It seemed as if we all slogged through an epoch before the Cincinnati Reds made a single move this offseason. The signing of Jared Hughes to a 2-year contract was both out of the blue and the first beacon of improvement to the roster of the winter, his ability to keep runs off the board a seemingly obvious improvement to a pitching staff in dire need of that ability.
A full 30 days have now passed since Hughes put pen to paper on that contract, though, and the Reds - like the rest of MLB teams - have yet to do squat in that time. As luxury tax implications sink teams’ willingness to spend and rebuilding/tanking flexes an increasingly strong arm on the free agent market, most all of the big name free agents who were on the market at the end of the 2017 season still sit unsigned, with pitchers and catchers set to report to spring camps in roughly three weeks.
The Reds were never in on Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish, and there’s absolutely zero chance their market evaporates enough for that to change. However, as the pinch on spending continues to have ripple effects to the periphery of the free agent market, there does appear to be a chance that the Reds might dive back in for a signing, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon relayed earlier today.
With slow free agent market, and prices coming down, GM Dick Williams said #reds still looking to add a player. Would likely be for bullpen.— Mark Sheldon (@m_sheldon) January 25, 2018
The Reds have been publicly linked to the likes of David Hernandez, for instance, as The Enquirer’s Zach Buchanan noted a few weeks back. Matt Albers remains unsigned, too, despite being named by Red Reporter dot com as a potential fit with the Reds way back in October. John Axford and his tremendous mustache are coming off a not-so-tremendous 2017 season, but the former 42nd round draftee of the Reds did still average over 95 mph on his fastball last year - and is still a free agent.
In fact, there’s a veritable who’s who of relievers of note from the last handful of years who remain teamless, and that might work in the Reds’ favor as the idea of minor league contracts with big league camp invites become more and more attractive. Neftali Feliz, Joaquin Benoit, Tyler Clippard, and Matt Belisle are available, as are Jason Grilli and Seung-hwan Oh. Some bigger names are still unsigned due to increasingly bad peripherals and increased age - Huston Street, Francisco Rodriguez, and Sergio Romo, in particular - but the fact remains that some veteran relievers are soon likely to come off the board at bargain-bin prices, and the Reds appear poised to do some poaching in that realm.
Whether or not there’s an arm out there who projects to have more impact in the bullpen in 2018 than, say, Zack Weiss or Jimmy Herget, I cannot tell you. Consistency from year to year is damn near impossible to predict when it comes to relievers, as is how healthy they are relative to the stats that they post. What I do know, though, is that the prices for these particular bunch of picked-over arms are about to fall to a level where signing them won’t be cost-prohibitive to giving a younger guy a roster spot if they come out and pitch better than the veterans in camp. And while that certainly doesn’t come with the level of confidence that you’d get from signing Wade Davis or Addison Reed, it is at least a level of flexibility built into the roster for the Reds to work with.
It’s been the boring-est of boring offseasons for all parties involved, but at least there appears to be a chance the Reds make one more splash before it’s over - even if it’s the tiniest, Olympic-diving-sized splash that can be made.