There’s a non-stop struggle with making final roster decisions for clubs across Major League Baseball. Juggling how to keep an active roster of 25 players is hard enough, but when you factor in playing time and the ability for young players to continually develop by being on the field every day, often you’ll see teams opt to actually keep lesser players in the non-playing roles to facilitate others’ futures.
It appears the Cincinnati Reds were stuck with that very same dilemma, and on Sunday decided to still keep their eyes on the future with their latest round of cuts, the details of which the team announced earlier.
Reds option LHP Cody Reed and INF Alex Blandino to AAA Louisville; send to minor league camp catcher Tony Cruz, UTL Brandon Dixon and 1B/LF Sebastian Elizalde.— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) March 25, 2018
OF Ben Revere was released from minor league camp. #RedsST ⚾️
In sending down both Alex Blandino and Brandon Dixon, the Reds have shown their hand regarding which players have an inside track to bench infield roles: Cliff Pennington and Phil Gosselin, who together are about as exciting as uncooked linguine. Pennington at least got the nod due to his experience playing shortstop (and the utter lack of experience there in the Cincinnati system), but the decision to keep Gosselin over Dixon, Blandino, and Elizalde simply reeks of the dilemma I spoke of earlier. It seems the Reds would much rather Blandino and Dixon, specifically, flank Nick Senzel in the everyday lineup in AAA Louisville, continuing to develop for future Reds’ usage down the road. And, well, that leaves Gosselin in camp as the utility guy, who’ll turn 30 years old later this year and has hit just .254/.299/.336 with no pop in 290 big league PA over the last two seasons while playing every infield position.
The same, too, can be said about Cody Reed, who was also optioned. My guess here is that he actually showed himself well enough in camp this spring to, like Amir Garrett, pitch himself back into a chance at being a starting pitcher. He seemed destined for a bullpen role as camp opened after his 2017 struggles, but good stuff and decent enough long outings have likely prompted the Reds’ brass to give him starts in Louisville every five days rather than a spot in the Opening Day bullpen as a long man. The only issue here is that Garrett probably pitched just better enough to stick with the club and serve as insurance should the injured starters projected to be in the rotation don’t return as quickly as possible.
If you take a deep breath and look at these in the big picture, these moves are likely the prudent ones. Reed and Blandino, specifically, are clearly pieces the Reds view as vital to the team’s future, and they simply weren’t going to sacrifice their ability to improve to add marginal improvement to roles that will likely be bit-part for now, anyway. For the infield reserves, though, I think what stands out here significantly isn’t that decision making, it’s that the default options that are left over are just Pennington and Gosselin, who frankly make the idea of having Jack Hannahan and Skip Schumaker on the bench sound appealing.
As for the outfield, that’s the lone place where things appear to be a bit different. With Ben Revere now released, that leaves former 1st round draftee Phil Ervin still in camp, and it would certainly seem he’s got the inside track to fill a 5th OF void, a spot we weren’t sure the club was actually going to carry to begin the season. Ervin, who turns 26 this summer, excelled in that role last year and adds both another set of legs that can cover CF and some right-handed pop to the bench, but won’t join Blandino and Dixon in getting everyday reps in Louisville to begin the year. Honestly, that’s the most curious piece in this news, considering you’d think the mentality would be all or nothing in one way or another.
My best guess in all of this is that the Reds will still be actively looking for a waiver claim before the season starts, one akin to how they landed both Scooter Gennett and Dan Straily when other teams are facing these exact kind of decisions. And, if that happens, Ervin’s likely the one to head back to AAA. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him carried until Brandon Finnegan is (hopefully) back to pitch on April 9th, serving as a bonus-bat player since the early off-days allow for such.
The Cincinnati Reds sure should be better this year than the last few, especially if they get a little bit of luck on the injury front. That hasn’t kept them from sticking to the premise of the rebuild, though, and that sure shows in today’s decisions. These Reds should well win a few more games in 2018, but for the time being that’s certainly not going to be because of their options on the bench - and that certainly has to be a tough thing for Bryan Price to process as he’s once again in his final year under contract.