It was easy to connect the dots on this one.
The Cincinnati Reds watched as shortstop Jose Iglesias became a free agent at season’s end, and later non-tendered former starting shortstop Jose Peraza. Freddy Galvis had his option picked up, but given the club’s intense desire to a) improve its offense, b) make a serious run at a postseason spot in 2020, and c) public commitment to spending some serious money, all eyes moved to the names they could chase on both the free agent and trade market this winter.
Shortstop, while not necessarily a black hole, was a clear spot where they might be able to add a win, two wins, or three wins, depending on how things shook out. And on the free agent market - the one where the Reds wouldn’t have to give up anything other than money for an upgrade - the clear best option available this winter was none other than Didi Gregorius, their own former player.
Didi, who’ll be 30 next season, sputtered in the 2019 season, but did so while returning a tad early from his 2018 Tommy John surgery to help push the New York Yankees as far as he could in the playoffs. His numbers reflected that, as he posted just an 87 OPS+ and .297 wOBA in 82 games. That came after a brilliant two-year run in 2017-2018, however, when he belted 52 total dingers while posting a 114 OPS+ and .342 wOBA.
That offense paired with his brilliant glovework was valued at 8.9 total fWAR in that two-year stretch. 47 shortstops received at least 400 PA over the 2017-2018 seasons, and that 8.9 fWAR ranked him as the 3rd most valuable of the bunch in that span, behind only the brilliant Francisco Lindor (not a free agent) and Andrelton Simmons (also not a free agent). So, it was a no-brainer that the newly minted would-be contending Reds would be in on Didi, just as they were with prominent free agents at other positions where they thought they could upgrade.
As was the case with catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Zack Wheeler, though, the Reds missed out on Didi, too. Joel Sherman of the New York Post relayed that news on Tuesday evening.
#Phillies are in agreement with Didi Gregorius— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 10, 2019
To add a bit of insult to injury, it neither took the $73 million needed to sign Grandal nor the whopping $118 million needed to land Wheeler. As Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia revealed, Didi agreed to a pillow contract, a single year pact at $14 million so he can re-enter the free agent market presumably after a healthy 2020 campaign.
Didi, of course, was once traded by the Reds, and many of the prominent parties involved in that deal still run the Cincinnati front office. Perhaps there was some residual impact there, as The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans confirmed the Reds were in on Didi until the very end. After all, Didi’s former manager with the Yankees is now the manager of the Phillies, and perhaps he simply had the desire to reunited with Joe Girardi more than he did with the Reds. While GABP certainly is a launching pad that most any would-be free agent would love to get to play in for 81 games in a walk year, Citizens Bank Ballpark certainly is amply hitter-friendly, too, and perhaps that was simply the deciding factor for him.
Missing out on Gregorius is hardly a season-breaker. He would’ve been a solid enough bet to be an offensive upgrade at a position where the Reds could use one, but singlehandedly he was not going to make or break the 2020 season. The thing is, now the Reds will be forced to pivot to either a) addressing their upgrade desires from Galvis at SS via the pricey trade market, or b) trying to add an increase in offense elsewhere, something they already missed on in their pursuit of Grandal.
What’s perhaps the most frustrating part about this entire affair is the Phillies themselves. You’ll recall that the Reds chased J.T. Realmuto pretty heavily last winter before Philadelphia ultimately gave Miami a better-received package, and losing out on him was why the Reds later had interest in Grandal again this winter (to no avail). Then, the Phillies outbid the Reds for Wheeler earlier this winter before doing the very same thing with Didi - and keep in mind that the Phillies shortstop from last year that they moved on from to land Didi was none other than Galvis, with whom the Reds now appear to be leaning on more. On top of that, the Reds will likely now turn their eyes towards the corner OF market in search of an offensive upgrade, and the Phillies have under contract one Andrew McCutchen - a player they signed last season to a completely reasonable deal while trying to emerge from a rebuild quite similar to the one the Reds are mired in still to this day.
As it sits, the Reds still stand as having been ‘active,’ though not exactly with as much fruit in their basket as they would like. Mike Moustakas is on-board, and that’s all well and good and such, but it’s getting to the point where missing out on each of Grandal, Wheeler, and Didi to teams that are also rebuild-emergers, and not even the creme de la creme of MLB, just burns something fierce at the moment.