The Reds’ .383 winning percentage in 2022 ranks as the sixth-worst mark in the franchise’s 122-year history. Over the past 24 months, they’ve traded away former mainstays Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, Raisel Iglesias, Tucker Barnhart and Amir Garrett. Once names like Donovan Solano, Mike Minor and Hunter Strickland formally become free agents after the postseason, the Reds will be left with one of the league’s youngest rosters. When addressing the team’s ugly season yesterday, general manager Nick Krall suggested that the roster will remain one of the youngest in the league next year (link via Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer).
“We’re going to come into (2023) in a similar place that we are right now,” said Krall. While the GM suggested the team will “try to make improvements,” his subsequent comments about how everyone will need to earn a spot on next year’s roster in Spring Training don’t exactly portend an active winter on the player acquisition front.
“I don’t know if we have a ‘this is going to absolutely be this person’s position on Opening Day,” Krall stated. Those comments are particularly eye-opening given the presence of stalwart first baseman Joey Votto still being on the roster, though the 39-year-old will be entering the final season of his 10-year contract in 2023. Mike Moustakas, the only other guaranteed contract on the books, is also entering the final season of his four-year deal but has played himself out of an everyday role over the past two seasons, hitting .212/.289/.356 in 491 plate appearances. There’s also 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India to consider; he’s not signed to a long-term contract and is in search of a rebound at the plate after taking a step back in ’22, but one would still think he’s in line for regular playing time.
Setting aside any implications for players currently on the roster, Krall’s comments seem to further suggest what was already largely assumed — that the Reds aren’t likely to fill any of their numerous holes with a free agent of note or swing any sort of trade for established Major League talent. That fact is further reinforced by Nightengale reporting within the piece that the payroll, which has decreased in each of the past two seasons, is likely to be pared even further back in 2023.
The Reds spent $106MM on the roster in 2022, but with several in-season trades and now Minor, Solano and Strickland coming off the books, that figure will be easy to reduce. Votto and Moustakas, owed a combined $43MM, are the only guaranteed contracts remaining for the Reds next year. They’ll have a slate of players eligible for arbitration, but none who can be expected to command salaries of real note. Buck Farmer, Luis Cessa, Kyle Farmer, Lucas Sims, Jeff Hoffman, Nick Senzel, Tejay Antone, Justin Dunn, Aramis Garcia, Derek Law and Aristides Aquino will all be eligible for arbitration this winter, but several of those names are non-tender candidates — and the ones who’ll clearly be tendered (e.g. Antone) won’t have particularly high salaries.
Just how low the payroll will be stripped down remains unclear. The very presence of Votto and Moustakas means that even if the roster were rounded out solely with pre-arbitration players — which obviously won’t happen — the Reds would spend at least $60MM. They’ll very likely run out a heftier budget than that, but Krall’s end-of-season comments and the recent trajectory of the Cincinnati payroll don’t give fans much hope that reinforcements are on the way.
It’s been a brutal several years for Reds fans, who were subjected to six straight losing seasons from 2014-19. The trades made along the way, intended to rebuild the farm system, generally didn’t bear as much fruit as hoped, but the Reds still cultivated a strong rotation, spent on key free agents like Nick Castellanos, and made the playoffs in the shortened 2020 season. That looked to have set the stage for a return to prominence in the NL Central, but Reds ownership has instead been among the most aggressive groups in baseball at shedding payroll in the wake of the shortened 2020 season and the absence of gate revenue.
The latest rebuild looks to be off to a better start — the return from the Castillo trade, in particular, is viewed to be a strong one — but it’ll likely be a couple more years before the Reds’ system yields a viable Major League core. By that point, they’ll be approaching a decade of losing baseball, with the only respite being the two-month sprint in the midst of the pandemic — when fans weren’t even able to enjoy the success in person.