Yes, part of a franchise overhaul involves making painful decisions to trade veteran, expensive players in an effort to get younger, cheaper, and more flexible with the roster. It's precisely what the Cincinnati Reds have been up to for two full years now, dating back to the December 2014 trades that sent away both Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon (the first time). And yes, in that process, the Reds got much younger, much cheaper, and brought in pieces that made the outlook for the roster stretch farther into the future than just one year.
There was a large byproduct of that process, however, one what we're beginning to see trickle out in bulk. The Reds traded away Latos and got two players in return. For Simon, they also got two players back, and the deals that sent away Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto, and Jay Bruce brought in a whopping fourteen players that the team hoped could make impacts in the franchise's future. That's six players out, and an eighteen player influx, and considering teams in rebuild mode have the same 40-man roster restrictions as teams full of win-now veterans, there becomes a squeeze on the roster that sometimes seems brutal.
That's somewhat where the Reds sit at the moment, and Baseball America's list of the latest players who have declared minor league free agency reflects that in spades. Formerly well-regarded prospects from Top 10 lists of yore such as Yorman Rodriguez, Donald Lutz, Juan Duran, and Kyle Waldrop have all reached the point where they can be signed by another other team, since the Reds had reached the threshold where they could no longer control them in their minor league systems. Those are four toolsy, once hyped guys who simply got squeezed out by the acquisitions of the likes of Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, and others who now either have or are about to have coveted spots on the team's 40-man roster, and it's likely that at least a few of them move on to other organizations. The same can be said for the likes of Caleb Cotham, Drew Hayes, Matt Magill, and other pitchers who had initial shots to make the Reds as bullpen arms before other, better regarded prospects moved in front of them on the pecking order.
Also factoring into that equation is the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, the transaction windfall that allows teams to pluck players from opposing systems that aren't "protected" by being on 40-man rosters - provided that they keep them on their own roster for the bulk of the upcoming season. Thus, teams with crunches like the Reds are faced with a paradoxical decision: who to protect given limited space, and who do they strategically leave unprotected in hopes they won't likely get plucked away. It's a bit of a Prisoner's Dilemma, since every team that may have interest in a player in the Reds' system must also leave one of their own prospects unprotected to keep a 40-man roster spot open, and that's why the list of players who have gone on to successful big league careers after being Rule 5 selections is so, so sparse.
Our own Cy Schourek explored the looming 40-man roster decisions earlier this week, and Doug Gray of RedsMinorLeagues.com began breaking down more specifics beginning yesterday when he pinpointed which players the Reds should definitely protect ahead of the Rule 5 Draft. It's a roll of the dice, and isn't always just a list of the best prospects in the system. Guys like Aristides Aquino, for instance, become tough calls, not because he hasn't performed or isn't supremely talented - his 2016 season surely showed that he was - but since he's not yet shown that kind of success above A+ ball, there is at least some thought that no team would pick him since he'd be tasked with making the jump directly from A+ to the big leagues. That's what helps make Jesse Winker such a lock, since he's already had a full season in AAA and can very reasonably be expected to be a big league contributor in 2017, not just a 25th man who is a drain on the roster.
The relative health of players in this crunch makes a world of difference, too, as teams are surely wary of picking a guy who may not be healthy enough to contribute at all. That's an issue with both Jon Moscot and Jonathon Crawford, as Gray noted today in a look at guys who he feels should not be protected with roster spots prior to the Rule 5 Draft, since one will likely be shelved for all of 2017 and the other has missed too much time to be counted on.
It may sound like roster filler and a list of guys who largely won't ever amount to much at the big league level, and that's largely the case. It's also the exact path to the big leagues taken by the likes of Josh Hamilton, Shane Victorino, Johan Santana, and Jose Bautista, as well has Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, as Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com noted last year. Welcome to your first big set of decisions as GM, Dick Williams.
In other news, MLB's Gold Glove Awards were announced last night, which you might've missed while watching a different TV channel while sporting a terrified, astonished look on your face. Both Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton were finalists at their respective positions, but as The Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans noted, both came home empty handed. Starling Marte won again in LF, while Ender Inciarte claimed the CF award.
Finally, the news on injured catcher Devin Mesoraco continues to be underwhelming, as GM Dick Williams openly stated to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon that it's unlikely the former All Star will be able to be fully ready to start the season as the team's catcher. It came in a larger conversation about the team's goals heading into winter negotiations, one where Williams revealed that they may well need to bolster the catching position due to Mesoraco's slow progression from multiple labrum surgeries. It's not something we're at all surprised by - Mes not being able to be the team's full time catcher anymore - but I do think hearing it laid out this explicitly this early in the offseason is a reflection of Williams as the team's voice instead of the tight-lipped Walt Jocketty. This exact kind of news is exactly the kind of thing Jocketty kept close to the vest, and while the overall M.O. of the front office might not have been different, I do get the impression this is something we wouldn't have heard until Spring Training, if said publicly at all. Regardless, it's another depressing revelation about Mesoraco, who has hit exactly zero home runs since his breakout 2014 campaign.