An arbiter ruled this week that Reds outfielder Aristides Aquino is out of minor league options, C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic tweets. The team was granted a fourth option on lefty Cionel Perez and righty Jose De Leon.
The ruling on the trio of Reds players is the latest in an increasingly wide-reaching swath of players who were in limbo with regard to their option status in 2021. Players typically have three minor league options, but a fourth option year can be granted to teams in the case of players who use all of their options before completing five “full” seasons. A “full” season, per the league, requires a player to spend 90 days on an active roster (not the injured list) at either the big league or minor league level. Because last year’s season was shortened to 60 games in a 67-day span, there was some uncertainty regarding a number of players.
Aquino’s option status looked to be straightforward at first glance. He was optioned in 2017, 2018 and 2020, spending more than 20 days in the minor leagues in each season. However, as Doug Gray covered at RedlegNation.com earlier this spring, the Reds did not list him as out of options on their spring media guides and believed there to be a case, based on missed playing time throughout his career, that he could be the recipient of a fourth option. MLB’s arbiter, it seems, did not agree.
The result now is that the Reds will either have to carry Aquino on the Opening Day roster or else trade him or attempt to pass him through outright waivers, at which point any of the 29 other clubs could place a claim. It’s something of a tricky situation for the Reds, as there’s no path to a starting role with Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and Nick Castellanos lined up from left to right. Aquino isn’t a center fielder, so he’s not an ideal fourth outfielder. Even if Aquino could handle center, Shogo Akiyama is expected back before too long, which would push Aquino further down the depth chart.
Aquino caught all of baseball’s attention in 2019 when he turned in one of the best debut months in recent memory. Called up on Aug. 1, Aquino turned in a preposterous .320/.391/.767 slash with 14 home runs through his first 115 plate appearances. Having emerged from relative obscurity, he suddenly looked like a potential everyday outfield option for the Reds. But the month of September was nearly as bad as August was good; in 110 plate appearances Aquino batted .196/.236/.382 with a 30.9 percent strikeout rate. The Reds added both Castellanos and Akiyama the following winter, and Aquino’s path to playing time was suddenly blocked.
The Reds still managed to get Aquino 56 plate appearances last year, but he hit just .170/.304/.319 in that time. All told, dating back to September 2019, Aquino has slashed just .188/.259/.362 with a 31.3 percent strikeout rate. There’s obvious power in his bat, but it’s also hard to overlook the fact that Aquino’s massive power spike came in a 2019 season marred by controversy surrounding what most believe was a juiced baseball in both Triple-A and the Majors. Aquino hit 47 long balls in 134 games between Louisville and Cincinnati that year, but he’d never previously topped 23 dingers in a single season of games.
Now, absent a fourth option year, the Reds are left with a week’s time to determine whether Aquino will make the roster or be made available to other clubs via trade or waivers. Even if he does make the roster, Akiyama’s looming return will cloud his future with the club. Aquino is hitting .241/.353/.448 with four doubles, a triple and no homers in 34 plate appearances this spring. He’s punched out eight times.
As for De Leon and Perez, they’ll be able to be optioned between Louisville and Cincinnati this year, giving the Reds some additional depth in the ’pen and perhaps the rotation. De Leon was once one of baseball’s premier pitching prospects, but he’s bounced between three teams now and undergone Tommy John surgery along the way. He’s pitched just 66 innings in a pro game over the past three years. Perez was acquired from the Astros over the winter and worked as a starter in the minors with Houston, but all 20 of his MLB appearances have come out of the bullpen.