In our never-ending quest to find the Guardians’ answer in the outfield, we look today at one potential trade target from the Cincinnati Reds.
It seems strange that the Cincinnati Reds appear to be signaling a true rebuilding effort, because they really only seemed like a piece or two away from contention themselves last season. Losing Nick Castellanos in free agency will certainly sting, but the Reds really didn’t seem that far enough.
Nevertheless, it seems like Cincinnati’s entire roster is open for trade talks, and the Cleveland Guardians should absolutely consider a move to acquire outfielder Jesse Winker. And before you completely dismiss this notion, the Guardians have already inquired about Winker’s services before, going back to last season’s trade deadline.
So what makes him such a compelling possibility?
Guardians 2022 trade target: outfielder Jesse Winker
Winker had the best year of his career in 2021, making his first All-Star appearance and hitting .305/.394/.556 with 24 home runs, 32 doubles, and 71 RBIs, while posting his best OPS+ (140) and wRC+ (148).
That’s not to mention Winker’s great eye at the plate. He walked a solid 10.9% in 2021, and his wOBA (.403) and his xwOBA (.390) were both in the top 3% of the league. Winker doesn’t strike out a ton for a power hitter, either; he kept his strikeout rate to 15.5% last season.
For Reds fans, the breakout shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise; Winker has always put up solid numbers in limited at-bats, due in part to a history of various injuries and IL stints; he even finished last year on the IL with an intercostal strain. But there’s no denying the massive talent there for the 28-year-old, who has never posted an OPS+ or wRC+ under 100. And with 423 at-bats in 2021 – the most of his career – Winker was finally able to showcase it.
When Winker got injured in August, he was leading the National League in doubles (32) and total bases (235) while ranking in the top five in batting average at .307. He and Castellanos were leading a powerful Reds offense, but Winker ended up playing in only one game after August 15 and Cincinnati eventually faded from the playoff race. If he had stayed healthy all season, Winker certainly could have put himself in the MVP discussion.
In terms of his contract, Winker is currently under team control for two more seasons, becoming a free agent in 2024. Given his injury history (we haven’t yet mentioned the shoulder injury in 2018 or the neck strain in 2019) and the two seasons of guaranteed service, the price wouldn’t likely be as high for the Guardians compared to, say, a pursuit of Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds.
There will likely always be questions about Winker’s ability to stay healthy (he has never played in more than 113 games in a season), but that really shouldn’t deter the Guardians from trying to acquire him; the upside of Winker in the lineup – and simply being adequate in left field – is just too good to ignore.
Plus, what exactly is Cleveland’s other option? It’s not likely the team is going to drastically improve its outfield through free agency, and the Guardians have numerous pieces they can trade to make a significant impact like this. On the Reds’ side of things, they are desperate for pitching help, especially in the bullpen, but they would likely be happy to have young rotation pieces considering their entire pitching staff seems to be on the trade block.
The Guardians have one of the most impressive farm systems in baseball, along with major-league pieces that should genuinely help the Reds where they need it most. Winker is something of a small risk in his contract and injury history, but if the Guardians feel they are closer to contending than most people give them credit for, he’s a perfect fit.