CINCINNATI - With Joey Votto on the mend, currently at AAA Louisville for a final rehab stint, there's a burning question in Reds fans' minds everywhere: What will Dusty Baker do with Todd Frazier?
Frazier, the consistent starting replacement for Votto during his injury and for Scott Rolen when he was sidelined with aches and pains, has played brilliantly, and is a front runner for the Rookie of the Year award. You can't argue with consistently playing a .292 average, 18 HR and 62 RBI batter who is a solid 90 percent fielder. Frazier was given the opportunity to prove himself and he took full-well advantage.
But when Votto finally returns to Great American Ball Park, space is limited for the young Jersey star.
With Rolen playing just as good if not better than Frazier, and with Rolen's defense superior to Frazier's, Todd won't be seen starting at third base on a regular basis anytime soon.
And since the rest of the Reds infield is taken when Votto reclaims first base, where does Frazier go?
There have been arguments made that Jay Bruce should shift to center field and the slumping Drew Stubbs should take a more regular seat on the bench.
But that's not a viable solution. The defensive prowess that Stubbs provides with his range, the jumps he consistently gets on tough fly balls and the speed he provides to make up ground can't disappear from the starting nine.
The Reds' bread and butter has been their solid defensive play behind good pitching, and while the flashy plays get done in the infield on a regular basis between Rolen, Zach Cozart, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Hanigan, the outfield is so consistent at getting to balls and getting them in quickly that they go un-noticed.
Ludwick is arguably the weaker of the three starting outfielders, and in left field Frazier could easily pick up the position. But Ludwick's bat has been hot in the second half too, and dropping a guy with the power he has out of the lineup may hurt in close games, especially at home run-friendly GABP.
So where does Frazier go? It's tough to say, but it's a nice problem to have when your almost .300 batting infielder doesn't fit anywhere.
It appears Frazier will return to his fill-in role, likely giving Rolen a day off or two each week for day games after night games, and early on perhaps even filling in for Votto as he gets used to the major league work-load again. Expect to see him relieve pitchers of their hitting duties earlier in games than Baker is used to deciding on. With that kind of batting firepower, and the quality of the bullpen, the Reds should be using it to their advantage to get more hits out of their lineup in tight games.
But here's a pessimistic thought to keep in the back of your head: Joey Votto played for several days after injuring himself in July, and wasn't exhibiting the same MVP-caliber play. His rehab stints in Dayton and Louisville have been less than impressive, most recently going 0-3 with two strikeouts with the Bats.
So while we'd all like to assume Votto will pick right back up where he left off with his .342 average and home run hitting power every time at the plate, it may take some time for him to really shake the injury dust. Just ask Scott Rolen.
In that case, we may see Frazier a healthy amount at first base, and in that number five or six spot in the lineup.
Long term, Reds management will be responsible for what happens with Frazier, because he's too good to be a career pinch hitter. He's an incredible trade option should the Reds be looking to bolster prospect talent or pick up another utility infielder with some hitting consistency to give Phillips and Cozart more of a break, but if I'm Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty, Frazier stays right here to become part of the core this team has built around, and Rolen either takes a cheap, short-term contract as a backseat fill-in to the young, budding star, or the 37-year-old finds a team in the MLB that needs a solid veteran third baseman with a little bit of pop left in their bat.
At any rate, the Reds have arguably the best pinch-hitting depth in baseball, with Frazier's proven ability to slug, Chris Heisey's close to .400 average when coming to the plate for the first time in the middle of the ballgame, and Xavier Paul's ability to make something happen when needed. That depth will surely help them excel come postseason time, and should this team make it to the World Series, that DH position won't be hard to fill.
A situation like this does make you wish that the DH rule existed in both leagues.
Then again, it's the starting "nine" in baseball, not 10.