The Reds announced this afternoon they’ve released outfielder Shogo Akiyama. It had seemed likely Akiyama would be released when the club informed him over the weekend he wouldn’t break camp on the active roster, as his contract afforded him the right to refuse any minor league assignments.
The move closes the book on a disappointing tenure in Cincinnati. Akiyama signed a three-year, $21MM deal over the 2019-20 offseason. Making the jump from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball to MLB during the 2020 season was no doubt difficult, as the typical challenges of the new environment were exacerbated by the shortened schedule and pandemic protocols. Nevertheless, the Reds certainly expected better than the .224/.320/.274 line Akiyama posted in 366 plate appearances over the past two years.
Due $8MM in 2022 under the terms of that contract, Akiyama is a lock to clear release waivers. Cincinnati will remain on the hook for that money, minus the league minimum salary if the 33-year-old catches on with another MLB team as a free agent. From the Reds perspective, the release was about reallocating Akiyama’s spot on the active and 40-man rosters.
The Reds don’t have to officially make a call on their Opening Day roster until Thursday, but C. Trent Rosecrans of the Athletic tweets the club is planning to select three non-roster invitees to the big league club. Infielder/outfielder Brandon Drury, catcher Aramís García and reliever Buck Farmer are all expected to break camp.
It would be the eighth consecutive season with some MLB time for Drury. The right-handed hitting utilityman had a couple decent seasons early in his career with the Diamondbacks but has only eclipsed 90 plate appearances once in the past four years. His last extended run in the majors — 120 games with the 2019 Blue Jays — resulted in only a .218/.262/.380 slash, but Drury was alright in a bench capacity with the Mets last year.
García is expected to join the big league club as the backup to Tyler Stephenson. The 29-year-old backstop has suited up with the Giants and A’s in recent years. Over parts of three big league seasons, he’s a .218/.256/.373 hitter. García owns a more impressive .268/.333/.448 line at Triple-A. He seemingly beat out fellow non-roster invitee Andrew Knapp for the backup catching job. Rosecrans tweets that Knapp has been granted his release after being informed he wouldn’t break camp.
Farmer, meanwhile, has pitched in parts of eight big league seasons. He’d spent his entire career with the Tigers but is now in line for his second MLB team. The right-hander posted a sub-4.00 ERA in both 2019-20, but he’s coming off a difficult 2021 campaign. In 35 1/3 innings, Farmer posted a 6.37 ERA with an elevated 12.3% walk rate. He’ll add some multi-inning relief depth for skipper David Bell, though, in hopes of rediscovering his 2019-20 form.
Akiyama’s release clears one spot on the 40-man roster, and the other two seem likely to come from injured list placements. Righty Justin Dunn is out “months” with a shoulder issue and figures to wind up on the 60-day injured list. Bell told reporters (including Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer) that infielder Max Schrock will be placed on the 60-day IL as well. The 27-year-old is dealing with a left calf strain.
That’ll set the stage for the Opening Day roster, but the Reds figure to require another 40-man roster spot by the middle of next week. As Jesse Borek of MLB.com writes, Cincinnati is expected to promote top pitching prospect Nick Lodolo to make his major league debut when the team first needs a fifth starter on April 13. The team has yet to make a formal announcement, but Lodolo isn’t expected to be assigned to a minor league affiliate. Assuming that plan comes to fruition, the Reds would have to formally select the southpaw onto the major league roster.