There's a dual reality in the world of the Cincinnati Reds these days, one that stings so obviously that it can only make you laugh a bit.
On the one hand, there's the greatest collection of free agent talent currently available that may have ever been on the market at the same time. Each of Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, and Yoenis Cespedes headline the group of hitters still looking for a new home, and the likes of Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, Howie Kendrick, Denard Span, and Gerardo Parra sit on the market sans contracts while waiting for the dominoes to fall. In three months time, we may look up and realize that those nine players will have signed for somewhere in the neighborhood of $750 million guaranteed, and that will come on the heels of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist signing for big bucks with the Chicago Cubs.
Then there are the Reds, a team that has plenty of holes in its lineup and a projected 2016 payroll that sits some $30 million below its 2014 and 2015 levels. They've got zero experience in LF, a CF who has been the fourth worst offensive player (by wOBA) in baseball over the last two years combined, a RF on the trade block, and a projected Opening Day 3B who has never started a game there in his big league career (and hasn't even started a game at 3B at any level since 2010). The Reds, oh, they have needs, and they've got money around to spend after shedding the likes of Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Marlon Byrd, Burke Badenhop, Skip Schumaker, Todd Frazier, and Aroldis Chapman since last December.
The thing is, though, that the Reds won't be signing any of these guys. They've committed to a full-scale, unbuckled rebuild, and they've seemingly opted to let the majority of 2016's playing time go to young, cheap prospects and players in an attempt to evaluate the assets they've received from the plethora of trades they've made. So while it's fun to think of the dizzying number of dingers Chris Davis would hit as the Reds' LF for the next five years, the reality is that the front office will keep the $120 or so million it would need to sign him and will let some combination of Yorman Rodriguez, Adam Duvall, and Scott Schebler patrol beneath the LF bleachers for the league minimum. They'll wait to see if Eugenio Suarez can capably man 3B despite his lack of experience there, because if he can't, well, it really doesn't matter much at all right now.
That said, they'll still be looking to sign a few free agents to add both experience and competition in the dugout. The Reds will have eyes on finding both bargains and bounce-backs, too, since there's always the chance they can take a cheap flier on a hitter in a buy-low move, put them in the friendly confines of GABP for half a season, watch them regain some value, and flip them at the deadline for something tangible after little to no investment whatsoever.
With that in mind, let's take a look at a few potential position player options that fit those parameters.
The most likely spot where the Reds will pursue depth sits at 3B, and the reasons are threefold. For one, there's the note about Suarez's inexperience there, though that's probably the least important. Secondly, there's Zack Cozart's recovery from major knee surgery to keep in mind, since if he's not ready to start the season, it's likely that Suarez will again begin the year as the team's everyday SS (with Jose Peraza starting the year in AAA to keep his service time in check). That pairs with the third issue, which is that there's not a ton of 3B depth in the system at the moment, or at least not much that's big league ready. Eric Jagielo only has 58 games at AA to his credit (and he isn't yet on the 40 man roster), which would leave Ivan De Jesus as the team's Opening Day 3B (with no other utility IF around).
So, they'll likely bring in someone who can cover the hot corner, be it on a cheap MLB deal or a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training.
Among the available options in that mold, Conor Gillaspie may be the most intriguing. He was released by the Los Angeles Angels after they DFA'd him in August, and his 2015 was downright rough split between LA and the Chicago White Sox (.228/.269/.359 in 253 PA). However, he's still just 28 years old, and he hit a combined .265/.322/.404 in 958 PA in 2013 and 2014. He's also just now in his first year of arbitration eligibility, which means anyone who plucks him could have three years of team control (should they wish) if he bounces back to positive productivity. They play different positions, but it's a similar thought process as the one the Reds used in bringing in Brennan Boesch last year.
Aside from Gillaspie, the pickings become much more slim. Veteran's veteran Juan Uribe is still a free agent, though he'll likely be looking more for a chance to win at age 37 than for a spot on a losing team's bench. Beyond him, there's Chris Johnson and his career -0.3 bWAR, as he and the $17.5 million he's owed through 2018 were recently released by the Cleveland Indians. Unfortunately, that's about it on the free agent 3B market in the Reds' hot zone.
Aside from Ryan Ludwick's amazingly hot two month stretch in 2012, the Reds have been looking for a permanent LF since the third year of Adam Dunn's career. Some things change, and some things are that search. Each of Duvall, Schebler, and Rodriguez will get a chance to prove their worth in the OF (with Jake Cave and Tyler Holt also potentially in the running), with LF currently being the most visibly open spot with playing time. Factor in that Bruce will likely get traded at the first sniff of either a decent offer or one of his patented hot streaks, and there's probably room to add one more veteran bat to the mix.
The Red Reporter Braintrust has been pining for the team to add David DeJesus for the better part of a decade, and he's once again a free agent. But while the now 36 year old's career .350 OBP and penchant for not striking out seems desirable, his overall production finally tanked last year, and his ability to competently cover CF in a pinch doesn't really exist anymore. Similarly, Shane Victorino is available, but DeJesus's story pretty astutely describes the Flyin' Hawaiian at this stage, too.
The one free agent name that stands out as both realistic and palatable is Austin Jackson, as his combination of age (just 29 in February) and past production (22 career bWAR) seem to be still viable. He hit .267/.311/.385 in a 2015 season split between the Cubs and Mariners, but he's also hit .300 in a season before, had 15.4 combined bWAR from 2010-2012, and is a solid defender in CF. And while he's not ever been much of a dinger threat, finally spending 81 home games in Cincinnati as opposed to Seattle or Detroit could provide a bit of an offensive bump to his repertoire. Jackson would cost more than the others, but he's also the lone feasible option on the market that provides a glimmer of serious upside.