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Jesse Winker: Worth Trading For?

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The Reds outfielder is fresh off his first All-Star appearance in 2021.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Survey average baseball fans at this time a year ago for their thoughts on Jesse Winker and you would seldom get an answer au courant. Winker’s 2021 season changed that: those same fans elected the Cincinnati Reds outfielder as an All-Star Game starter.

Before the MLB lockout went into effect, the Reds begin tearing down their roster to abide by ownership’s mandate to lower payroll. That is expected to continue once transactions resume with Nicholas Castellanos doubtful to be re-signed and several other veterans in the middle of their primes being shopped on the trade market.

With Winker coming off his career year and due a significant salary increase via arbitration, Cincinnati could look to sell high on the 28-year-old. Is he a name who’s worth looking into for the Marlins?

What’s to Like

Even before his breakout into the mainstream last season, Jesse Winker was consistently among MLB’s best at getting on base. From 2017-20, Winker owned a .380 OBP in 303 games, walking nearly as much (130) as he struck out (176). Simply put, Winker would be a welcome addition because, well...see below.

In 2021, he emerged as arguably the best offensive player on a Reds’ team that won 83 games. Winker hit to a .305/.394/.556 clip over 110 games. That’s a .949 OPS and adjusted OPS+ of 140. By Win Probability Added, he finished 6th in the NL at 3.1 WPA, no surprise considering his 1.071 OPS in 84 high-leverage plate appearances.

Marrying his sharp eye at the plate and poise under pressure with a power spike has made Winker a dangerous hitter indeed.

The team who acquires Winker, should he be moved prior to the start of the 2022 season, would get him with two remaining years of club control. MLB Trade Rumors projects a $6.8 million salary for him.

What’s NOT to Like

Babe Ruth once proclaimed former teammate and future Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher the “All-American Out.” Leo the Lip proved adept with the leather, amassing terrific value on the defensive side (11.4 dWAR). However, he accrued merely 2.6 oWAR and career 66 OPS+ over the course of nearly 6,000 plate appearances.

In Winker, you’re getting the complete opposite player profile. While being worth 8.0 oWAR since debuting, his fielding struggles have negated a lot of that production. Primarily a left fielder, the Buffalo, NY native has been worth -23 defensive runs saved so far during his young career. That’s why he frequently occupied the designated hitter’s spot for the Reds when they had the freedom to put him there in 2020 (started 35 of their 60 games at DH).

Outfield defense does not usually improve with age. Winker’s bat should continue to be his ticket to regular at-bats for the foreseeable future.

Health is a factor to consider as well—Winker has never played more than 113 games in a single season. Would he be able to maintain elite offensive performance through the grind of a heavier workload? Previously been sidelined by a hip flexor strain (2017), shoulder subluxation (2018) and cervical strain (2019), Winker was stung by the injury bug yet again in 2021. He played one game after August 15 due to a nagging intercostal strain.

Final Verdict

Inserting a hitter with a career. 385 OBP into a lineup that posted a collective .298 mark last season would certainly aid Miami’s attempt to score more runs, but the questions surrounding his defense are merited.

With approximately $19.1 million of surplus value according to Baseball Trade Values, Winker would command a respectable though not farm system-breaking haul to secure his services. The Marlins would want assurances from MLB about the implementation of the universal DH before proceeding.

Do you split Winker between a corner outfield spot and a DH platoon with Garrett Cooper, or do you nix the trade idea altogether? Is the risk one worth taking given his injury history? Let us know.