Rounding Third: Reds clear winners in three-way deal

You were starting to wonder if the Cincinnati Reds were ever going to find themselves a leadoff hitter or a center fielder this offseason.

Sure, Michael Bourn would have been nice, but with a potential payroll of around $90 million, and the exact same player in Billy Hamilton waiting in the wings at Triple-A. most Cincinnati fans had to realize that was never going to happen.

The Reds did better than anyone could have expected on Tuesday and filled both needs, acquiring Shin-Soo Choo from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Drew Stubbs and shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius as part of a three-team, nine- player deal that also included the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Now Choo isn't your prototypical center fielder. In fact, he's only played 10 games there in his 8-year career, or 37 less than the recently re-signed Ryan Ludwick.

The Reds, though, think it will be an easy transition for Choo.

"We've haven't seen him out there," Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty said. "But he runs well. He goes left to right and right to left well. We think he can make the transition."

Most assume the 30-year-old South Korean will be fine in the field, but where his value will really come into play is at the top of the lineup, a spot that the Reds had no luck filling last season. The Reds struggled mightily getting on base in 2011, but Choo owns a career .381 on-base percentage and last season stole 21 bases in 28 attempts overall.

He'll also offer some much needed pop from the left-side, as he owns a .307 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .514 slugging percentage against righties in his career.

In 155 games last season Choo batted .283 with 16 homers, 43 doubles and 67 RBIs.

Now in Gregorius the Reds give up one of their top prospects for what amounts to be a rental player in Choo, who is eligible to become a free agent at the end of the 2013 season.

But who cares? If Cincinnati wins a World Series next season is anyone going to remember Gregorius? Plus the last time I checked the Reds already have a pretty good young shortstop in Zack Cozart, who is under team control for at least the next five years.

Choo's a stopgap until Hamilton is ready to take over in 2014. And if things go as planned, the Reds will get a nice little draft pick as compensation when Choo tests the free agent market after next season.

I've always been in the camp of dealing prospects for established stars, especially when you are close to winning a title. And the Reds are certainly in that boat.

"We couldn't afford to improve leadoff through free agency. Some of the trades we worked on, we weren't able to get done," Jocketty said. "We like Didi a lot. We think he's got a good future. But we have Zack Cozart for at least five more years."

Not to mention the Reds also got infielder Jason Donald and more importantly, $3.5 million from the Indians in the deal. That money should offset the difference between Stubbs' deal and the $8 million or so Choo will likely get in arbitration.

This was a no-brainer for Cincinnati.

Speaking of Gregorius, his stay in Cleveland was short-lived, as he was sent to Arizona along left-hander Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson for right-handers Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw.

So Cleveland winds up with a pretty nice haul for Choo, a player who was likely to leave anyway, but what exactly are the Diamondbacks doing here?

Gregorius is a nice prospect, but is nowhere near as highly regarded as Bauer, who could open the year in the Indians' rotation. Gregorius will likely battle Cliff Pennington to be the D-Backs Opening Day shortstop, but my guess is he starts the year in Triple-A.

"When I saw him he reminded me of a young Derek Jeter," Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said of Gregorius. "I was fortunate enough to see Jeter when he was in high school in Michigan and he's got that type of range. He's got speed. He's more of a line drive-type hitter, but I think he's got the type of approach at the plate where I think there's going to be power there as well."

Pretty high praise for a lifetime .271 hitter over five minor league seasons. He may turn out to be Jeter, but he's more likely not to be. Bauer, meanwhile, has electric stuff and would it shock anyone if he's an All-Star five years from now?

If there is one thing Arizona fans can be happy about this almost certainly ends any trade speculation involving outfielder Justin Upton.

The three-way deal wasn't as sexy as the one being bandied about last week in Nashville, but given the lack of excitement this offseason, we'll take it.