The Cinncinati Reds re-signed left fielder Ryan Ludwick to a two-year deal worth $15 million on Friday night. The contract also contains a mutual option for the 2015 season.
Ludwick, who turned 34 in July, experienced a rebirth in 2012 with the Reds after a pair of down seasons spent split between the Cardinals, Padres, and Pirates. In 125 games serving in a quasi-platoon in left field for the Reds, Ludwick had an .877 OPS, bashing 26 homers and serving as grear protection in the Cincinnati lineup for former MVP Joey Votto.
$15 million over two seasons is reasonable for Ludwick, provided that he continues his 2012 performance in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. Ludwick was performing just fine in 2010 with the Cardinals before he was dealt to San Diego, where his overall offensive statistics fell off a cliff in Petco Park. After being traded to Pittsburgh at the 2011 trade deadline, Ludwick continued to struggle while playing in just 38 games. Ludwick made $2.5 million with the Reds this past season, and declined his end of a mutual option for 2013 that would have paid him $5 million.
In comparison to some of the other free agent contracts signed this offseason, Ludwick's seems like a pretty nice win for the Reds, even if they'll be paying for seasons in his mid-30s. Unlike someone like Shane Victorino, who is making nearly twice as much money per season as Ludwick for a longer term, Ludwick doesn't possess skills that necessarily erode with age, namely defensive prowess and speed. I don't really think that this is going to effect any of the other power-hitting corner outfielders on the market (hello, Nick Swisher), but I think the Reds got a pretty solid deal that doesn't obliterate their payroll flexibility for the next few seasons.
With Ludwick back in the fold, one has to wonder what this will mean for Cincinnati's pursuit of Michael Bourn or Dexter Fowler. The team's current center fielder, Drew Stubbs, is entering his first year of arbitration this winter and will cost less than the free agent Bourn and Fowler, who is entering his second of four years of arbitration, and would also cost the Reds players in addition to money. I'm not really sure either would be a vast improvement over Stubbs, who struggled miserably in 2012 but is a guy with 20 homer pop as well as 40 steal speed. That's a rare combination, even if it does come with a 30% strikeout rate and a low batting average. Hell, Stubbs could be a great buy-low option for a team looking to upgrade in center field if the Reds acquire Fowler or sign Bourn.