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On Scooter Gennett and the future of 2B in Cincinnati

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What a difference a year makes.

St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It’s becoming hard to calculate precisely the number of ways in which Yasmani Grandal has altered the path of the Cincinnati Reds in calendar year 2019. Grandal was the clear-cut top catcher on the free agent market after the end of the season, and despite reported heavy interest in him from the Reds, he inked a 4-year, $73 million contract with the Chicago White Sox just last week, forcing the newly cash-rich Reds to send their sights elsewhere.

That, of course, came on the heels of the former Reds draftee bashing to the tune of a .926 OPS for Milwaukee in the 18 games between the Brewers and Cincinnati in 2019. In those, Grandal walked 17 times - the most he walked against any opponent last year - while bashing a pair of homers and driving in 10 runs.

The title of this piece is about Scooter Gennett, you may recall. And aside from being a former Brewer, too, you may be inclined to think he’s got nothing to do with Yasmani Grandal. The reality is that on March 23rd of this year, Scooter broke from his stance at 2B to field a rather routine grounder in Cactus League play, and in the process watched perhaps tens of millions of buckaroos with his name on it virtually evaporate.

He’d strained his right groin in severe enough fashion to immediately be ruled out for up to three months, doing so in a meaningless spring training game just months before he, too, was slated to reach free agency. The player who hit that grounder, to tie a bow on this, was Yasmani Grandal, and suddenly the hope-to-contend Reds were forced to find a replacement for an All Star.

Scooter’s injury forced the Reds hand on the eve of the big league season, and they responded in kind. Jose Peraza moved across the diamond to play 2B, with minor league signing Jose Iglesias taking over as the regular shortstop. Scooter’s void eventually gave way to the superstar month of May from Derek Dietrich, whose subsequent slump helped give rise to the cult of Josh VanMeter fans. By the time Scooter returned in late June, the Reds were once again in last place in the NL Central and approaching an inevitable sell-off (again), and one month of a .497 OPS later Scooter was traded to the San Francisco Giants.

Things only improved marginally for Scooter with San Francisco. He bonked a homer in his second game with the club as they fleetingly chased a playoff spot, but he hit just .236/.256/.345 in 19 subsequent games before being released less than a month after his trade from the Reds. What’s worse, the Giants weren’t the only ones done with what they saw, as Scooter remained unsigned by any club at any level for the remainder of the 2019 season.

It’s a tremendously sad fall, really. After rolling into Cincinnati as a castoff from Milwaukee, he burst onto the scene in 2017, clubbing 4 dingers in a game none of us will ever forget en route to a splendid .303/.351/.508 overall output across 2017-2018. He made an All Star team, hit 50 homers, and his 124 wRC+ in that span ranked him as the 3rd best offensive 2B in all of baseball in that time - behind only Joses Altuve and Ramirez. He arrived at Goodyear in early 2019 a 29 year old offensive dynamo who had been actively pining for a contract extension from the Reds, one who looked the part of a player deserving of a lucrative multi-year deal from some team by year-end should the Reds opt not to oblige him.

Now...

Well, now I have zero idea what’s going on in Scooty World. There have been no peeps, no rumors at the local level, no rumors at the national level, no nothing. Search MLB Trade Rumors dot com for Scooter, and you’ll find there’s nary a mention of him since he was cut by San Francisco on August 27th. Hell, the next most recent story tagged with his name is about Tyler Austin, the player who was DFA’d by San Francisco to make room on the roster for Scooter’s addition - and Austin, unlike Scooter, actually signed on with the Brewers and played real big league games in a playoff push in the month of September.

We’ve seen this story with the 2B market before. Almost exactly a year ago I explored where Scooter fit with both the Reds and with the crowded, fluid 2B market as a whole, noting that there was such a glut of 2B capable and available bats out there that while it made sense to shop Scooter on-paper, there might not be a very lucrative trade awaiting. Here we are again this winter with a bevy of veteran 2B options again on the table, with the likes of Mike Moustakas, Howie Kendrick, Brian Dozier, Starlin Castro, Jonathan Schoop, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jason Kipnis (among others) also free agents. It’s the kind of glut that makes it a little more obvious why Scooter, fresh off a lost season, hasn’t exactly seen his name in lights for months now.

Two things at the present remain as true as they did one year ago, though. On the one hand, the Cincinnati Reds still haven’t yet addressed their plans for 2B beyond the 2019 season, as at present the depth chart includes Peraza, VanMeter, Kyle Farmer, and Alex Blandino in some level of still-unproven order. Heck, even the idea of moving Senzel to 2B seems to have been tabled due to a combo of his shoulder surgery and perpetual lack of another in-house CF options. On the other hand, Scooter Gennett sits without a solution to his post-2019 future, staring at the concept of perhaps no more than a minor-league deal with an invite to spring camp just one year removed from seeking a multi-year extension with an All Star patch still fresh on his jersey.

I don’t know if the idea of a Scooty reunion in Cincinnati is a good one, or not. I don’t know how healthy he is, or how much his injury forced swing alterations. I don’t know if the Reds know that, either, or if they’ve got a yet-to-be-unfurled solution to their up in the air 2B situation already up their sleeve. But what I do know is that Scooter Gennett is not going to get a major contract prior to the 2020 season even if he’s back to his 100% self based on how bad 2019 went for him, and might well struggle to get any guaranteed big league cash at all, and that the Cincinnati Reds, to date, do not have a 2B option in-house that looks like a player they can absolutely lean on while they insist they’re committed to making drastic improvements to their sub-par offense.

I also know we’ve seen the Cincinnati kid emerge off the scrap heap and rake for the Reds once in his career. What are the odds we see that happen again?