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Who will replace Joey Votto?
The Reds managed to pull out the 1-0 win in 10 innings on Wednesday against the White Sox, bringing their record to 14-15. However, it did not come without a price, as first baseman Joey Votto fractured his thumb after being hit by a pitch in the fourth inning.
According to the latest reports, the thumb injury will sideline Votto for the next three weeks at least. Which, of course, leads to the biggest question currently facing the Reds: How, or who, will they replace their veteran first baseman and heart-of-the-order hitter?
While Votto is not the same player who won the MVP in 2010, the 37-year old still brings Cincinnati plenty of value. The 15-year veteran is hitting .226, but still gets on base at a .305 clip. He also has five homers and 17 RBI, getting the third-most at-bats on the team while primarily hitting third.
In addition, his presence is something the Reds shouldn’t take for granted. With a lot of young players as well as newer acquisitions, Votto is one of four active players with at least 1,800 career games under his belt, joined only by Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Yadier Molina. Among them, only Votto and Molina have spent all those games in one uniform.
So how do the Reds, with no natural first baseman on the roster, go about replacing a guy who will miss a bit of time in the next month? Here are some ways manager David Bell could go.
When Votto eventually exited Wednesday’s game, it was Farmer who came in as his replacement at first base. Farmer has played all over the diamond in his five-year career, slotting in primarily at second base and third base. However, the utility man does have 91 innings of first base in his career, including nine innings over the course of three games this season with Cincinnati.
Now while Farmer may have just enough experience at first to handle the position, he’s not exactly a bat you want in the lineup every day. In 61 plate appearances this year, the 30-year old is hitting just .173 with one homer and six RBI. While no sub can touch Votto’s offensive ability in the middle of the lineup, Farmer leaves a lot to be desired at the plate.
Blandino is similar to Farmer in the sense that he has experience playing multiple positions, almost exclusively in the infield. Among that experience is a few innings at first base, 29 to be exact, with 17 of those coming this season. It’s not ideal, but it’s nice to see at least a few reps at first.
While Blandino might not have as many innings under his belt as Farmer, the 28-year old at least this season might be the slightly better offensive option. After not playing in the majors last season, Blandino is hitting .250 in 38 plate appearances, but with an OBP of .368. While he is still looking for his first homer of the season, his three doubles and four RBI are a little more encouraging than what Farmer has done with more than 20 trips to the plate.
When compared to Farmer and Blandino, Moustakas is the best hitter of the bunch without question. The 11-year vet is already ingrained in the middle of Cincinnati’s lineup, hitting just .219 in his second year with the Reds but also smacking three home runs and eight RBI is 64 at-bats. As far as people you’d like to see in the lineup frequently, Moustakas is the easy choice over the previous two options.
The big question though is if “Moose” is equipped to play first. And while the 32-year old has played third for the bulk of his career and is doing so now, he actually has close to 100 innings of first base over the duration of his career. Ironically, the bulk of that came last season, when Moustakas made eight starts at first for the Reds and played a total of 63.2 innings there.
So Who's On First?
Based on these three candidates, and the fact that the Reds don’t have a logical option currently in the minors, it seems that Moustakas is the best option going forward. However, it’s not as if his move to first for the next few weeks is that simple. It would require some shifting of multiple players.
If Moustakas goes to first base, that would leave third base open. With Eugenio Suarez needed at shortstop, it might be time to move Nick Senzel back to the infield and play him at third base. Senzel, who was primarily a second baseman in the minors, would be more needed in the infield than outfield, especially when you consider the upcoming return of center fielder Shogo Akiyama to the lineup.
With Moose at first, Senzel, and third, either Akiyama or Tyler Naquin in the center, the Reds have their best possible offensive lineup without Votto, while also not stretching anyone too far or putting them in a position where they are bound to fail. It doesn’t have to be an everyday thing, but it will more than do until their future Hall of Fame first baseman is back to full strength.
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