With Marlon Byrd on board and the once convoluted pitching near-exodus having seemingly been sorted, it's hard to say the Cincinnati Reds have been asleep at the wheel so far this off-season. They've certainly been awake - and certainly have been active - though you can make the case that their road map has taken them through Boise on their way from CVG to GABP.
While the moves they've made haven't really jived with any concrete strategy appreciated by most talking heads out there, it's becoming clear that Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini do, in fact, have a method to their madness, and you can roughly break it down into three clear sections:
- Bank on Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Homer Bailey having healthy and productive 2015 seasons. With the money tied up in those four, that's a must.
- Stockpile as many young arms as possible, and let as few players as possible walk for nothing. Knowing they couldn't sign everyone, the Reds swapped Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos for decent hauls, each headlined with hard-throwing young RHPs. It's obvious they think that cache is king, and that's what they're sticking to (with the recent claim of Keyvius Sampson an added bonus to said strategy).
- Scrimp, scrimp, and hope for the best. Byrd will be both 38 years old next year and the single biggest outside addition made by the Reds this Winter, and they'll (hopefully) only owe him $4 million bucks. Money is tight, and there are several crucial spots left to fill on the roster.
Thumpy, Dinger-hungry bench bat guy who would probably have a mustache if cast in an '80's baseball movie
What the Reds have lost by trading Chris Heisey, cutting ties with Jack Hannahan, and guaranteeing a roster spot to a positionless Skip Schumaker is more than just three spots on the 25 man. Heisey was the 4th OF, of course, but he was also both the only non-Hamilton Red capable of playing CF as well as the one guy on the bench who was considered to have decent "pop." Hannahan was pop-less, but was also the backup corner IF (in theory). That's a pair of players who were penciled in as versatile parts of the roster construction (their production notwithstanding), and the Reds will have to look hard to find that flexibility.
Skip, well, Skip isn't anything anymore, either offensively or defensively, but he's going to get a roster spot to complicate everything.
That means the Reds are replacing their backup CF, a reserve IF who can play 3B and 1B, and someone who could whack dingers from a bench role (or at least have the power to put that fear into the opposing manager's cranium). In house, the options aren't both there and proven, but Donald Lutz is at least there. He's big, has a mustache, can thump (or at least has proven that when he makes contact, ball go far), and he can play 1B competently. He's also cheap, which the Reds will certainly appreciate. But while he and Billy Hamilton were best buds and roommates coming through the minors, Lutzy as Billy's cohort in CF wouldn't be a productive as it would be entertaining to watch. Also, putting Lutz in that role at this point in his career effectively ends his prospecthood with the Reds, as he'd no longer be getting the daily reps needed to improve his game.
Key to all of this, really, is whether the Reds choose to keep Eugenio Suarez on the 25 man as a backup IF, or not, since his presence would allow Kris Negron to fill the backup CF/3B role instead of the backup SS/2B role he's likely slated for. Like mentioned above with Lutz, though, Suarez's youth and promise likely dictates he'll be the everyday SS in Louisville to continue his development, meaning Negron's tied to that backup SS role for now.
So, if the Reds go with the Lutz option and keep Suarez in the minors, the need for another versatile IF would be essential (which we'll get to next). If they opt to keep Lutz playing everyday in Louisville, however, the free agent options to fill that void become super slim. Jonny Gomes is still available, though he's barely a LF, never a 1B, and no set of goggles & cape could make him into a CF. Mike Carp is floating in the free agent seas, too, though his career has floundered to where we'd likely not enjoy seeing him perched in the OF.
Maybe the most intriguing option out there is Tyler Colvin, the 2006 1st round pick who has a pair of .800+ OPS seasons under his belt. He's mixed and matched awful years with those good ones and has been stabbed in the chest by a shattered bat, but he also comes with experience in both corner OF spots, CF, and over 30 career games at 1B. At 29, he's a veteran, but he'd still come cheap after last season's .650 OPS for San Francisco at a cool million bucks. No mustache though, sadly.
Glovey, shifty bunty guy who would have dirt on his jersey and probably two batting helmet flaps if cast in an '80's baseball movie
For yelling's sake, we'll go ahead and assume that Suarez will get stuck in Louisville to begin 2015, and will stay down there until September unless Zack Cozart goes blind or his OPS continues to divide itself in half. That would mean the Reds are in the market for another utility IF to complement Negron, preferably one that could cover either SS or CF in a pinch, too. While he may never hit anywhere close to how he mashed in his September call-up last season, Negron has the ability to play solid defense at 3B, SS, 2B, and CF, but in the National League, with a manager who adores making multiple strategic changes per game, on a team whose offense will likely keep them in many 1-run games, having Negron as the primary backup to all those spots simply won't fly. Skip, because whatever, will probably still get counted as a backup 2B/LF, and that means damnit Skip is still on the Reds. Damnit.
Former Red Juan Francisco is looking for a home where he can destruct ninos, but a reunion in Cincinnati isn't likely to happen, and former grand slam specialist Ramon Santiago is still on the market, too. Kelly Johnson provides beaucoup versatility, but he's three years removed from anything akin to a successful season and bounced between three different teams alone in 2014.
Like Colvin, Gordon Beckham is a former 1st round draftee who hasn't quite lived up to his initial billing, but he's out there on the market and dang near the best semi-versatile IF option left. He was drafted as a SS, but has spent the bulk of his big league career between 2B and 3B to decent returns. (As a side note, I knew the White Sox were pretty terrible with their minor league development system, but how the hay-zeus did Beckham only get 259 PA in the minors before being called up for - at that point - good? Yeesh.) If there's anyone out there who seems like they could provide the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle stellar bench production once seen from Heisey and Miguel Cairo, it's probably Beckham, and he may have had just poor enough of a 2014 to not have a guaranteed starting spot for him out there on the market.