Phillips, Stubbs likely leadoff candidates

Phillips, Stubbs likely leadoff options for Reds

CINCINNATI -- This month's search for a true leadoff hitter by the Reds essentially concluded in a cul-de-sac that brought them to exactly where they were when they started.

"We haven't found anybody available that is to our liking," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said at the Winter Meetings in Florida. "We'll keep pursuing it, but I don't see anything developing."

That means the role could belong to one of two players already in house who did the bulk of leading off last season -- Brandon Phillips or Drew Stubbs. Answering which one is the best suited is difficult because neither fulfill the ideal of a prototypical leadoff hitter.

Reds hitters batting in the No. 1 spot combined to hit .244 with a .306 on-base percentage and 26 steals last season, which is not sterling production. Both Phillips and Stubbs had better overall numbers than their numbers as a leadoff hitter.

Phillips batted .275 with a career-best .332 on-base percentage in 155 games overall in 2010, but he was at .251 with a .303 OBP in 72 games batting first. He also stole 16 bases while being caught 12 times.

In a perfect world, Stubbs would represent more of an ideal leadoff man because of his speed. Last season, he had 30 steals and was caught just six times. In 155 games, the 26-year-old batted .255 with 22 homers, 77 RBIs, 55 walks and a .329 on-base percentage.

The numbers that don't benefit the Reds to have Stubbs lead off are his 168 strikeouts and only three sacrifice bunts. Bunting has been an area that Stubbs has worked hard to improve, but it was a season-long struggle.

If nothing changes between now and Opening Day, Phillips looks like he would be the better candidate of the two. Last season, the Reds were 43-29 with Phillips in the top spot after he took over in late June. Phillips also grounded into 14 double plays -- something he couldn't do as much when hitting behind the pitcher and No. 8 hitter. The Reds were 18-14 when Stubbs led off in 2010.

The way the Reds' roster is shaping up, it's logical that whoever doesn't lead off between Phillips and Stubbs would bat second.

Other in-house -- but highly unlikely -- leadoff candidates could be Jay Bruce or Chris Heisey. Bruce started three times in the No. 1 spot and batted .583 (7-for-12) with four homers and a .667 on-base percentage. Heisey got four starts leading off and batted .333 (5-for-15) with a .476 on-base percentage.

The Reds didn't find any matches on the trade market and have found there to be little available to their liking on the free-agent market. Scott Podsednik, 35, is the most known free agent but turned down a $4 million option from the Dodgers after the season. If he is seeking more money, he won't get it from the budget-conscious Reds. He batted .297 with a .342 on-base percentage and 35 steals with the Royals and Dodgers last season.

One option that could satisfy both the Reds' need for a part-time leadoff hitter and a left-handed hitter off the bench could be free-agent outfielder Fred Lewis. Last season with the Blue Jays, Lewis batted .262 with a .332 on-base percentage and 17 steals. The 30-year-old has 199 starts from the leadoff spot in his career -- more than any other place in the order -- and is batting .271 with a .343 OBP and 38 steals.

There are two important notes that lessen the pressure to name a definitive leadoff hitter. The Reds led the National League in runs scored last season (and most offensive categories), obviously accomplishing that feat without the benefit of strong production from the leadoff spot. And of course, the No. 1 hitter only leads off, really, the first time through the order.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.