Reds: Tracking the to-do list to be taken seriously in 2020
By Lance McAlister
December 2, 2019
UPDATE to include Moustakas to Reds and Grandal to White Sox
Reds: Decisions, decisions, decisions
Winners of 75 games a year ago, the Reds have multiple areas to upgrade if they are going to close a 15 game gap to get to the 90 win mark and at least into the playoff conversation for 2020.
In order to do that, the Reds need to decide which players they can expect more from, which players to move on from and which players to pursue in trade or free agency.
I'll continue to bang this drum. The Reds have plenty of guys that can play on losing teams. They need guys good enough to play on winning teams. If you watched the postseason you witnessed the overall gap between playoff talent and the Reds talent.
The Reds need more guys with production they can bank and count on. Not guys to cross their fingers and hope on, not when the organization has produced six straight losing seasons and 16 losing seasons over the last 19.
Here is what's not in question: Eugenio Suarez is at 3B. Joey Votto is at 1B. Votto has no-trade protection and is still owed at least $107M. He's going nowhere. Period. End of debate.
The Reds have no choice but to roll the dice on two other guys: Nick Senzel and Aristides Aquino. The 24-year old Senzel hit .257 and played a 'passable' center field in his rookie season. But injuries once again got the best of him. He's their top prospect and it is reasonable to believe his arrow is pointing up. How high? They need to find out. Aquino was the August Rookie of the Month with 14 homers, 33 RBI and a 1.158 OPS. While nobody reasonably expected him to finish the season on that historic pace, his September performance (.196 BA/.619 OPS) certainly casts doubts about what the real version of Aquino will ultimately look like. They have to play him to find out.
That leaves the other five positions in play. I'd argue they need to add at least two definite answers/count on guys at those five positions. If they don't get at least two they are wasting our time in 2020.
Here's a look at options/decisions to make:
Catcher: UPDATE: Cross Yasmani Grandal off the wish-list. He has signed a 4-year/$73M deal with the White Sox.
Is Tucker Barnhart more the guy that struggled (hitting .191 in his first 60 games of 2019) or more the new guy that made adjustments to his swing following his return from oblique surgery (.273 BA/.367 OBP over his final 54 games)? He finished 2019 with a line of .231/.328/.380, adding a career high 11 homers and 40 RBI in 114 games. The 29-year old is due $3.9M in 2020 and $4.1M in 2021, with an option of $7.5M or a $500K buyout in 2022.
The Reds tried to upgrade the position a year ago before opting not to pull the trigger on a trade for JT Realmuto.
But don't forget 23-year old prospect Tyler Stephenson who lurks in the background and is coming off a breakout season at Double-A a season ago. Do the Reds once again roll out the combo of Barnhart and Curt Casali and wait on Stephenson? Or, do they add a catcher and attempt to deal Barnhart?
2B/SS: UPDATE....The Reds signed Mike Moustakas to play 2B (4-years/$64M)
The middle infield puzzle offers swing possibilities based on other possible maneuvers the Reds execute.
They picked up the $5.5M option on Freddy Galvis as the answer to the choice of Galvis or Jose Iglesias. Iglesias is now a free agent. He was solid in 2019, but a tad overrated by fans.
The Reds could go big and bring back their former prospect, 29-year old shortstop Di Di Gregorius. He's the top free agent shortstop in a thin shortstop market. MLB Trade Rumors projects Gregorius to the Reds on a three-year/$45M deal. If that happens, Galvis slides over to 2B. But if the Reds were to acquire a CF, Senzel would move to second-base and Galvis could assume the role of super-utility guy off the bench.
Perhaps Iglesias explores the market again, finds the expected dollars lacking, and comes back in a utility role. Free agent options for 2B include the likes of Mike Moustakas and Starlin Castro. As for Howie Kendrick rumors? No thanks. Not for a 36-year old coming off a career year. That feels like a Walt Jocketty move. Don't sleep on a non-tender candidate like Travis Shaw. The 29-year old son of the former Reds reliever had a miserable/injury filled 2019 for the Brewers, but had back-to-back 30+ homer seasons in 2017-2018.
Center-field: UPDATE.....Moustakas to 2B means Senzel will play 2B.
Senzel or a trade acquisition/free agent. The CF free agent market looks thin. What about Starling Marte in a trade? The Pirates have an $11.5 million option on the 31-year-old for the 2020 season. Marte hit .295/.342/.503 with 23 homers, 31 doubles, six triples, and 25 steals this past season. He's average defensively and regressing. I love Whit Merrifield, his play, contract and versatility. But who doesn't? I don't get the fascination with Ender Inciarte at $7.7M in 2020, $8.7M 2021 and $9.0M/$1M buyout 2021.
Would you rather have Jesse Winker and Phillip Ervin in left field for 2020, at a cost of about $2M..... or.....sign a free agent, perhaps 29-year old Marcel Ozuna, for an guesstimated three-years/$45-48M? In a vacuum, I'd argue the combined production of Winker and Ervin would come close to matching Ozuna. That means the Reds could allocate the big bucks elsewhere. But baseball isn't played in a vacuum and injuries have ended each of the last two seasons for Winker. I'm not sold on Ozuna. He's been a tick above a league average player each of the last two seasons with an OPS+ of 106 and 107. Winker topped that last season (111) and Ervin came close (102). Other free agent options include: Nick Castellanos and his 88 extra-base hits and Corey Dickerson and his love of GABP (career OPS 1.226). How about Tommy Pham as a trade option?
Then there is the pitching:
The Reds figure to again have solid starting pitching no matter who the 5th member of the rotation is. Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Anthony DeSclafani were season-long parts of a rotation that wound up 4th best in the NL and 9th best in MLB (4.12). Trevor Bauer is certainly a wild card in the equation after his struggles following the trade. Imagine if he's more the 2018 version of himself (2.21). But I'd bet on him being at least solid in 2020. In-house candidate Tyler Mahle has been frustrating. But he's still only 24-years old and will have another year of development under Derek Johnson. Do the Reds double-down on pitching with a free agent? What if the Reds help their offense by further suppressing the opposition's offense by adding more SP? The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reports the potential of the Reds going big and making a run at Zack Wheeler (subscription). The addition of Wheeler could elevate the Reds rotation to the top handful in baseball. Wheeler would also offer insurance for the potential free agent departure of Bauer and/or DeSclafani after 2020. I would at least dabble in talks with a veteran like Tanner Roark. Would Alex Wood take a one-year, incentive based prove-it-deal?
Lock in Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson and yes, Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias is going nowhere. They are not selling low on a closer that took 12 losses a year ago. The Reds and Iglesias will have to figure out how to get him back to his best.....I have no idea if that is him fixing his mindset or the Reds fixing the way he's used. That's four arms, half of an eight man pen. The Reds still need at least two additional 'count on 'em' arms. The Braves 3-year/$40M free agency opening deal for Will Smith indicates the reliever market will be expensive. Teams are relying more and more on innings from their bullpen, but relievers continue to be the most volatile investment in baseball. I do believe there is more to be drawn out of Lucas Sims. Matt Bowman has experience and flashed last seasons. Joel Kuhnel is a intriguing. Kevin Gausman is a possibility, but only if he's willing to work out a new deal. No way possible the Reds pay him $10M+ to pitch out of the pen. I think a healthy Cody Reed could be big a huge help as a multiple-inning lefty.
If the Reds are going to get serious in 2020 then they need to add at least two bats and two bullpen arms they can count on.
Do less than that and it will be hard to take what they offer about their 2020 outlook seriously.
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