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The new importance of Josh Reddick

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The Athletics right fielder has been hiding in the shadows a bit this year. With Yoenis Cespedes out of the picture, will he step into the spotlight?

Josh, 27yo SWM, enjoys wrestling, pie, and long trots around the bases.
Josh, 27yo SWM, enjoys wrestling, pie, and long trots around the bases.
Bob Levey

In 2012, Josh Reddick was one of the biggest snubs from the All-Star Game. That's weird to think about now -- not that he didn't make it, but that he maybe should have. He certainly deserved it over the team's actual representative that year, a BABIP-fueled Ryan Cook. At the time, Reddick was looking like he may have been the best player on a good team, with massive power and Gold Glove defense.

Of course, that didn't last. His high level of offensive production turned out to be a fluke, and it turns out that he profiles better as a defensive wizard who, as a bonus, can swat a homer now and then. He's still a valuable player -- he's been worth more than a full win by both measures of WAR in only 63 games, which extrapolates out to roughly a three-win season -- but not to the same extent and in the same multitude of ways that we initially thought. When he's missed time to injuries in the last couple years, it hasn't felt devastating to the team because he's not so valuable that he can't be replaced; in fact, at times it's almost seemed like a blessing in disguise when his absence has helped solve roster crunches.

Things have changed now, yet again, for two big reasons. The first is that Reddick has started hitting. Beginning with his four games in June in between DL stints, and looking through this morning, he's got a line of .357/.391/.643 in 13 games (46 PA's) with seven extra-base hits (two homers), three walks, and only four strikeouts. A high batting average? A low strikeout rate? Reddick craves not these things. And yet, there he is, putting the ball in play and getting on base like crazy.

And before you scream small sample, keep in mind that we waited all year last season for Reddick to put together even one week like this. It only happened once or twice, was always centered around just one or two massive games, and was always followed by a long period of futility rather than a second good week. This time, in 13 games, he's got as many multi-hit contests (five) as 0-fers, one of those 0-fers came as a late-inning replacement with only two at-bats, and none of them came on back-to-back days. In one of those 0-fer games, he still reached base via a walk. It's small, but it's the best he's done in a long time.

For the season, he's now got a .701 OPS, good for an OPS+ of 97 -- he's reached the level of "league-average hitter" for the year overall. A Reddick who can hit at all is quite a good player. He wouldn't be a far cry from Jason Heyward, the only other superior defensive right fielder in the world, who also goes through long struggles with the bat and has hot-and-cold running home run power. If Reddick can still keep hitting at even a decent level -- not his current two-week pace, but a solid .750 OPS.

The other thing that has changed the situation is, of course, Thursday's big trade. With Yoenis Cespedes out of the picture, the importance of each other outfielder has now increased. We know that Jonny Gomes can make up for the offensive side against lefties, but we also know that Coco Crisp is going to miss time and that the other replacement, Sam Fuld, will not be contributing the same type of value that the team lost with Cespedes. Without Cespedes and Coco, the outfield consists of a bit of great defense (Fuld, Reddick), a bit of power (Moss, Gomes half the time), and a bit of black green magic that we hope will continue (Vogt). As things stand, that's probably good enough to continue being a great team.

But what if Reddick keeps hitting? Not like he did in first-half 2012, but more like, say Heyward? What if he can maintain just a 110 OPS+? That's asking a lot, but it's not asking for a miracle, not with the encouraging signs he's shown lately. And if he does that, suddenly you have replaced Cespedes without even factoring in the new left field platoon that is literally filling his shoes in the lineup. Remember, Cespedes only had an OPS+ of 114 despite all his talent, and suddenly finding yourself with a Reddick who can match that production while still playing superior defense would actually result in a better lineup overall (since Gomes/Fuld would only need to hit better than Bad Reddick and average out to a decent fielding duo to make up that side of the equation).

I've personally looked at Reddick as something of a lotto ticket this year. He's worth having for his defense, but there's always that chance that the latent power potential will come back, even for short spurts, and turn him back into something like a star. And now, with some space cleared up in the lineup and the chance to re-establish himself as an everyday, two-way player, his chance to make a difference is bigger than it was before. There is now a void that needs to be filled, by whoever is the first person to step up and fill it.

If we continue to get the same old Reddick, the one with a 90 OPS+ who just has a big game now and then, the team can still succeed. Heck, it has to this point, and there is still plenty of other offense to pick up the slack without his help. But if continues to be a plus at the plate, and reverts back to a guy who can slot into the No. 5 or No. 6 slot in the order every day? The lineup will have lost one of the scariest power hitters in the game, the two-time Derby champion, and still somehow gotten better when all was said and done.

Reddick has the chance to be one of the most important pieces of this roster shake-up. The only question is whether or not he can muster the power to make it happen.

Reddick is batting seventh on Friday against struggling right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. There are worse situations than that for a guy hoping to hit well.