This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s 2017-18 Offseason In Review series. Click here to read the other completed reviews from around the league.
The Reds added a few role players but largely turned in a quiet offseason.
Major League Signings
- David Hernandez, RHP: two years, $5MM
- Jared Hughes, RHP: two years, $4.5MM
- Yovani Gallardo, RHP: one year, $750K (unknown whether fully guaranteed)
- Total Spend: $10.25MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired RHP Robinson Leyer from White Sox for unknown return
- Acquired RHP Miguel Medrano from Rangers for $350K in international bonus pool availability
- Claimed 1B Kennys Vargas from Twins (later lost via waiver claim)
- Claimed LHP Justin Nicolino from Marlins
- Claimed LHP Kyle Crockett from Indians (later non-tendered and re-signed to minors deal)
- Claimed LHP Jairo Labourt from Tigers (later lost via waiver claim)
- Selected RHP Brad Keller from Diamondbacks in Rule 5 draft (later traded to Royals for cash/PTBNL)
- Signed 3B Eugenio Suarez to seven-year, $66MM contract with $15MM club option ($2MM buyout) for 2025
Notable Minor League Signings
- Dylan Floro, Phil Gosselin, Rosel Herrera, Patrick Kivlehan, Joe Mantiply, Cliff Pennington, Oliver Perez, Kevin Quackenbush, Ben Revere, Tony Sanchez, Mason Williams, Vance Worley
The Reds entered this winter, much as the two previous ones, in something of a stasis at the major-league level. While there have been some encouraging signs from certain young players, the organization has not yet found cause to invest in high-quality veterans, both because it has yet to fully develop a new core of young talent and because the payroll is still burdened by several large contracts.
There’s no doubt that the Cincinnati ballclub is in a rebuild. It has failed to top seventy wins or crawl out of the NL Central basement since 2014. Unlike many organizations that find themselves in such a position, however, the Reds have not been able (or, to some extent, willing) to drastically slash payroll, which has barely dipped below $90MM over the past several years — not that far off of the ~$115MM high-point reached in 2014 and 2015.
On the one hand, that’s simply a product of circumstances. Several of the team’s most expensive players — Homer Bailey, Devin Mesoraco, and Brandon Phillips before them — have been essentially untradeable due to injuries, performance, and/or no-trade protection. But the team has also not found appealing opportunities to deal other expensive assets. Well-compensated superstar Joey Votto has full no-trade rights. Closer Raisel Iglesias — who’s relatively cheaper at this point but could opt into arbitration next fall — is rightly seen as a long-term asset, though certainly there’s risk in keeping a high-end young reliever. Center fielder Billy Hamilton was a frequent subject of trade chatter but ultimately was held over the just-completed offseason. And second bagger Scooter Gennett — who was a nice find last spring — is like Hamilton both increasingly pricey and nearing a final trip through the arb process.
The club also decided not to deal third baseman Eugenio Suarez, instead declaring him part of the core moving forward with an extension. He’s valued for both his glove and bat by the Reds. If he can maintain the pace he sustained in 2017, the contract will prove a relative bargain, though it’s also another big commitment and thus obviously carries some risk.
Those players, of course, are still in town. Former shortstop Zack Cozart, on the other hand, departed via free agency — leaving the Reds without any compensation. The club seemed in position to deal him at times, but evidently his ill-timed health issues and/or a lack of reasonable offers precluded a deal. While the Reds held out the possibility of extending Cozart, that never happened and the organization ended up not issuing him a qualifying offer at the end of the 2017 campaign. That decision is hard to fault, as Cozart may have felt it too risky to pass up $17.2MM for one season and carrying draft compensation onto the open market. Without knowing the precise offers that could have been had, it’s hard to second-guess the organization too much for its handling of that particular situation, but it’s certainly a less-than-desirable result in the situation of yet another quality veteran player.
In the aggregate, then, the Reds have likely not pocketed significant amounts of cash even while they’ve put an unsuccessful product on the field. And the organization has reasonably substantial sums already committed into the future, including about $68.5MM for 2019, $49.5MM for 2020, and $40MM for 2021. Contemplating future spending capacity is all guesswork from the outside, but it seems reasonable to say that the Reds did not save as much money or clear as much future payroll space as quite a few other rebuilding teams have in recent seasons. And that likely left less to work with this winter.
Given the situation, perhaps it’s unsurprising that the Dick Williams-led front office ended up turning in another quiet offseason. The organization took a budget-conscious approach to its two biggest needs — accounting for Cozart’s absence and adding some arms — and otherwise mostly elected to maintain the status quo in hopes of finding improvement from within in 2018.
With the outfield and starting infield already accounted for from within, the Reds decided to pursue a few utility pieces to help carry the load while waiting for top prospect Nick Senzel. The club ended up giving Opening Day jobs to both Cliff Pennington and Phil Gosselin, providing a veteran presence but not much hope of significant output.
On the pitching side, David Hernandez and Jared Hughes were both given low-AAV, two-year contracts to firm up the relief corps. Late-spring signee Yovani Gallardo was another addition, though it wasn’t long before he was cut loose. That trio was supplemented by a variety of claims and minor-league signees who’ll combine to add depth, but perhaps not much quality, to a Reds pitching staff that has been irredeemably awful over the past two seasons. Thus far in 2018, recent additions Kevin Quackenbush and Dylan Floro have stuck in the majors, while the team was also able to stash lefties Justin Nicolino and Kyle Crockett in the minors and off of the 40-man roster.
The resulting pitching unit is entirely underwhelming on paper. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the staff has opened the 2018 season as the worst in baseball, continuing a pace of three-year futility that may rival any in baseball history when all is said and done. Of course, as I argued last fall, there wasn’t much sense throwing money at the problem at this point. Even significant spending likely would not have made this roster a contending one; any outside chance at staying in the hunt was likely snuffed out anyway with a 3-and-15 start.
What the Reds are hoping, then, is that their slate of hurlers makes some strides that improve the future outlook. Veteran Homer Bailey is hoping to return to some level of health and effectiveness after three forgettable seasons. With $49MM still owed on his deal (including a buyout of a 2020 option), the best the team can hope for is to fill up some innings or perhaps save a bit of cash if there’s a team interested in a trade. It’s still anybody’s guess when Anthony DeSclafani will return from his run of injuries. He can be controlled for 2019 and 2020 via arbitration. Brandon Finnegan, who has one further year of control, is back on the hill after missing almost all of 2017. Each of these pitchers has succeeded at times in the majors, but whether they can do so again is questionable at best.
There’s some promise from younger arms, too. Luis Castillo was a major bright spot in 2017 and is the most intriguing player the team has returned from its recent trades. Tyler Mahle is expected to turn into a solid MLB starter. But both of these pitchers still need to fully establish themselves at the game’s highest level. A host of other arms — Sal Romano, Amir Garrett, Jackson Stephens, and former top prospect Robert Stephenson among them — will get their share of opportunities. Some, surely, will end up dropping into relief duty (as Garrett has to open the year). Perhaps one or more will prove worthy of a starting slot in the future, though you’ll be hard-pressed to find strong believers among outside talent evaluators.
Garrett has looked good in a relief role to open the season, potentially giving the team another late-inning piece while Hernandez and Michael Lorenzen work back from injury. Iglesias remains the anchor, while Wandy Peralta and Cody Reed provide two more lefty options to go with Garrett. Any contending team would have gone hunting for multiple upgrades over the winter. For the Reds, though, it’s more sensible to run out the pitchers they have to see what sticks.
The situation on the position-player side is more promising, generally, but also comes with some concerns. Perhaps no area is of greater interest than the middle infield. With Suarez locked in at third (once he’s back to full health), it seems that Senzel will end up playing in the middle infield. If he’s capable of playing short, that could put even greater pressure on Jose Peraza, who has to this point wilted with the open opportunity he has received since the start of the 2016 season. Gennett could be a mid-season trade candidate, though rival teams are no doubt aware of the deeper history (including his lack of success against lefties) that preceded his excellent 2017 season. First base (Votto) and catcher (Tucker Barnhart, Mesoraco) rate as strengths.
The outfield unit also has some more established options, though none are foolproof. Hamilton is a defensive and baserunning whiz whose bat seems less and less likely ever to come around. He’s flanked by two powerful, OBP-challenged players in Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler. Well-regarded youngster Jesse Winker is also slated to receive a lot of playing time after showing well in a 47-game stint last year. Phil Ervin, himself a former first-round pick, rounds out the major players in this arena. There’s talent here, but it’d be hard to call this a first-division unit. If things break right, though, the Reds could build from this group without further additions.
The real problems with the Reds’ current situation began not with any decisions this winter, but with whiffs in years past on moving veteran assets. A combination of questionable decisionmaking (especially, holding some veterans at the 2015 deadline) and poor prospect outcomes, along with injuries and some bad fortune, largely left Williams and co. without appealing options for moving things forward over the just-completed offseason. Unfortunately, that means another season of waiting and hoping that the young talent in an increasingly well-regarded farm system will develop — and do so in time to join Votto while he’s still one of the game’s best hitters.
How would you grade the Reds’ offseason efforts? (Link for MLBTR app users.)