It appears the race for a spot as a bench bat on the Opening Day roster of the Cincinnati Reds has lost a participant, though if anything that makes determining which players will fill those roles a bit murkier. On Tuesday, the Reds announced that infielder Dilson Herrera - who’s been fighting persistent shoulder issues since coming over from the New York Mets in exchange for Jay Bruce years ago - had cleared waivers, and the team outrighted him to AAA Louisville.
INF Dilson Herrera cleared waivers and will be sent outright to Class AAA Louisville. He will remain in Major League camp as a non-roster invitee.— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) March 13, 2018
Our 40-man is currently at 38. #RedsST
This reveals several pertinent points.
The first is the most obvious, that it’s now clear Herrera won’t be one of the bench bats come Opening Day, barring a miraculous reversal of fortune. Since he’s currently out of options, the Reds couldn’t keep him in the minors if he was still on the roster without passing him through waivers, but since he’s cleared waivers they can now stash him in Louisville again. If anything, this aspect of today’s transaction is the best possible news, since they get to keep him around with fewer roster restrictions than they otherwise would’ve had to deal with.
Point number two is perhaps the most serious, though, and is a bit of a double-edged sword. When healthy, Herrera has flashed the kind of elite talent that made him a consensus Top 100 overall prospect and warranted him debuting in the big leagues as a 20 year old, and since he’s still just 24, any team would’ve loved to have him in their system. When healthy is the key caveat here, and that no team in baseball was willing to take a flyer on him at this juncture might well reveal how big of a deal his shoulder problems really are.
The third issue now becomes which other player can help fill the void as a utility infielder, since prior to this news circumstances dictated that Herrera was a front-runner for one of those bench spots. Cliff Pennington is still the presumptive backup SS who’s still in camp, and this certainly opens up a roster spot to add him should that hold form, but another versatile infield glove and bat role is now obviously up for grabs. Alex Blandino has been hot of late, is already on the 40-man roster, and profiles well in that role, but there’s reason to believe the club wants him playing everyday - likely in Louisville. Brandon Dixon, on the other, hand, might well be the biggest beneficiary of Herrera’s outright, as he’s capable at 3B/2B/1B and the corner OF spots, has been hot as heck in camp, and at 26 years old is the kind of player at this juncture who the Reds probably wouldn’t mind sitting on the bench more often than not.
Placing Herrera on waivers was certainly a risky move, as they could’ve just lost him for no return had he been claimed. The inverse of such is exactly how the Reds landed Scooter Gennett this time last year, for instance, and I suppose there’s still a chance they land a replacement for Herrera on the roster by making a similar claim on a player outside the organization again this time around. However, they do have a number of options left to choose from, so there’s even the chance they go out and claim a completely different type of player. Or, who knows...maybe the use the open roster spot to sign an impact player who’s still out there as a free agent.