The Cincinnati Reds have a payroll crunch and a dire need for additional offense.
The Cincinnati Reds can wave a procedural magic wand today and free themselves of some $4 million in 2015 payroll without changing the core of the team.
Hmm. Decisions, decisions.
One of baseball bureaucracy's logistical dramas will be on center stage as midnight nears on the east coast this evening, as tonight marks the deadline for teams to tender contracts to their players not already under contract. As a refresher, teams get six years of "control" once their minions reach the big leagues, and after each player makes a paltry half-million bucks or so for three years, they reach the ability to become "arbitration eligible" for each year until their team's control runs out (super-2's excluded here because I haven't had enough coffee yet). In other words, as players play, accrue service time, and get older and wiser, they earn more money if they're good enough to hang around thanks to Marvin Miller, capitalism, and the efforts of the players of yore.
Of course, being under a team's "control" means the front offices ultimately have the final say, and if they think a player isn't worth the money they're projected to earn, well, you can dang sure bet there's going to be some hefty cost-cutting. In fact, as Ben Nicholson-Smith noted earlier this morning, 43 such arb-eligible players were not tendered contracts this time last year, and each became a free agent able to sign with any team they desired.
Enter Logan Ondrusek and Chris Heisey.
While the Reds have nine players that are set to receive raises as arb-eligible players, only Heisey and Ondrusek present realistic cases to be non-tendered, as the other seven are players whose value clearly matches or exceeds their projected 2015 salary.
Heisey - who will turn 30 in a month to make you wonder where the last five years went - has seen his production slide precipitously over each of the last three seasons since his promising 2011. Despite being a solid defensive 4th OF with an excellent record of pinch hitting, the Reds brass will have to ask themselves if they think they can find a bench bat who can defend and post a mid .600's OPS for less than the $2+ million Heisey will earn next season. Is the difference between what Heisey can produce and what, say, Yorman Rodriguez or Jason Bourgeois can produce truly significant, and is it worth the extra money to see?
Ondrusek, on the other hand, is a classic case of a player whose visible talent and production just cannot seem to get on the same page, and the Reds' patience in him may be ending as his price tag rises. If you're 6'8", throw a fastball that hits 97 at times, and have struck out a batter an inning through 96 innings over two years, there's going to be someone somewhere who will jump out of their seat to see what you look like in their jersey for less than $2 million bucks. However, if you've allowed over a hit per inning with a 1.40 WHIP and an ERA pushing 5 in that time for one single employer, there's a point at which they think they can do better without paying you seven figures, and even with the struggles of the Cincinnati bullpen in 2015 there's a solid chance that has been reached with Ondrusek. He, too, will turn 30 prior to the 2015 season, and the 2005 Reds draftee may follow in the footsteps of Jared Burton and Jordan Smith as relievers cut loose as their salaries trumped their ability to produce.
Bourgeois and Curtis Partch are on the Reds payroll for 2015 regardless of what happens with Heisey and Ondrusek. Walt Jocketty will have to decide if the $4 million due to Heisey and Ondrusek is worth the marginal upgrade over those two, or if it would be better served being given to a new LF, a more proven bullpen arm, or to signing Daniel Descalso to a 2-year contract after the St. Louis Cardinals non-tender him tonight. (You got that lump in your throat because you know there's a chance it happens.)
Tough decisions, both are, and it's bound to be a precarious situation for each of the long-tenured Reds. Until midnight tonight, both Heisey and Ondrusek get to wonder whether this morning was the last time they'll ever wake up with a job that pays them millions of dollars. A first world problem, no doubt, but still a life changing scenario that's sure to have them on edge.