At the start of this off-season, the Reds were faced with a dilemma stemming from the fact that four of the five regular members of the 2014 starting pitching rotation were entering their final year under contract. They have since taken steps to rectify that situation, trading away Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon for, among other things, some young pitching prospects, and rumors have surfaced that the Reds are in extension talks with Johnny Cueto.
With that crisis seemingly in the process of being handled (for better or for worse), there is another, similar issue looming on the horizon. After the 2017 season, four current starting position players – all home grown Reds draftees - will all reach free agency at the same time. Under general manager Walt Jocketty, the Reds have shown an eagerness to hang onto their home-grown players (again, for better or for worse), and it seems reasonable to assume that at least one of them will receive an extension offer before the specter of free agency gets too close. The question, then, is which of the four should be their top priority?
Todd Frazier: 2015 will be Todd Frazier’s first year of arbitration eligibility, and he will a enter arbitration coming off his best season to date. He recovered nicely from a slightly down year in 2013, slashing .273/.336/.459 for an OPS+ of 123 and earning his first All-Star selection in 2014. However, a major red flag should the Reds decide to try to extend him is his age. He broke into the majors relatively late, with his rookie season coming at age 26. As of right now, he will hit free agency after his age 31 season. This isn’t to suggest that he won’t have any value at that point, but how many years of Frazier’s 30’s the Reds want to buy is something they should carefully consider.
Devin Mesoraco: Just like Frazier, Devin Mesoraco will be first-time arbitration eligible in 2015. Also like Frazier, he’s coming off his best year so far, which included a blistering hot streak early in the season that even he admitted was the best he’d ever hit in his life. Mesoraco also carries a potential red flag due to his lack of proven consistency. As great as his 2014 was, it was a clear outlier, with his OPS+ of 149 almost doubling his previous best of 79 in 2013. To be an extension candidate, he would need to show that his 2014 wasn’t a flash in the pan.
Jay Bruce: Jay Bruce has two years left on his current deal, plus a $13 million team option for 2017, which the Reds would likely pick up if his production bounces back to his career norms after his lost and injury plagued 2014. Bruce would then hit free agency after his age 30 season. Despite his name popping up in trade rumors this off-season, Bruce has in the past expressed interest in further extending his contract with the Reds. Coming off easily the worst season of his career, it could be possible for the Reds to add a couple of years to his deal at a reasonable rate, although Bruce himself would be foolish to agree to such a thing until he proves himself to be over his injury and back to his old self. Of course, signing Bruce to such a deal is risky for the Reds, too, if his 2014 is more than just a blip in an otherwise consistent career. Given Bruce’s service time, it’s also easy to lose sight of the fact that, going into his age 28 season in 2015, Bruce is younger than both Frazier and Zack Cozart, and just a year older than Mesoraco.
Zack Cozart: Cozart is a very good defensive shortstop. He’s not a very good hitter (although he’s probably a better hitter than what he showed in 2014). He will become a free agent in 2017, at the same time as Frazier, Mesoraco and Bruce, but there isn’t really a good reason to offer him any kind of extension, if they even keep him that long. Given that the Reds may have already acquired his replacement in Eugenio Suarez, it seems unlikely that they will keep Cozart around as he becomes more and more expensive.
All four of these players will become free agents at the same time. If you could extend one of them, which one? As always, let us know why you voted as you did in the comments.