For the second straight winter, the Cincinnati Reds committed to building a winner the old-fashioned way: by opening their pocketbook. Last winter’s additions were good first steps, but as much as they hoped to unseat the Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals, the Yasiel Puig blockbuster aimed to lure bodies through the turnstiles. This winter’s blusterous free agent spending spree, however, had all the urgency of a team earnestly on the rise. These Reds expect to compete.
- Pedro Strop, RHP: one year, $1.825MM (incentives could push total value to $3.5MM)
- Nicholas Castellanos, OF: four years, $64MM (opt out after 2020 and 2021, $20MM club option for 2024)
- Wade Miley, LHP: two years, $15MM ($6MM in 2020, $8MM in 2021, $10MM club option for 2022 with $1MM buyout)
- Mike Moustakas, 2B/3B: four years, $64MM ($20MM club option for 2024)
- Shogo Akiyama, OF: three years, $21MM ($6MM in 2020, $7MM in 2021, $8MM in 2022)
- Total spend: $165.825MM
Trades and Claims
- Claimed LHP Josh Smith off waivers from the Marlins
- Selected Mark Payton from Athletics in Rule 5 Draft
- Acquired RHP Justin Shafer from Blue Jays for cash considerations
- Acquired OF Travis Jankowski for future considerations
- Acquired RHP Jose De Leon from Rays for OF Brian O’Grady and cash
- Exercised $5.5MM option for SS Freddy Galvis
Notable Minor League Signings
- Jesse Biddle, Nate Jones, Boog Powell, Brooks Raley, Matt Davidson, Tyler Thornburg, David Carpenter
- Kevin Gausman, Jose Peraza, Christian Colon, Keury Mella, Jackson Stephens, Jose Iglesias, Alex Wood, Juan Graterol, Jose Siri, Nick Martini (claimed from Padres, lost off waivers to Phillies), Jimmy Herget
The Reds halted their run of four consecutive 90-loss seasons in 2019, albeit modestly with a 75-87 record. David Bell’s rookie campaign as the skipper had its ups and downs, but there are plenty more reasons for optimism than the record alone might suggest. Losing seasons, after all, have a tendency to compound on themselves. As the playoffs fade from view, games take on more nuanced objectives than victory alone. For the 2019 Reds, that meant getting a look at new toy Trevor Bauer, letting Aristides Aquino play superman for a time, and evaluating the roster on the whole to identify – with actionable intent – areas to target for improvement in the offseason.
So what did they find? In a nice change of pace, the Reds put together a top-10 pitching staff in 2019 – only to see their offense sink to the 25th ranked unit in the majors. It would have been temping to roll back the same group in the hopes that Aquino continue his power display, Nick Senzel develop as originally projected, and Eugenio Suarez heal enough to put together another .271/.358/.572-type season. But the Reds saw an opportunity to add offense. It’s fair to wonder if they bid against themselves, but the addition of power bats Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos deepens their lineup enough to forestall the risk of injury depletion elsewhere.
Perhaps most importantly, they filled a hole in center with Japanese import Shogo Akiyama. Akiyama would have been a good fit on a dozen clubs, but the 32-year-old brings his all-around game to Cincy. He’s a true centerfielder with on-base skills that should nicely augment a power-heavy group of sluggers. The Reds aggressively pursued Akiyama from the jump, and now the first Japanese player in franchise history will roam the grass in center on a reasonable contract. Like the Puig deal, Akiyama fits from an on-field perspective, but the business implications of expanding their potential fanbase overseas makes this deal work on multiple fronts.
At shortstop, Freddy Galvis takes over full-time from Jose Iglesias. It’s a lateral move, more-or-less, though Galvis leans a little heavier with the bat. The quality of Galvis’ glove depends on your metric of choice – 11 Outs Above Average from Statcast, 4 DRS and -1.7 UZR from Fangraphs. Let’s assume the Reds are believers. If not, are they just punting on defense? Moustakas is now Galvis’ full-time double-play partner, and he’s been a third baseman for most of his career. That said, Moose graded out okay at second in his limited time there last season (2 OAA, 0 DRS, -0.1 UZR), and it’s at least worth wondering how much body type plays a role in the skepticism over his ability to handle second full-time without a net. It’s natural to assume Senzel will play Moose’s defensive replacement (as well as his understudy), but Senzel is essentially making the same transition with a stopover in centerfield. He looks the part more than Moose, but the jury’s still out on his viability as a defensive upgrade. Regardless, he’s the closest they have to a defensive replacement on the roster.
Which brings us to the first counter-theory to the wisdom of the Reds’ offseason acquisitions. With Castellanos now entrenched in right, the Reds are betting that the offensive contributions from their newcomers will outweigh their defensive limitations. This subplot will be one of the more interesting to track if/when the season gets underway.
The other concern is this: there’s not a lot of flexibility baked into their future rosters given that Votto, Moustakas, Suarez, and Castellanos are all on the payroll for the next four seasons (at minimum). Not only do they need all four to contribute, but even if one falls off the map offensively, the presence of the other three means there’s nowhere to hide (assuming Castellanos opts in after both 2020 and 2021). That said, if Castellanos rakes as one might expect him to in Great American Ballpark, he could very well opt out, and they’d be a little better off in terms of their financial flexibility (while having reaped the benefit of his bat for a year). Positionally, even if Castellanos opts out, it doesn’t lengthen the leash much in the dirt where they’re looking at a 2023 infield of a 31-year-old Suarez at third, 34-year-old Moustakas at second, and 39-year-old Votto at first – but that’s a $54MM problem for the future.
On the other hand, roster flexibility takes many shapes. By upgrading via free agency, the Reds maintained versatility in terms of prospect depth. Nick Senzel steps into a super-utility role, but his name will make the rounds in the trade papers until he finds a regular role or proves himself indispensable. The Reds obviously see a window to compete, and they’re feeling the burn, which turns Senzel and any other prospect in the organization into currency with which they might further upgrade the roster down the line.
On the other side of the ball, the rotation was solid at the outset of the winter. The Reds staffed two of the top 25 starters in the game by measure of fWAR in 2019 (Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo). Bauer was roughed up in his first ten starts as a Red (6.39 ERA), though by FIP he was only marginally worse than his career norms (4.85 FIP). Believe it or not, Anthony DeSclafani tied with Chris Paddack and Robbie Ray for 29th in the NL by fWAR in 2019 (2.4 fWAR). Any team would feel pretty good with one of those guys slotting in as a fourth or fifth starter. Still, the Reds had room for another arm, and they got one in the form of Wade Miley on a two-year, $15MM deal. Miley imploded at the tail end of last season, but he was tipping his pitches. Assuming he’s cleaned that up, Miley solidifies their starting five into one of the more impressive units top-to-bottom in the league.
Tyler Mahle becomes the all-important sixth starter, a role akin to a backup quarterback. Whether or not he sees the field, he’s an important piece of the roster. Mahle doesn’t have a bullpen appearance on his major-league record, but the Reds are going to find out if his stuff plays up coming out of the pen.
As for the rest of the bullpen, there are some question marks. Raisel Iglesias is the foundation, and as far as lockdown artists go, he’s fine. Neither a superstar nor a liability, Iglesias enters the year as the closer for the fourth consecutive season after putting up career-best numbers with 34 saves and, more impressively, a 11.96 K/9 rate in 2019. He also sustained 12 losses and 6 blown saves. He’s a piece, for sure, but he’s far from a sure thing.
Amir Garrett evolved into one of the game’s premiere wildcard personalities in 2019, but he’s in a similar boat to Iglesias when it comes to production. He racked up 22 holds with a 3.21 ERA/4.14 FIP, good strikeout numbers (12.54 K/9), but the control was spotty (5.63 BB/9). Not to mention, he took on one entire roster in fisticuffs.
Pedro Strop adds some veteran chops to the bullpen, but he’s coming off a down year. Michael Lorenzen is an extremely handy bench/bullpen piece, but he’s not elite at any one thing. If there’s a concern for the Reds bullpen, it’s that they lack that one sure-thing, All-Star piece. Still, they have viable arms to choose from, and it’ll be on Bell to mix-and-match them to get the most out of this group.
The Reds were one of the more aggressive teams of the winter, and while their stature in the NL Central is rising, it’s not a foregone conclusion that they’ve surpassed any of the three clubs they’re chasing. Fangraphs projections peg them for 83 wins over a full 2020 season – even with the Brewers but behind the Cubbies and ahead of the Cardinals. Defense remains a concern, and the bullpen could end up needing an upgrade or two throughout the season (as many do). All that said, if/when a 2020 season is played, the Reds will be one of the more interesting teams to track. They have the depth in the lineup and the rotation to make a run. With Castellanos and Moustakas joining a perennial bottom-dweller in Cincy, they’re going to have some serious “nobody believes in us” energy to feed off. Did they do enough already to make you believe?
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