- Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Reds will welcome back two bullpen stalwarts with the activation of Amir Garrett and Raisel Iglesias from the injured list and paternity list, respectively (Twitter link). Garrett has been sidelined since July 4th with a left lat strain–an injury he presumably incurred from striking out most of the league this season en route to a 13.14 K/9 rate across 37 innings. To accommodate these moves, the Reds optioned righties Jimmy Herget and, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reported, Matt Bowman (link).
The Reds have signed catcher Ryan Lavarnway to a one-year, Major League contract, as per a team announcement (Twitter link). Lavarnway’s signing was one of a flurry of moves from Cincinnati, as the club also designated right-hander Jesus Reyes for assignment and placed righty David Hernandez and catchers Curt Casali and Kyle Farmer on the injured list. Taking their places on the roster are Lavarnway, and Triple-A callups Lucas Sims and Josh VanMeter.
Farmer is headed to the seven-day version of the IL due to a concussion, while Casali is on the 10-day IL (retroactive to Tuesday) due to a right knee sprain. With starting catcher Tucker Barnhart also injured, the Reds were left in sudden need for help behind the plate, opening the door for Lavarnway to land a guaranteed deal almost immediately after he was released from his minors contract with the Yankees.
Lavarnway has recorded some big league playing time in each of the last two seasons, appearing in six games each with the A’s in 2017 and Pirates in 2018. Best known as a former top prospect in the Red Sox system, the 31-year-old Lavarnway has a .208/.268/.326 slash line over 426 career plate appearances in the majors. He’ll join Juan Graterol as the Reds’ makeshift catching duo until some reinforcements come off the injured list.
Reyes made his MLB debut in 2018, posting a 3.18 ERA over 5 2/3 relief innings. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014, the 26-year-old has a 3.65 ERA, 7.2 K/9, and 1.88 K/BB rate over 406 2/3 career innings in the minors, though Reyes has struggled badly at Triple-A this season.
The Reds have acquired right-handed reliever Justin Grimm from the Dodgers, according to Doug Gray of RedsMinorLeagues.com. The Dodgers received cash considerations in return, per Andersen Pickard of SB Nation.
Grimm never pitched in the majors for the Dodgers, who signed him to a minor league contract in late March. To this point, the 30-year-old has spent the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City and pitched to a bloated 5.66 ERA despite 12.2 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9 over 41 1/3 innings.
At his best, Grimm was a solid piece of the Cubs’ bullpen from 2013-16, during which he posted a 3.29 ERA/3.17 FIP with 10.48 K/9, 3.94 BB/9 and a 45.2 percent groundball rate in 180 1/3 innings. That came after Grimm struggled in 2012 with the Rangers, though, and he fell off in 2017 with the Cubs before enduring a rough 2018 divided between the Royals and Mariners. Adding up all of Grimm’s major league work, he has notched a 4.98 ERA/4.07 FIP with 9.13 K/9, 3.89 BB/9 and a grounder percentage of 43.8 in 356 frames.
The Reds announced that they’ve selected the contract of catcher Juan Graterol from Triple-A Louisville and placed closer Raisel Iglesias on the paternity list in a corresponding move to open a spot on the active roster. Cincinnati’s 40-man roster is now full.
Graterol, 30, was an October waiver claim by the Reds and was later retained after being outrighted off the 40-man roster. Regarded as a sound defensive backstop, he’s posted a .249/.301/.325 batting line in 226 plate appearances with the Reds’ top affiliate this season.
Cincinnati currently has Tucker Barnhart on the injured list, which has left Curt Casali and Kyle Farmer as the primary catchers. However, Casali has been a bit banged up in recent days and isn’t in the lineup today, so Graterol will likely be the backup to Farmer for the time being. In 111 MLB plate appearances, Graterol is a .217/.227/.274 hitter.
Take one look at the Reds’ record – 43-48 – and it’s difficult to envision them as a team in position to buy prior to the July 31 trade deadline. On the other hand, the Reds certainly aren’t out of the playoff race, trailing the NL Central-leading Cubs by 5 1/2 games and sitting 3 1/2 back of a wild-card spot. Cincinnati is also in possession of the NL’s fifth-best run differential (plus-33) and a more-than-respectable 49-42 Pythagorean record.
Despite the team’s .473 winning percentage and last-place status in its division, is a sleeping giant about to awaken in Cincy? That seems to be the hope for president of baseball operations Dick Williams and general manager Nick Krall, who have suggested over the past week that the Reds are more inclined to buy than sell before the month is out. Whether they should is another matter. The Reds will have to leapfrog four teams and overcome a significant deficit to jump the Cubs if they’re going to win their division this year. It seems unrealistic. They obviously have a better chance to secure a wild-card berth, but that would be a daunting task with eight teams ahead of them for the NL’s fifth and final playoff position.
Fortunately for the Reds’ front office, the club’s schedule during the two weeks leading up to the deadline could provide more clarity on whether to buy, sell or stand pat. The Reds are amid a three-game set against the Cubs, whom they beat Monday, and then have series against four other teams with better records (the Cardinals, Brewers, Rockies and Pirates). Their slate’s similarly imposing after the deadline, with the Braves, Angels, Cubs, Nationals, Cardinals, Padres and Pirates set to serve as almost all of the Reds’ August opponents. Furthermore, the Marlins, Mariners and Mets are the only teams left on the Reds’ schedule through year’s end that aren’t legitimately in playoff contention at the moment.
The lack of tomato cans remaining on the Reds’ schedule may make selling over the next two weeks easier, as could the short-term pieces on their roster who could bring something back in trades. Outfielder Yasiel Puig – who started the year poorly but has been on a blistering pace since the beginning of June – as well as starters Tanner Roark and Anthony DeSclafani, second baseman Scooter Gennett, utilityman Derek Dietrich, shortstop Jose Iglesias, and relievers David Hernandez and Jared Hughes are all potential trade chips who will be free agents either after this season or the 2020 campaign. With the possible exception of Puig, no one in that group seems to stand much of receiving qualifying offer from the Reds when his team control expires. As such, it could behoove the Reds to move as many of them as possible right now for as much as teams are willing to pay.
On the flip side, no member of that bunch is a premium short-term piece (again, with the possible exception of Puig). Therefore, maybe you’re of the mind they should keep what they have, if not add to it, in lieu of selling vets for minimal returns and actually take a run at a playoff berth. For a franchise that’s staring at its sixth consecutive season without playoff baseball, perhaps there’s something to be said for making an against-the-odds effort to contend. The Reds tried to up their chances over the winter when they acquired Puig, Roark and others, though the win-loss results surely haven’t gone to the team’s liking thus far. Nevertheless, they don’t seem ready to say die as the 2019 deadline approaches.
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- Reds lefty Alex Wood will make his third Triple-A rehab appearance Wednesday, when he’ll throw four innings and 60 to 65 pitches, per Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s a good sign for Wood, whom back problems have stopped from pitching in in the majors in 2019. His return, if it comes, could be a boon for a Cincinnati team that isn’t waving the white flag on a playoff push despite a 43-48 record.
Reds GM Nick Krall chatted with Jon Heyman and Josh Lewin on the Big Time Baseball Podcast (audio link), providing some information on the team’s approach to the swiftly approaching trade deadline. He largely echoed the recent comments of his boss, president of baseball operations Dick Williams, but put a slightly different spin on things.
Krall was somewhat less committed to the characterization of the Cincinnati outfit as a buyer. Williams said the club is in the “buyer category,” while also noting that the focus would go beyond the present season. Krall left a bit more wriggle room in the buying characterization and put a bit more emphasis on the longer-term picture. Over the coming weeks, he says, the Reds will “figure out how we want to improve it for the long run … not just for the next two months.”’
That’s not to suggest there’s any internal discord; it’s just added information that helps build out an understanding of the team’s stance. Krall’s phrasing seems to indicate a bit more more hesitancy to push future-oriented chips in when the division picture could change for the worse in a relatively short period of time. It appears he’s inclined to see how things look when the deadline is fully upon us.
“[I]f you can add somebody to bolster your team to help you make a run that would be awesome,” he said. “I think we’d love to do something like that and we’ve gotta just keep figuring out what the deals are and where we stand and keep moving.” While Krall said that “you’d love to be able to buy this year,” he went on to qualify things: “We’ve got a couple more weeks of games before we get to the actual deadline … you want to see if we can get some consistency.”
After wrapping up a win tonight against the division-leading Cubs, the Reds sit at 5.5 games off the pace. They’re not much closer to the Wild Card. It’s sub-optimal, but about as good as could be hoped having reached this stage of the season with a 43-48 record.
Krall suggests that the team believes its roster has performed somewhat better than its results would indicate. The team’s run differential has been in good shape lately, he notes. But the club needs to find a way to “turn those runs into wins.”
One key for the Reds is the play of pending free agent Yasiel Puig, who has been on a welcome tear at the plate. Krall says the sides have not held any discussions about a contract to keep the 28-year-old in Cincinnati beyond the present season. But he seemingly hinted that could be of interest. “He’s been great,” Krall said of Puig, calling the occasionally polarizing performer “a great teammate” and “high-energy guy” for the organization.
- Reds outfielder Jesse Winker left today’s game in the middle of an at-bat due to injury. After swinging at a pitch, Winker told reporters (including MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon) that “my lower left back, side area tightened up. I was feeling some tightness in my right rib cage as well.” The problem first arose during his initial swing in the plate appearance, Winker added. He will undergo tests tomorrow to further access the damage, though if Winker has suffered an oblique injury, he would be facing an absence of several weeks. The 25-year-old has a .250/.328/.462 slash line and 13 home runs over 290 PA with Cincinnati this season, playing mostly against right-handed pitching (and with some drastic splits, including a .428 OPS in his only 39 PA against lefties). Should Winker miss time, a platoon of Derek Dietrich and Phillip Ervin in left field would seem to be the Reds’ likeliest response.
Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams chatted over a few elements of the club’s trade deadline approach with C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic (subscription link). Of particular note, he left no doubt of the organization’s intention to seek roster improvements over the next few weeks.
“We’re going to look around to see what we can do to make us better, which would put us in the buyer category,” says Williams. “We feel like we’re in the thick of the race so we think it’s important to see what we can do to improve the club,” he went on to explain.
The Reds have been much better since a terrible start to the season. But they don’t look much like a typical contender at 41-46. Fortunately, they’re far from buried due to the failure of any single NL Central rival to pull away from the pack. Entering play today, just 4.5 games separated the cellar-dwelling Cincinnati club from the pace-setting Cubs. (The second-place team in the NL West faces three times the deficit.)
It’s sensible for the Reds to continue pressing under the circumstances. They parted with some prospect capital for near-term improvements over the winter. While everything hasn’t gone according to plan, the club has little reason to pull out of the race now with a sell-off that likely wouldn’t net all that much future value.
That’s not to say that the Cincinnati front office intends an all-in approach. Williams says the club won’t “focus exclusively on this year, but we will be looking to see if we find deals that make us better.” With a determination to improve the club’s outlook now and in the near future, it seems that Williams and his staff will be most intrigued by controllable targets. (That said, he did not rule out entirely the possibility of limited rental acquisition efforts.)
If the Reds are in it to win it, then it seems the NL Central will have five buy-side clubs. The Pirates could yet pivot, or at least consider deals that improve their future outlook without stripping too much immediate talent from the roster. But they won’t be true sellers if they stay within a few games of the pace. A rapid turn from the Cincinnati org or one of its competitors could yet change the math, but it appears likeliest that the full pack will remain in the chase.
It is fascinating to consider the ways in which this dynamic will shape the market. For one thing, most if not all of the potential rental targets on these rosters won’t be put up for sale. Even if most of the teams only operate as limited buyers, all will presumably be looking into adding assets. That’ll skew the overall market development quite a bit — particularly if the NL Central teams engage in any amount of direct transactional competition or hot stove one-upmanship with their inter-division competitors.
TODAY: The Reds have officially announced the signing (via Twitter). Ciuffo has been assigned to Double-A and placed on the seven-day injured list.
TUESDAY: The Reds are nearing a minor league agreement with recently released catcher Nick Ciuffo, per a report from Roster Roundup (Twitter link). Ciuffo, who is still recovering from early-June thumb surgery, was cut loose by Tampa Bay last week. Based on the initial 8-10 week timeline that accompanied his surgery, he should be healthy in late July to mid August.
In need of a 40-man roster spot late last month, the Rays opted to designate Ciuffo for assignment in order to open space. Because injured players can’t be passed through outright waivers, Tampa Bay was limited in its options and released Ciuffo. It’s most common in these situations for the player to simply re-sign with his original organization on a minor league deal, but it seems that Ciuffo found an opportunity more to his liking with the Cincinnati organization. If the deal is ultimately completed, the Reds will hope to find some success with a second castoff Rays catcher; Curt Casali has batted .265/.343/.412 in 316 plate appearances since the Reds acquired him from the Rays in exchange for cash last season.
Ciuffo was the No. 21 overall pick by the Rays back in 2013. The 24-year-old hasn’t found much success in either Triple-A or the big leagues, however. Ciuffo has a .228/.276/.350 batting line in Triple-A Durham this season and has mustered only a .529 OPS in a tiny sample of 50 big league plate appearances dating back to 2018. The South Carolina native carries a .250/.292/.369 hitter in 370 Triple-A plate appearances to go along with solid framing marks and a career 42 percent caught-stealing rate.