McCoy: Reds infield dilemma? Balancing versatility with playing time

When it comes to infielders, Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell has enough options to fill three different lineups without using the same player twice.

Is that a dilemma? What’s a manager to do?

There are eight legitimate candidates for the infield positions and that means Bell will be playing something like Scrabble, a mix-and-match game.

What will make it easier for him is that they all are versatile, all can play more than one position.

Bell’s biggest problem is how to keep everybody happy, give everybody the playing time they want and how to squelch egos.

Everybody must buy into it and that can lead to a manager walking on eggs with his spikes on without cracking any. Just try it.

First, here are the cast of characters in alphabetical order: Jeimer Candelario, Elly De La Cruz, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Josh Harrison, Jonathan India, Noelvi Marte, Matt McLain and Spencer Steer.

Fortunately, to ease Bell’s lineup construction, he has the designated hitter to work into the mix.

With so many young infielders, all of whom showed above-average ability and high ceilings last season, why would they sign another?

They signed free agent infielder Candelario and fans all over Reds Country were asking, “Why, why, why?” And it cost the cost-conscious Reds $45 million for three years.

Well, he can play third base, first base and some outfield corner spots if an emergency arises. But so can most of the others play first base, third base and some outfield.

And why would Candelario come to a team so heavily stocked with young, talented infielders?

It sounds as if Nick Krall, the team’s president of baseball operations, made some guarantees or promises to the 30-year-old Candelario.

“He’s going to be an everyday player on our club,” said Krall on the day of the signing. “He is a switch-hitter, plays first and third. He has a great chance to make a big impact.”

Krall said nothing about the prospect of Candelario being a veteran presence with some influence and experience to share with the young players.

Last season, the Reds mostly went with Encarnacion-Strand at first when Joey Votto was absent with injuries. They went with McLain at second with India out with plantar fasciitis. They went with De La Cruz at shortstop, and they went with Marte at third.

And that was as solid as a concrete block.

But what happens with Candelario present and accounted for?”

There are so many scenarios and Bell said, “We’ll just let this all play out.”

One solution is that the Reds are moving Steer from the infield to the outfield, and they’ll see how that works out in spring training. Steer played first, second, third and left field last season.

So here is how some of Bell’s lineup cards will look as to which infielders will play and where:

  • OPTION A: 1B Candelario, 2B India, SS De La Cruz, 3B Marte, DH Encarnacion-Strand.
  • OPTION B: 1B Candelario, 2B India, SS McLain, 3B Marte, DH De La Cruz.
  • OPTION C: 1B Encarnacion-Strand, 2B McLain, SS De La Cruz, 3B Candelario, DH India.
  • OPTION D :1B Encarnacion-Strand, 2B India, SS McLain, 3B De La Cruz, DH Candelario.
  • OPTION E:1B Encarnacion-Strand, 2B India, SS McLain, 3B Candelario, DH Marte.
  • OPTION F: 1B India, 2B McLain, SS Marte, 3B Candelario, DH Encarnacion-Strand.
  • OPTION F: 1B India, 2B McLain, SS De La Cruz, 3B Encarnacion-Strand, DH Marte.

Josh Harrison, a free agent signed just before spring training is not listed in column a,b,c,d, e or f because he is a non-roster invitee and a long shot to make the 26-man roster.

Confused? Probably so.

There are contingencies, injuries being top among them.

India still is fighting the plantar fasciitis. Marte pulled a muscle in November playing winter ball and McLain is being held back from the early exhibition games with oblique issues.

Those are the things that will constantly pop up during the regular season and will dictate, at times, who plays where.

Most likely, India and Candelario will do a lot of sharing first base and DH, although India has not played first base. But he is acting the good soldier and says he’s for whatever and wherever the team wants him to do and where it wants him to play.

And Candelario stands right next to India in saying he is willing to do whatever the team wants and needs from him.

“I’m on a team that welcomed me the right way and I’m excited about this opportunity,” said Candelario. “We have guys who know how to play the game, take care of the ball, guys (pitchers) who throw strikes, guys who know how to win ball games. We got ballplayers here, man, and I’m really excited.”

Yes, Jeimer, the Reds have ballplayers and a whole bunch of them are infielders.

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