Walt Jocketty’s Christmas list wasn’t long, but it was still a tall order. Well, two weeks before Dec. 25, he checked off the final big-ticket item: a leadoff hitter. The Reds completed a three-team deal that brought outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and infielder Jason Donald to Cincinnati, while team sent Drew Stubbs to Cleveland and shortstop Didi Gregorius to Arizona.
In Choo, the Reds have a hitter with a .381 career on-base percentage. It was — and has been — the missing piece for the Reds for quite a while. CityBeat caught up with Jocketty last week after the team announced it had also signed backup infielder Jack Hannahan.
CityBeat: This has to be about as good as you’ve felt about your team at this point of the year in your tenure here.
Walk Jocketty: I really think we have as deep of a talent level as we’ve had. We’ve got the leadoff hitter that we’ve desired for so many years and it’s going to set up our lineup perfectly. It’s like when you get the right guy to close games out, then your bullpen falls into place, getting the right guys at the top of the rotation and the rest falls into place.
CB: How hard is it to find a guy to bat leadoff — it seems the Reds have been searching for one long before you got here?
WJ: It’s extremely hard. There were a couple of other guys we pursued and it just didn’t work for one reason or another. The free agents were beyond our purse strings, so we had to look at trades. The one benefit is the farm system we have, but that’s the way we have to do it here. Our game plan is to have strong player development and scouting and have players that we can trade to fill holes on our major league club.
CB: You have seemed to build up a redundancy in your farm system: Gregorius behind Cozart, Yonder Alonso behind Joey Votto, Yasmani Grandal behind Devin Mesoraco.
WJ: My philosophy has always been, here and in St. Louis, that you develop a farm system and hope to keep certain players you think will help you at the major league level, and if there is a surplus you use them to supplement your club. We have a great farm system here. I’ve traded quite a few players away — it’s tough to do. But we still have a young club and have depth at Double-A, Triple-A, but we really have some good young kids on lower levels. That’s the plan — keep that flow going.
CB: Is this move — the fact that Choo is a free agent after the season — show how much faith you have in Billy Hamilton?
WJ: I think so. Yes. Billy, there’s a lot of talk about him coming up last year or coming up now, but I watched him play a lot in the fall league and he’s a great athlete and adapts quickly, but it will only benefit him to have more experience, because when he gets here, he’s going to be that much more prepared and he’s going to have a long career here.
Thinking Out Loud
What a week in Cincinnati sports. Not only did the Reds make big, bold moves, the Bengals improved their playoff chances (thanks to Tony Romo and the Cowboys), the University of Cincinnati’s conference is falling apart and Xavier is poised to be a prime beneficiary. And this sets up a week that basically has a play-in game for the Bengals against the Steelers, the Crosstown Shootout and the continuation of conference uncertainty. People complain about Cincinnati sports, but it never seems boring. ... With the so-called “Catholic 7” leaving the Big East, UC basketball coach Mick Cronin went off following the team’s win at Marshall, telling Bill Koch of the Enquirer: “It’s a shame that football, one sport, has dictated all this and the money that one sport apparently is swinging around and swaying universities to make the decisions. We’re sitting here in a state where the state school is 800 miles from its closest road game. It’s ridiculous. Don’t tell me that people care about student-athletes. ... Lost in the shuffle in all this is our volleyball team, our soccer team, Marshall’s tennis team,” Cronin said. “It’s all ridiculous. Let’s call it what it is. I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’ve waited to say this. If it’s all about this much money and money grabbing, the players need to get paid.”
He’s not wrong. Of course, the reason football is driving all this is because it’s the most popular sport in the land. And while it’s tough to believe here in Cincinnati, many places it’s more popular than the NFL.