A quick trip to the transactions page at the Reds.com shows that Cincinnati hasn’t technically been active of late, with nothing - not even the rumored reunion with Bronson Arroyo - having been announced as official. That’s not to say the team hasn’t had their lines in the water, however, at least in the end of the pond in which they choose to do their fishing these days. In fact, just before the weekend it was relayed by SB Nation's Chris Cotillo that the Reds were nearing an agreement with free agent OF Desmond Jennings, a former regular with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Reds are close to to a deal with outfielder Desmond Jennings, source tells SB Nation.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) February 2, 2017
In the "what have you done for me lately" world, Jennings hardly stands out. Now 30 years old, he's hit just .222/.295/.347 over the last two seasons, those numbers coming in just 93 games played as leg injuries have repeatedly conspired to keep him off the field. In the "what a great rebound could look like" world, however, the 11.8 bWAR he put up during his first four primary big league seasons shows how his combination of outfield versatility, base stealing, and solid defense made him one of the more exciting young players in the game at one point.
If and when this deal gets done, it'll be of the minor league variety, as The Enquirer's Zach Buchanan followed up with on Friday. And honestly, that's just the kind of deal that brings little to no risk to Cincinnati while Jennings can prove he's healthy again - and if he's healthy, he could provide the exact puzzle piece the Reds could be looking for at the moment.
That I said "puzzle piece" and not just "piece" becomes important here, since how Jennings would augment the Cincinnati roster is also dependent on the other members of the projected active roster.
Take Scott Schebler, for instance. After returning from his stint in AAA after a brutal start to the season, Schebler rebounded quite nicely at the big league level, his overall. 265/.330/.432 line in 237 PA enough to pencil him in as the starting RF on Opening Day. However, that line was buoyed by his thumping of RHP as a lefty, as LHP held him to a dismal .195/.267/.341 line in an admittedly small 45 PA. Still, Schebler has long had pretty large platoon splits, with 2015's AAA showing in Oklahoma City combined with his Dodgers cup of coffee yielding just a .238/.282/.338 mark in 170 total PA.
Jennings, even if not what he once was as an all-around player, hits right-handed, and has consistently made a habit of belting left-handed pitching. For his career, he's hit .264/.346/.431 against LHP, that's something that could help him carve out a niche role on the active roster.
It's not just Schebler who could cede PAs to Jennings against lefties, either. While Billy Hamilton once talked openly about ditching hitting lefty in favor of focusing on his more natural right-handed swing, his relative offensive breakout season in 2016 saw him hit RHP better than LHP by a rather significant margin (.696 OPS vs. .576 OPS), and while his career splits are virtually identical in terms of OPS, the idea of spelling Hamilton's bat against a tough lefty still makes sense from time to time. Then there's Adam Duvall, who despite hitting righty owns reverse platoon splits in his big league career, having hit RHP better than LHP (.793 OPS vs. .708 OPS) - a trend that was also exhibited by him in his upper-minors career, too.
Arismendy Alcantara will seemingly be in consideration for the 4th OF role with the Reds this year, but despite his scattered big league stats showing that he's hit LHP better than RHP so far, his larger minor league sample suggests that he - a lefty - hits RHP much better on the whole. If and when Jesse Winker finally makes his big league debut, he - another lefty - will also do so having sported clear platoon splits across his minors career, too. All that points to Jennings with an inside track to a spot as a reserve outfielder with the Reds, provided he's healthy, since he brings a skillset to the club that simply doesn't exist at his position at the moment.
A healthy Jennings just might bring a bit more to the table than that, too. He's spent his entire 7-year big league career as a member of the Rays, but in that time saw the kind of home/road splits one doesn't normally see from a player who calls one stadium home for such a stint. In 1139 career PA in Tampa, Jennings hit a rather woeful .228/.310/.355, compared to a comparitively robust .261/.334/.428 in 1212 PA in other parks. Considering that Tropicana Field has consistently ranked in the bottom third among all big league parks in terms of offensive promotion per ESPN's Park Factor - even ranking dead last and second to last in his first two big league years - getting to see Jennings' production without the weight of his former home field could even bring more surprises to the Reds.
It's been a while since the Reds had a designated lefty masher on their roster. In fact, it may well have been a former Ray the Reds plucked off the scrap heap on a minor league deal who last held such a role, and he wasn't exactly known for his defense. If healthy, Jennings makes plenty of sense not just as a legitimate bounce-back candidate, but as one coming in with no risk and a clear path to a roster spot with little to no competition.