- Reds southpaw Brandon Finnegan, who made just four starts this season due to trouble in both shoulders, tells MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that he has “completely” healed and is anticipating a normal offeason and Spring Training. “I’ve got more rotation in my right shoulder than I had before I got hurt,” said Finnegan. “That’s a good thing. I’ll start working out in November and throwing in December. I’ll keep up with my running, and that’s it.” Finnegan twice suffered a strained teres major muscle in his throwing shoulder and also was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his right (non-throwing) shoulder after an off-the-field fall in July. The Reds will be counting on the 24-year-old former first-rounder to come back healthy, alongside righties Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey, to help stabilize the rotation.
Reds president of baseball operations and general manager Dick Williams sat down with C. Trent Rosecrans and Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer for an excellent, lengthy Q&A covering a number of topics pertaining to the Reds’ upcoming offseason and ongoing rebuild.
Of most interest, perhaps, was the fact that Williams was straightforward in stating that he planned to “continue to talk” to Zack Cozart about the possibility of re-signing the shortstop. The 32-year-old Cozart is up for free agency for the first time in his career, and while his age might not necessarily align with the rebuilding Reds’ timeline to contend, he’s one of the team’s longest-tenured players and is fresh off a career year at the plate. In 507 plate appearances, he hit .297/.385/.548 with a career-high 24 homers and a dramatically improved walk rate (to say nothing of his typically excellent glovework at shortstop).
The Reds will face a tough decision on Cozart, who seems to at the very least be a candidate for a $17.4MM qualifying offer. (MLBTR readers were split about 55-45 in favor of the Reds giving him a QO in early September.) If Cozart isn’t retained, though, it doesn’t sound as if the Reds’ top priority would be to delve into the free-agent or trade markets to attempt to replace him.
“[T]he primary candidate would be (Jose) Peraza,” said Williams when discussing a replacement for Cozart, if needed. “We believe that he showed at the end of ’16 with an extended look that this is a young, athletic, talented player. He’s still one of the youngest guys on our roster. … This year, we really asked him to move around a decent amount. I think that made it a little tougher on him than if he settled in at one spot.”
Peraza is, as Williams suggests, still somewhat of a work in progress. Although he’s spent the bulk of the past two seasons in the Major Leagues, Peraza won’t even turn 24 until April 30 of next year. The former top 100 prospect demonstrated a good deal of promise with an impressive .324/.352/.411 batting line and 21 steals in 72 games last year, but he struggled for the majority of the 2017 campaign before turning things around in the season’s last couple of months. In Peraza’s final 48 games (31 starts), he batted .293/.361/.338 with just 18 strikeouts in 149 plate appearances.
Williams did go on to state that while he believes Eugenio Suarez to be capable of playing shortstop, he likes Suarez at third base and would like to have two additional players on the roster that can handle shortstop regularly. Conceivably, that could mean a re-signed Cozart and Peraza, or Peraza and a veteran bench option with experience at the shortstop position as well.
More broadly, Williams didn’t reject the notion that top prospect and former No. 2 overall pick Nick Senzel could play in the Majors next season, though it doesn’t sound as if the team will rush him out of Spring Training. Senzel, according to Williams, is capable of playing second, third, shortstop and perhaps even the outfield corners, but the team is reluctant to bounce him around the diamond too much. Second base seems to be a position at which he’ll get a look, as the Reds have Suarez thriving at the hot corner presently.
Senzel raked at a .321/.391/.514 clip in 507 PAs between Class-A Advanced and Double-A last year, mashing his way through the Southern League to the point that many expect him to begin the 2018 season in Triple-A. Scooter Gennett, of course, gives the team another option at second base, though with just two years of club control remaining, I’d imagine that the Reds wouldn’t have many qualms about ultimately moving him if and when Senzel proves ready (though that’s just my own speculation).
Williams also spoke at length about the struggles of several of the Reds’ young pitchers in 2017, noting the lack of innings most of the team’s young starters were able to log in Triple-A. Injuries to Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Homer Bailey forced Cincinnati to tap into its reservoir of young pitchers more often than the team would’ve liked. Jesse Winker is also discussed quite a bit, with Williams hinting that he’s intrigued by Winker’s high-OBP skill set as a potential top-of-the-order option. Just 24 years old, Winker hit .298/.375/.529 with seven homers, a 10.9 percent walk rate and a 17.5 percent strikeout rate in 137 big league plate appearances.
While no one should expect the Reds to shell out top dollar in free agency this winter, the GM does suggest that he’ll have some money to spend and that the team’s list of targets is a broad one, including some players looking to move from Japan over to the Major League (and more than just the highly publicized Shohei Otani). The entire Q&A is (obviously) stuffed with quotes from Cincinnati’s top baseball ops executive and is well worth a full read for Reds fans and non-Reds fans alike. Williams gives plenty of insight into where he feels the team is at in its rebuild, his own thoughts on his first year as a general manager and the team’s approach in the upcoming offseason.
After a second consecutive 68-94 season, the Cincinnati Reds’ rebuilding process still has no clear end in sight. Complicating things further for the organization are the facts that they already owe $68.7MM in guaranteed contracts to five players for the 2018 season, and $56.6MM to four players in 2019. Although the organization has shown a willingness to spend in the past, they aren’t exactly a large-market payroll juggernaut, so it stands to reason that the Cincinnati front office is unlikely to spend big across the next two seasons in order to compete for a pennant amidst a highly competitive NL Central division.
Enter Billy Hamilton. A free agent at the end of the 2019 season, the speed demon will probably reach the open market before October baseball returns to Cincinnati. It makes perfect sense, then, that the Reds might seek to explore the trade market for their fleet-footed center fielder.
The 27-year old’s value is largely tied up in his legs. Statcast’s sprint speed leaderboard ranks Hamilton as the second-fastest sprinter in the game (behind Minnesota’s Byron Buxton), while Fangraphs rated his defense third-best among qualifying center fielders in 2017. He’s stolen at least 56 bases in each of his four full seasons at the major league level, and has routinely created runs by through aggressive base running.
The well-known achilles heel of Hamilton’s game has always been his terrible offensive output. Despite tremendous speed down the first base line, Hamilton owns a putrid career .248/.298/.338 batting line across 2,180 plate appearances at the major league level, good for a 71 wRC+ since his promotion in September of 2013.
So, when exploring potential suitors for Hamilton, it makes the most sense to start with teams that have a dire need for a defensive upgrade in center field. It’s also worth noting that Hamilton’s base running skills aren’t as useful to teams that rely heavily on the home run ball, such as the Rays, Athletics and Yankees.
With the above factors in mind, the Giants could be a particularly good match. AT&T Park’s outfield is particularly large, making it difficult for their hitters to put runs on the board via the long ball. Hamilton’s base running prowess would surely be a great asset to a team that finished dead last in baseball with 128 homers, but ranked 8th-best in contact rate. What’s more, San Francisco center fielders ranked as the third-worst defensive group in all of baseball via Fangraphs’ defensive metric. Hamilton would provide a considerable upgrade over that of the aging Denard Span.
Similarly, the Dodgers’ pitching staff could benefit from having Hamilton manning center field in the pitcher-friendly Dodgers Stadium, with Chris Taylor sliding to second base. The Royals could be on the lookout for a center field option if they don’t retain Lorenzo Cain. Hamilton could provide an overall upgrade for the Brewers over the strikeout-plagued Keon Broxton, though they’re more likely to see what they have in Lewis Brinson before looking to external options.
Though Hamilton’s lifetime fWAR of 10.6 pegs him as only a slightly above-average player for his major league career, his skill set is unique. He could fill a hole for many major league clubs, and there’s a good chance he could help fortify the Reds’ farm system while they continue to rebuild.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
- In some other notable injury news, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets that Reds righty Anthony DeSclafani threw seven innings in an instructional league start today. That could be DeSclafani’s final start of instructional league play, though it’s nonetheless a positive step for a key part of the Cincinnati pitching staff after missing the entire 2017 season. DeSclafani was diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament early in the year and was never able to make it back to a Major League mound during the regular season.
Reds right-hander Rookie Davis has undergone surgery on his right hip, per a club announcement (h/t MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon, on Twitter). Specifically, repair work was done to the labrum and a bone spur was removed.
The procedure is a rather significant one, it seems. Davis will have an entire winter to rest and rehab, but the team says he is not expected to be ready to begin spring camp with the rest of the roster in mid-February.
With the news, it seems the Reds will have one less early-season rotation option on hand. Presumably, though, Davis will work back up to strength at some point during the 2018 campaign. Regardless, adding some pitching depth likely remains the Reds’ top priority this winter.
Though the 24-year-old Davis was perhaps not a leading candidate to claim one of the five rotation spots, he surely would have had an opportunity to compete for a job during camp. And given the organization’s views on pitching usage — including a focus on multi-inning relievers — it certainly stands to reason that Davis would have had a chance of earning a significant role of some kind out of the gates.
Instead, the youngster will have a chance to iron out some pitching kinks even as he rebuilds strength in his hip. He struggled to an 8.63 ERA over his first 24 major-league frames in 2017. But Davis did show better at Triple-A, where he worked to a 4.43 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9.
Notably, Davis will accrue MLB service while he’s on the 60-day DL since he ended the season on the big-league roster. Cincinnati will still control him for the foreseeable future, leaving plenty of time for the club to recoup some value from one of the four players received in the 2015 Aroldis Chapman trade. (Among the others, only Eric Jagielo remains with the organization; he has struggled in the upper minors and has yet to reach the bigs.)
Via Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, Royals GM Dayton Moore details the elements of an uncertain offseason for Kansas City. The organization will go “one of two ways”, according to Moore. The first option is obvious; the club could choose to “gut the team” in a complete teardown, saving money and going for high draft picks. But Moore does detail an ambitious alternative: trying to retain their free agent stars. “Everybody assumes that we are just going to just get blown away in free agency, and we don’t have a chance,” he tells Dodd. “They may be right, but I think everybody felt that way about Alex Gordon at the time. That fell back to us. You just never really know.” Indeed, there are rumblings that one of the Royals’ biggest offseason priorities will be to retain star first baseman Eric Hosmer. But with the 2017 Royals’ payroll setting a franchise record for the fifth consecutive year while delivering a losing season, Moore does make one blunt concession. “It’s very clear to us that we need to get younger and more athletic. We’re going to continue with that mindset as we go forward into the future.”
More from baseball’s central divisions…
- Ken Rosenthal details the elements of a bittersweet postseason for Reds scouting director Chris Buckley in a piece for The Athletic (subscription required and recommended). Seven players originally signed by the Reds are currently playing October baseball with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, including infielders Didi Gregorius and Justin Turner. While the presence of former Cincinnati signees gives Buckley a clear rooting interest, it also evokes painful memories of the two scouts he lost to cancer in recent years.
- David Waldstein of the New York Times tells the fascinating story of how superstar infielder Jose Ramirez first came to the Indians. According to Waldstein, Ramon Pena (then an international scout for Cleveland) attended a three-game showcase in the Dominican Republic largely to gawk at invitees Jorge Alfaro and Martin Peguero, but noticed Ramirez playing with surprising confidence and determination. During a subsequent telephone call with a local trainer who represented the players, Pena was focused on trying to sign Alfaro. When he learned that Alfaro was asking for $1.5 million, the conversation shifted to Ramirez. Pena eventually talked the trainer down from $300,000 all the way to $50,000. After an agreement was in place, however, Pena was unable to gather the papers required for Ramirez to play in the United States, so he sat out the 2010 season and instead spent the year working out at the Indians’ facility in Boca Chica. The team managed to get Ramirez’ papers in order in time for the 2011 season, and Ramirez sped through the minor leagues, making his MLB debut just two years later.
Reds general manager Dick Williams was on hand to witness what might have been right-hander Shohei Otani’s final start in Nippon Professional Baseball, reports C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Otani didn’t disappoint, as he held the Orix Buffaloes to just two hits while racking up 10 strikeouts in a masterful shutout. Per Rosecrans, the Reds have legitimate interest in signing Otani despite the fact that they’re prohibited from signing an international amateur — and Otani does qualify as an amateur under MLB’s 2017-21 CBA despite significant pro experience in Japan — for more than $300K. Otani’s decision to leave well over $100MM on the table to jump to MLB this offseason instead of two years from now suggests that money isn’t his ultimate motivation, thus giving Cincinnati and other clubs in the international “penalty box” some degree of hope. That said, Rosecrans notes that Cincinnati is still a long shot to sign Otani, who may land in the AL where he can serve as a DH when not pitching.
- The Reds have decided to add a lower-level affiliate, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. The Cincinnati organization will own and operate a ballclub in the Appalachian League, taking the open slot for a team in Greeneville, Tennessee. Jumping on this opportunity was part of a longstanding effort to add another lower-level affiliate, Buchanan notes.
Here are the day’s minor moves:
- Righty Rob Wooten tweets that he has agreed to a new deal with the Reds for the 2018 season. Presumably, it’s a minor-league deal. The 32-year-old had joined Cincinnati on a minors pact for the 2017 season, but only made six Triple-A appearances before going down with injury. Despite previously working almost exclusively from the bullpen, Wooten was starting before he was hurt. He racked up an impressive 26:5 K/BB ratio in 23 1/3 frames, but also allowed 18 earned runs on 34 hits. Wooten will attempt to work back to the majors for the first time since 2015; he has compiled 68 total frames of 5.03 ERA pitching at the game’s highest level, spread over three seasons.
The Reds announced that they’ve outrighted right-handers Asher Wojciechowski, Alejandro Chacin and Nick Travieso off the 40-man roster after each of the three cleared waivers. Cincinnati also announced that righty Luke Farrell failed to clear waivers and was claimed by the division-rival Cubs. The cuts drop Cincinnati’s 40-man roster to a total of 36 players.
Wojciechowski, 28, logged the most time with the Reds this season, soaking up 62 1/3 innings for an injury-marred Reds staff that was one of the worst collective units in all of baseball. In his 25 appearances (eight of them starts), Wojciechowski was hit hard, logging a 6.50 earned run average. While his 9.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 marks were solid, Wojciechowski was one of the more extreme fly-ball pitchers in baseball, inducing grounders at just a 29.1 percent clip as compared to a 51.1 percent fly-ball rate. While the 15.1 percent of Wojciechowski’s fly-balls that turned into homers is certainly an above-average rate, it’s not exorbitant by 2017 standards (league average was 13.7 percent). However, the sheer volume of fly-balls surrendered by Wojciechowski led to far too many long balls.
Chacin, 24, only pitched six innings for the Reds after having his contract selected in late August. The 24-year-old did post a 2.60 ERA through 69 1/3 innings of Triple-A ball this year, though, averaging 8.2 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 with a 42.1 percent ground-ball clip in Louisville. That solid but not dominant performance apparently wasn’t enough to get him a look on another club’s 40-man roster, though, and he’ll now be able to explore other opportunities in minor league free agency.
The outright of Travieso is an unfortunate outcome for a player whom the Reds selected with the 14th overall pick of the 2012 draft. Travieso entered the year as a candidate to make his MLB debut at some point in 2017, but as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported back in June, he required shoulder surgery that will sideline him for nine months. Travieso didn’t throw a pitch in the minors this year, though he did log a 3.84 ERA in 117 1/3 innings in Double-A as a 22-year-old last season.
Farrell, whose father manages the Boston Red Sox, made his big league debut with the Royals in 2017 but has bounced from Kansas City to the Dodgers to the Reds to the Cubs in minor trades and waiver claims over the past several months. His lone outing in Kansas City produced nightmarish results (five runs on seven hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings), but he enjoyed better success in a larger sample with Cincinnati. In 10 1/3 innings as a Red, he allowed three runs on just five hits, though he also walked seven in that time. Overall, Farrell’s first taste of the big leagues resulted in a 5.54 ERA and a 9-to-10 K/BB ratio in 13 innings.
Farrell has, however, produced solid Triple-A results in 2016-17, working to a combined 3.83 ERA with 8.5 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and roughly a 36 percent ground-ball rate in 199 2/3 innings. He has a pair of minor league options remaining beyond this season, so if the Cubs choose to keep him on the roster this winter, they could option him to Triple-A Iowa next spring without first exposing him to waivers. Alternatively, the Cubs could try to pass Farrell through waivers themselves in hopes of retaining his arm as a depth piece without the need of committing a 40-man roster spot.
The 27-year-old Pena, meanwhile, averaged 93.4 mph on his heater in 34 1/3 innings with the Cubs this year. He also averaged a hearty 9.7 K/9 against a more troublesome 4.7 BB/9 and a sub-par 34.7 percent ground-ball rate en route to a 5.24 earned run average.