The Reds' outfield gamble

Even Shin-Soo Choo himself says he's "uncomfortable" playing center field. AP Photo/Mark Duncan

The Cincinnati Reds have been searching for a leadoff hitter since Dusty Baker took over as Reds manager back in 2008. For five years the search proved fruitless. They’ve tried everything and everyone, just look at the list:

Jerry Hairston, Corey Patterson, Willy Taveras, Drew Stubbs and Orlando Cabrera. That’s a motley crew of a little speed and a lot of strikeouts.

Current Reds Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart also did their time at the top of the order, but general manager Walt Jocketty had seen enough. On Dec. 11, 2012, he orchestrated a three-team trade with the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks, sending top defensive shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius to Arizona and Stubbs to Cleveland for right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and backup infielder Jason Donald.

The trade left many baseball people puzzled not so much because they gave up two players under team control for years for a player represented by Scott Boras who is headed to free agency next winter, but rather because it raises a very practical question about the Reds' defense. With Bruce in right field and Ryan Ludwick in left field, where would Choo play? Jocketty’s plan would be for Choo -- who has a career .381 OBP -- to hit leadoff and start in center field even though he has played only 10 games there in his eight-year career.

After watching Choo play right field the past two years, it didn’t make any sense. I thought I must be missing something so I called major league scouts who were assigned to evaluate him and the Indians’ major league club. Then I called people in the Indians’ organization -- players, coaches, managers and front-office executives -- to get their opinions.