considering the money that mediocre outfielders have been reeling in this off-season (Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer), my answer is a resounding no.
With that said, there are a few concerns with giving Heisey the nod in left. Firstly, he strikes out at an alarming pace. No, we're not talking about a Drew Stubbs-type percentage here (33% in 1298 career at-bats), but it is troubling. Through 480 career major league at-bats Heisey has gone down on strikes over 28% of the time. By comparison, the average K% of an MLB hitter is close to 18%.
And what makes matters worse for Heisey is his inability to draw walks as well. His career .316 on-base percentage is far from satisfactory, but you learn to live with it as long as he's driving in runs -- which is exactly what he did last season when given the chance.
But it appears as though he didn't do it against left-handed pitching. He hit just .197 against southpaws all of '11, which is actually 17 points higher than his career average against them. What makes this stat even more puzzling is that he owns a .288 career clip against righties. This presents a sticky dilemma for manager Dusty Baker. The evidence shows that Heisey is not effective in a platoon-role against lefties only, but are you confident enough to pencil him in the everyday lineup instead? Oddly enough, the team found themselves in a similar situation not too long ago.
After a solid 2010 campaign, the Reds rolled the dice and brought back Jonny Gomes for another round last year. It turned out to be a relatively unsuccessful endeavor, as the team traded him away to the Nationals at the deadline, but it was a $2 million risk worth taking.
The gamble on Heisey won't cost the Redlegs nearly as much. Plus, as much as we all admired Gomes for his all-out effort and hustle, Heisey provides a clear edge over Gomes in both defensive range and baserunning ability. In fact, it wouldn't be shocking at all if Heisey even eclipsed the .266/18/86 statline that Gomes posted in the Reds' 2010 NL Central Championship run.
In conclusion, what Heisey brings to the table far outweighs what he does not. And considering the reality that the club isn't exactly busting at the seams with left field options right now, it'd be wise to see how putting the right-handed bopper in left would work out. The fate of a deep postseason run does not always hinge on adding a big name free agent. The St. Louis Cardinals and David Freese are more than evidence of that.