The SS position has been a major focus of Wayne Krivsky since he took over as G.M., and by all right's it should be. It's very important.
We had Concepcion followed by Larkin and always had a solid defensive SS.
Krivsky took over and saw that Lopez was horrible. He didn't do anything right away as he needed to look at his players in the entire organization through Spring Training so he could have a sound book on every one of his players.
He picked up Phillips, a SS. Though he was the Expos Minor League Player-of-the-Year in 2001 as a SS, and Double-A All-Star SS and Baseball America Minor League 2nd-Team All-Star SS in 2002, he committed a high percentage of errors everywhere he went as a SS.
But, Phillips improved his Fielding Percentage every year by about 7 points from his .915 at the age of 18 to his .958 at the age of 24 (2005 with Buffalo). So, defensively as a SS, he'd be fine if given the chance. At 2nd Base though, Phillips has been better with a .977 last year and .988 this year. His Zone Rating and Range Factors are improved this year, too, ranking 3rd, 4th, and 2nd in the league respectively in those areas. So, he's one of the best 2nd baseman in the league, which may be harder to find than a top SS.
So, at the time of "The Trade", and he wanted to fix the SS position, he decided he had to get rid of Lopez and that he'd go after Gonzalez in the Winter. So, why ask for Harris in the deal? Harris had a reputation similar to Gonzalez and Krivsky doesn't like that type of player. I'm guessing that he took him only so that he could trade him to someone else right away for whatever he could get because he didn't value him in his system. The "cash in return" for Harris would indicate this.
The season ends and he does his two transactions, signing what he believed to be was one of the best defensive SS's in the game in Gonzalez followed by Harris being jettisoned away for some cash (
) . I know Harris isn't a SS, but he is a 2B, and as someone said, a Phillips/Harris SS/2B combo with the money for Gonzo spent elsewhere would be pretty good. Before trading away Harris, the notion of making Phillips a SS and using Harris at 2B had to be thrown out. At the time (December) their plan was for Freel to be the starting CF, so whatever they used as advice for Harris' ability to play 2B at the Major League level was faulty and wrong. The same may be said for their advice they used to judge the level of Gonzalez' ability at SS.
If you look at the REDS' depth chart at SS in the organization one year ago, you can see why Krivsky felt he needed someone to play solid defense for the next three years, and he went after what he and others considered to be the best available defensive SS of last year's Free Agents. 11 months later, the organization's SS depth chart still justifies the signing. It doesn't justify not moving Phillips over to SS and having someone else play 2B, though. But, clearly, they want Phillips at 2B.
The poor depth at SS is why we still have Juan Castro. There are a number of moves by the REDS that shows us that Krivsky's no more satisfied with Castro than any of us.
1. The signing of 32-year old Mark Bellhorn with an OPS of .837 has 13 games at SS this year in AAA. Bellhorn could easily stink if called up, but not as bad as Castro has been. The problem with moving Castro is the money he's been given. They'll have to pay Castro if no one claims him and you know no one will.
2. 26-year old Anderson Machado is only batting .206 in AAA, though he does have a .350 OBP , but a dismal .344 SLG. You can't bring him up.
3. 24-year old Paul Janish is a disappointment batting .239/.347/.343 at AA. He's played 52 games at SS this year.
4. Krivsky picked up 25-year old Enrique Cruz this year, who's played 11 games at SS this year, but with this being his 9th year in the Minor Leagues he's still only batting .271/.340/.393 at AA. He's also played 49 games at 3rd. His June numbers are phenomenal though ... .441/.593/1.034. Maybe the coaches have found something that's helped him. His power is increasing and his K/AB is decreasing as the season goes on.
5. Earl Snyder played one game at SS in AAA. He's no longer in the organization. Jeff Bannon has played 2 games at SS in AAA, but all his other games are in RF.
6. Jeff Keppinger was brought up from AAA Louisville to help out while Edwin was down in Louisville in May. Keppinger played perfect defense while at Cincy and singled twice and walked once in his 9 plate appearances without striking out once. I'm sure Krivsky wanted to see how the 27-year old would look like in the Majors. Having formed an opinion, they sent him to AAA where they played him at SS 3 times, 3B 13 times, 2B 15 times and LF 10 times (there's another hint that Dunn will be gone). They seem to be grooming him for Freel's spot. Offensively, he's been a juggernaut, hitting .360/.414/.400 in April, .375/.425/.500 in May, and .362/.449/.466 in June while striking out only 11 times in 183 at-bats. But, there's a glaring weakness in him where he seems to choke when it counts. With RISP, he's only hitting .185/.385/.222 with 7 of his 11 strikeouts in only 37 plate appearances. With no one on base he's hitting .403.
7. The problem of backup SS doesn't seem to be solved with Keppinger, so Krivsky picked up another SS in 23-year old Pedro Lopez. He instantly became the top SS on the depth chart who would be closest to being ready to step into the SS role in the Majors. As a 22-year old w/ Birmingham in the Southern League he hit .322/.358/.453 before splitting the rest of the year at AAA Charlotte hitting .274/.320/.404. He regressed further this year at Charlotte hitting .242/.307/.323. The REDS have had him now for 19 games and in his last 7 games he's hitting .360...all singles, but it's a good sign. Maybe he's stroking it harder to get it through the infield or the REDS' coaches have him doing something different. He's always been a good contact hitter being one of the toughest to strike out.
He's played 54 games at SS this year and 5 at 2B, a trend that's reversing where he spent more time at 2B than SS as he went through the Minors. Since the REDS claimed him off waivers from the White Sox, he must remain on their 40-man roster. He's been up and down defensively at SS. In 2005 at AA he had a fielding percentage of .970, then at Charlotte in AAA in 2005 it was .943 at SS. His last two Spring Trainings in 2006/7 he hit a combined .297/.333/.486 with 1 strikeout in 39 PA's.
8. The Switch-hitting 26-year-old Luis Bolivar is playing the same musical chairs as Keppinger with 3 games at SS, 8 at LF, 12 at 3B, and 13 at 2B. Problem is he's not hitting... .247/.314/.364. But, most of AA-Chattanooga seems to be struggling or just getting by. No one's forcing management to think too hard about promoting them.
9. High-A Sarasota is absent of shortstops who deserve a promotion but help is on the way in Low-A through 21-year-old Chris Valaika who's hitting .318/.356/.500.
Looking through this SS depth, I can see why Krivsky wanted to give the contract to Gonzalez that he did.
If I got something wrong feel free to correct it, and comment all you want, please.