Reds president of baseball operations and general manager Dick Williams sat down with C. Trent Rosecrans and Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer for an excellent, lengthy Q&A covering a number of topics pertaining to the Reds’ upcoming offseason and ongoing rebuild.
Of most interest, perhaps, was the fact that Williams was straightforward in stating that he planned to “continue to talk” to Zack Cozart about the possibility of re-signing the shortstop. The 32-year-old Cozart is up for free agency for the first time in his career, and while his age might not necessarily align with the rebuilding Reds’ timeline to contend, he’s one of the team’s longest-tenured players and is fresh off a career year at the plate. In 507 plate appearances, he hit .297/.385/.548 with a career-high 24 homers and a dramatically improved walk rate (to say nothing of his typically excellent glovework at shortstop).
The Reds will face a tough decision on Cozart, who seems to at the very least be a candidate for a $17.4MM qualifying offer. (MLBTR readers were split about 55-45 in favor of the Reds giving him a QO in early September.) If Cozart isn’t retained, though, it doesn’t sound as if the Reds’ top priority would be to delve into the free-agent or trade markets to attempt to replace him.
“[T]he primary candidate would be (Jose) Peraza,” said Williams when discussing a replacement for Cozart, if needed. “We believe that he showed at the end of ’16 with an extended look that this is a young, athletic, talented player. He’s still one of the youngest guys on our roster. … This year, we really asked him to move around a decent amount. I think that made it a little tougher on him than if he settled in at one spot.”
Peraza is, as Williams suggests, still somewhat of a work in progress. Although he’s spent the bulk of the past two seasons in the Major Leagues, Peraza won’t even turn 24 until April 30 of next year. The former top 100 prospect demonstrated a good deal of promise with an impressive .324/.352/.411 batting line and 21 steals in 72 games last year, but he struggled for the majority of the 2017 campaign before turning things around in the season’s last couple of months. In Peraza’s final 48 games (31 starts), he batted .293/.361/.338 with just 18 strikeouts in 149 plate appearances.
Williams did go on to state that while he believes Eugenio Suarez to be capable of playing shortstop, he likes Suarez at third base and would like to have two additional players on the roster that can handle shortstop regularly. Conceivably, that could mean a re-signed Cozart and Peraza, or Peraza and a veteran bench option with experience at the shortstop position as well.
More broadly, Williams didn’t reject the notion that top prospect and former No. 2 overall pick Nick Senzel could play in the Majors next season, though it doesn’t sound as if the team will rush him out of Spring Training. Senzel, according to Williams, is capable of playing second, third, shortstop and perhaps even the outfield corners, but the team is reluctant to bounce him around the diamond too much. Second base seems to be a position at which he’ll get a look, as the Reds have Suarez thriving at the hot corner presently.
Senzel raked at a .321/.391/.514 clip in 507 PAs between Class-A Advanced and Double-A last year, mashing his way through the Southern League to the point that many expect him to begin the 2018 season in Triple-A. Scooter Gennett, of course, gives the team another option at second base, though with just two years of club control remaining, I’d imagine that the Reds wouldn’t have many qualms about ultimately moving him if and when Senzel proves ready (though that’s just my own speculation).
Williams also spoke at length about the struggles of several of the Reds’ young pitchers in 2017, noting the lack of innings most of the team’s young starters were able to log in Triple-A. Injuries to Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Homer Bailey forced Cincinnati to tap into its reservoir of young pitchers more often than the team would’ve liked. Jesse Winker is also discussed quite a bit, with Williams hinting that he’s intrigued by Winker’s high-OBP skill set as a potential top-of-the-order option. Just 24 years old, Winker hit .298/.375/.529 with seven homers, a 10.9 percent walk rate and a 17.5 percent strikeout rate in 137 big league plate appearances.
While no one should expect the Reds to shell out top dollar in free agency this winter, the GM does suggest that he’ll have some money to spend and that the team’s list of targets is a broad one, including some players looking to move from Japan over to the Major League (and more than just the highly publicized Shohei Otani). The entire Q&A is (obviously) stuffed with quotes from Cincinnati’s top baseball ops executive and is well worth a full read for Reds fans and non-Reds fans alike. Williams gives plenty of insight into where he feels the team is at in its rebuild, his own thoughts on his first year as a general manager and the team’s approach in the upcoming offseason.