With about three weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, there are still some notable free agents on the board but it doesn’t seem like the Reds are planning to be active in that department. The club kicked off their caravan tour today and Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer was there to talk to team personnel including general manager Nick Krall, who said that the roster is “pretty much set,” though the club could still bring in some more non-roster invitees.
There are certainly some areas of the roster where additional investment would be justified, but it doesn’t seem like the resources are there for the rebuilding club. It’s not exactly a shocking revelation as Krall has been downplaying the likelihood of significant upgrades since October. Since that time, the club has traded for Kevin Newman, Casey Legumina and Nick Solak while signing free agents Wil Myers, Luke Weaver, Curt Casali and Luke Maile. After those moves, the club’s payroll is just under the $100MM line, according to Roster Resource. That would be their lowest Opening Day figure since 2017, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, but it seems they’re committed to leaving plenty of runway to let their young players battle each other for future roles on the team. “We’ve got a solid group of guys both on the big league club and in our minor league system,” Krall said. “We have a lot solid young players at the big league level. It’s just continuing to develop out of our system.”
The rotation is perhaps the most intriguing part of the roster at the major league level. Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft all debuted last year and flashed good stuff, but with some polishing perhaps still required. Greene struck out 30.9% of batters faced but posted a 4.44 ERA, perhaps due to allowing 24 home runs in 125 2/3 innings. Ashcraft only struck out 15.3% of batters faced but got ground balls at a healthy 54.5% clip en route to a 4.89 ERA. Lodolo missed almost three months due to a lower back strain but was able to post a 3.66 ERA with a 29.7% strikeout rate when healthy. Those three will be joined by reclamation project Weaver, with Luis Cessa, Connor Overton and Justin Dunn among the options to fill out the back end. It’s possible that yet another highly touted prospect could join them at some point as Brandon Williamson finished last year at Triple-A.
The bullpen could also potentially be an interesting group for the club. Alexis Díaz debuted last year and posted a 1.84 ERA, taking over the closer’s job by season’s end. Lucas Sims and Tejay Antone both showed lots of potential over 2020 and 2021 but they each were set back by injuries last year. If they can both get healthy and back on track this year, it’s possible there’s a strong relief corps to build on in Cincinnati.
On the infield, it’s possible that the club will have some tough decisions to make down the road as most of their best youngsters play on the dirt. Baseball America recently released its top 100 list for this year, with infielders Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte, Edwin Arroyo and Cam Collier being the four Reds on the list. None of those players have reached Triple-A yet and won’t be able to help out immediately, but they will eventually join an infield currently manned by Kevin Newman, Jonathan India, Spencer Steer, Alejo López, Jose Barrero and Joey Votto. Newman seems like a placeholder and Votto is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, but the rest of that group are young and controllable for years to come.
The outfield is more of a hodgepodge of players who have had sprinklings of MLB time but without fully cementing themselves as viable solutions. Myers will give them one solid veteran next to Solak, TJ Friedl, Jake Fraley, Nick Senzel, Stuart Fairchild and Michael Siani. Behind the plate, Tyler Stephenson will be the primary catcher but he missed significant time due to various injuries in 2022, leading to the club bring in Maile and Casali so that Stephenson’s workload can be managed.
It’s unlikely that the Reds will find themselves in contention this year, but the individual performances of all these players could still shape the future of the franchise. There’s a decent amount of money coming off the books at the end of this year, as it’s the final guaranteed season for Votto and the now-released Mike Moustakas. That means there’s close to nothing on the books for 2024 and beyond. It’s possible the club could become more aggressive at that time, and how they dedicate those resources down the line will depend on how these players perform between now and then.