A minor domino fell tonight, as free agent outfielder Ryan Ludwick signed with the Cincinnati Reds for one year, $2.5 million. He can reach up to $3 million with incentives, and the deal has an option for 2013. The Reds are the third NL Central team Ludwick has played for, following the St Louis Cardinals (where he had his best years) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (where he spent two forgettable months last year).
After a 5.6 fWAR, .966 OPS year in 2008, Ludwick has fallen off the map since. He’s tallied just 4.7 fWAR in the three seasons since, with his OPS declining each year to a low of .674 this past season. You can’t necessarily blame all of that on Ludwick though, as he spent a pair of half seasons in San Diego and the hitter’s hellhole that is Petco Park. After being traded from the Cardinals to the Padres in 2010, Ludwick finished the year by OPSing just .631 with the Padres. The Padres dealt him to the Pirates last summer, and he played in just 26 games for the Buccos. Ludwick’s Petco Park OPS was jut .659, indicating that was his major issue, aside from nagging injuries that have plagued him for most of his career.
Ludwick turns 34 midway through the 2012 campaign, so his best years are probably behind him. Up until last season, DRS rated Ludwick as an above average fielder in right during each of the seasons of his career, but the Reds already have a right fielder by the name of Jay Bruce (whom you may have heard of). The only left fielder that the Reds have on the roster is Chris Heisey, who had a .796 OPS in limited duty last year. I could see the Reds platooning Heisey and Ludwick, due to the former’s career .548 OPS against southpaws. Ludwick is good agaisnt lefties with a .751 career OPS (although that’s lower than his .804 mark against righties), and hitting lefties was one thing he did well in 2011: .264/.350/.413 isn’t a bad line at all.
For a max of $3 million, this isn’t a bad bargain at all. Ludwick could easily provide a win of value if he stays healthy, and at the same time, you let Heisey mature a little bit and progress as a player. Seems solid enough to me.