What’s next for the Reds after reportedly agreeing to terms with outfielder Shogo Akiyama? That’s open to interpretation … and perhaps not part of a fully defined plan for the Cincinnati front office.
There’s no question that Akiyama will be tasked with significant playing time. He’s viewed by his new org as a top-of-the-order hitter who can line up at any outfield position, C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic tweets. That suggests that Akiyama will see at least near-regular playing time … but also that he may not be tasked solely with playing in center.
These days, more than ever, it’s not strictly necessary to keep players in specific spots all year long. So … no big deal, Akiyama is now a part of the mix. But just how many ingredients can you have on one recipe card? The Reds already had loads of potential outfielders on hand.
Let’s start with the left-handed-hitting side. Former first-round draft pick Jesse Winker is the major carryover asset. He has obliterated right-handed pitching in the majors (.307/.396/.511) to about the same extent he has struggled against same-handed hurlers (.176/.295/.248). Utilityman Josh VanMeter spent time in the corners last year. Rule 5 pick Mark Payton had seemed slated to compete against holdover Scott Schebler and recent acquisitions Travis Jankowski and Nick Martini for roles. Now, with Akiyama joining Winker, it’s possible that none of those four players will be on the Opening Day roster.
That only begins to describe the crowd on hand. The outfield mix also features a bunch of righty bats. Highly touted youngster Nick Senzel — much more on him below — joins breakout performer Aristides Aquino as the major right-handed-hitting pieces of the picture. Phillip Ervin, Jose Siri, and even toolsy reliever Michael Lorenzen are also factors on the 40-man.
If nothing else, the Reds will surely end up bumping multiple outfielders from the 40-man roster. Ervin, Jankowski, and Schebler are all out of options. Payton must be kept on the active roster or sent back to the A’s. Siri appears to be at risk on the heels of an uninspiring 2019 season in the upper minors.
But the really interesting question isn’t how the Reds will resolve the margins of the 40-man. No doubt some of those calls will be made over the next two months, if and when the team makes other additions that create a crunch. Some of those players could hold appeal elsewhere, creating the possibility of trades and/or waiver claims.
What’s more intriguing is whether the Reds take a bolder path. It’s certainly possible the club will roll out an outfield foursome featuring Senzel and Aquino, from the right side, and Akiyama and Winker, from the left. But … just why did the organization gather up all of those platoon-able options of late?
Senzel had been the presumptive center fielder after being pushed out of consideration at his native second base position by the surprise signing of Mike Moustakas. With Moose joining stalwart corner pieces Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez in the infield, there’s really nowhere else for Senzel to go. Senzel has played on the left side of the infield, but never much at shortstop, where Freddy Galvis is presently the lone real option. (VanMeter has limited experience there in the minors.)
In theory, Senzel could play a major role in a shifting capacity. He’d play all over the outfield and spell the primary infielders. But that’s arguably not the best way to bring along a 24-year-old player who was not long ago a top-ten overall MLB prospect and presumptive franchise savior. That’s especially true given that he’ll be coming back from a less-than-excellent debut season that ended with shoulder surgery. Senzel still has loads of talent … and loads of trade value.
When you look at the roster, you’re left thinking … man, it’d all look so good if only Senzel could play shortstop. There’s nothing wrong with Galvis, but he has been a regular for a lot of non-competitive teams and seems misplaced as an everyday guy on a club with big aspirations. The Reds have dabbled with Senzel at short in the past, but he spent all of 2019 getting comfy in center. It feels unlikely he’ll be tasked with a big move to short on the heels of a winter spent rehabbing.
It’s not hard to connect the dots here. Adding Akiyama on the heels of the Moustakas signing hardly pushes Senzel out of the picture. But the combination of moves makes it easy to imagine the roster functioning without him. And Senzel would be just the kind of asset that would hold appeal to the teams that might consider giving up high-quality players at shortstop.
Who might that be? It’s far from clear that we’ll see a blockbuster at the shortstop position, but suffice to say there’s ample intrigue if you think creatively. We’ve seen the Reds tied to the Indians’ Francisco Lindor. Those teams have hammered out one recent major swap. It’s worth noting that the Dodgers are also in on Lindor, and that the Cincinnati club has sorted out major three-way arrangements with both of those organizations. Corey Seager would no doubt hold appeal as well. Other intriguing names that have arisen (largely speculatively) in rumors include Carlos Correa of the Astros and Trevor Story of the Rockies. The Athletics would have to listen on pending free agent Marcus Semien. Perhaps a player such as Dansby Swanson of the Braves could be acquired as part of some convoluted multi-team accord, though he wouldn’t necessarily be viewed as an impact addition.
The Reds wouldn’t be limited to shortstops, either. The club has pursued high-end catchers of late and could certainly benefit from an elite reliever or perhaps even a major corner outfield bat (with all the above discussion of the volume of outfielders applying with even greater force). Certainly, all of these areas remain ripe for improvement even if the Reds aren’t interested in dangling Senzel. There could yet be value to be had on the open market in the corner outfield, and the trade carousel may only just have begun to spin.
The point here isn’t to suggest that any particular scenario is likely to come to fruition. It’s that the Reds now have loads of avenues for finishing off their roster, depending upon what opportunities arise. For a club that has made no secret of its intention to win, and that has not shied from bold action of late, it’s an intriguing place to be.
As things stand, the Reds are improved. But Moustakas, Akiyama, and Wade Miley don’t collectively transform this roster (at least on paper) from a 75-win team into a surefire division winner. The moves to this point of the winter have put the organization in a place where it’ll be expected to contend even without further acquisitions … and where one well-conceived, major strike could make the roster stand out in the tightly bunched NL Central.