This offseason has largely been about subtraction for the Reds so far, with Tucker Barnhart getting traded to the Tigers, Wade Miley going to the Cubs on waivers and Michael Lorenzen joining the Angels via free agency. Nick Castellanos also opted out of the remainder of his contract and, though he remains a free agent, seems unlikely to re-sign in Cincinnati. There have also been numerous rumors swirling about teams around the league trying to pry Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Sonny Gray away, as the club is apparently looking to “align our payroll to our resources“, as general manager Nick Krall phrased it.
However, there was at least one addition that the club considered prior to the lockout, as Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that they were interested in Andrew Heaney before he signed with the Dodgers. Whether the club actively pursued Heaney isn’t known, but the interest is noteworthy, especially given the fact that they haven’t signed a free agent to a major league deal yet this offseason.
Heaney took the final spot on MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents, with a prediction for a one-year, $6MM deal. It’s possible that Cincinnati’s interest was in that range, as he ultimately landed with the Dodgers for slightly more, a one-year deal worth $8.5MM. With Gray set to make almost $11MM in 2022 and Castillo likely getting close to $8MM in arbitration, perhaps they viewed Heaney as a low-cost way of supplementing the rotation after losing Miley and maybe another starter.
After six straight losing seasons from 2014 to 2019, the Reds emerged from their recent rebuilding effort in 2020, going 31-29 and qualifying for the expanded postseason. 2021 was another winning effort, as the club went 83-79, but that wasn’t enough to qualifying for the postseason. Despite that progress, the front office seems to be stuck in an awkward position where they don’t want to start another rebuild so quickly but don’t have the ability to make a significant addition to the payroll.
Exactly how they plan to walk this fine line isn’t yet known, but Heaney would have been a low-cost, high-reward gamble for them. He has long tantalized teams with excellent strikeout and walk numbers, but disappointing results largely caused by the long ball. In 2021, for instance, he gave up 29 home runs and had an ERA of 5.83, but a strikeout rate of 26.9% and walk rate of 7.3%, both of those being better than league average. Given their apparently limited resources, it makes sense for the Reds to be drawn to such a gamble. However, their home field of Great American Ball Park is considered to be quite hitter-friendly, especially when it comes to home runs. It would have been challenging for Heaney to finally reach his full potential in that environment. But given their financial situation, perhaps those are the types of gambles the club will be trying to make after the lockout.