The Reds aren’t known as big-time players in free agency, but president of baseball operations Dick Williams tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer that he expects to have “significantly” more spending capacity than he’s had in previous offseasons, though he added, “It still only goes so far, unfortunately.”
Cincinnati’s offseason spending over the past two years has checked in around a total of $15MM, with modest two-year commitments being made to David Hernandez ($5MM total) and Jared Hughes ($4.5MM), plus one-year pacts for Drew Storen ($3MM), Scott Feldman ($2.3MM) and Yovani Gallardo ($750K). In fact, the Reds haven’t spent more than $5.5MM on a free agent since signing Ryan Ludwick (two years, $15MM) and Jonathan Broxton (three years, $21MM) in the 2012-13 offseason under former general manager Walt Jocketty.
Fay notes that starting pitching is, unsurprisingly, going to be Cincinnati’s top target this winter, but it doesn’t seem plausible that they’d play for the most in-demand names available; Clayton Kershaw (if and when he opts out), Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel are among the headliners on the open market this season. Each figures to be far too pricey for a Reds team that will still have budgetary restrictions to which it’ll need to adhere.
In fact, it’s at least somewhat surprising to hear that the Reds have the means to significantly bolster their spending. The team is facing an attendance drop, per the figures tallied at Baseball-Reference (1.837 million in 2017, 1.542 million in 2018), and there are no significant contracts coming off the books this winter. To the contrary, there’s been some speculation of an extension for Scooter Gennett, which would come with a pay raise, and their arbitration class should yield raises for Anthony DeSclafani, Scott Schebler, Michael Lorenzen, Billy Hamilton, Gennett (if he is not extended) and closer Raisel Iglesias (assuming he opts into arbitration this winter, as is his contractual right).
However, the Reds are at last seeing a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of Homer Bailey’s albatross contract, which expires following the 2019 season (after he’s earned a $23MM salary and been paid a $7MM buyout on his 2020 option). That contract’s expiration could make the club more amenable to adding some modest multi-year commitments to the books in an effort to supplement an increasingly intriguing core of position players that includes Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, Jose Peraza, Tucker Barnhart, Gennett and stalwart Joey Votto, to say nothing of one of the game’s top prospects in Nick Senzel.
The Reds will need to address the rotation aggressively if they have any hope of competing next year. Many of the arms the team has acquired over the course of its rebuild have not yet panned out (e.g. Brandon Finnegan, Rookie Davis, Cody Reed, John Lamb), while drafted/developed prospects like Robert Stephenson, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano have also struggled. Heading into next season, DeSclafani and Luis Castillo seem the best bets to turn in average or better seasons, though certainly the Reds have a number of young internal options who could yet emerge.
Still, the group as a whole lacks certainty, and to that end, Fay writes that he expects Williams & Co. to make a run at re-signing Matt Harvey, whose career rebounded after being traded to Cincinnati (128 innings, 4.50 ERA, 7.8 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 4.14 xFIP). The free-agent market has a fair number of other serviceable arms and upside plays in its second and third tiers (full list), and The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans tweeted recently that Williams said the team will consider Asia more than in the past. The Reds, of course, watched the division-rival Cardinals strike gold on righty Miles Mikolas in his return from Japan, and it’s worth noting that there have been rumors of 27-year-old Seibu Lions lefty Yusei Kikuchi being posted for Major League teams this winter as well.
It’s far too early to forecast specific targets for the Reds, but it’s nonetheless notable that the organization’s top decision-maker has expressed confidence in his ability to spend more aggressively as the team’s long-term lineup begins to come into clearer focus.