Stephen Strasburg signed a record-breaking free agent contract at the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego, his $245 million deal the high-water mark for a pitcher. Heck, even his average annual value was a record. Those records lasted a few hours before being shattered by Gerrit Cole, who signed with the New York Yankees last night for a whopping 9 years and $324 million guaranteed.
In other words, it’s been a pretty loaded few days for the ol’ rumor engine. And while the Cincinnati Reds have so far missed out on any big-name additions, they’re still firmly in the mix with several current free agents, with OF Marcell Ozuna continuing to be the name that keeps recirculating. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi revealed the two sides had been in contact as recently as yesterday.
I view Ozuna in a much similar vein to Mike Moustakas, frankly. They’re both good players who provide higher floors for the Reds at positions where the current Reds roster has questions. That said, neither provides the kind of upside that I think will truly catapult this Reds club forward, and considering it’s believed Ozuna will land a contract similar to the 4 year, $64 million on landed by Moose, it’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow that the Reds might finally toss out $130 million in free agency and still not ink someone who’ll be their best offensive player. According to Joel Sherman of the NY Post, it does appear Ozuna might be prepared to see how the rest of the market shakes out before signing, so the Reds might luck into a bigger fish while that happens.
In other Reds-y news, Kevin Gausman inked a 1-year, $9 million deal with the San Francisco Giants last night, largely because they were one of the few teams that wanted to use him as a starting pitcher again. Gausman was non-tendered by the Reds in November, and the speculation at the time was that the Reds wanted to keep him, just as a reliever - and since that was the case, his estimated arb number of some $10.6 million was too much for them to agree to. Now, Gausman gets a huge ballpark and a rebuilding club to help show he can cut it as a starter again after a brutal show of form with Atlanta last year in that role, and even gets a decent payday to do so. Obviously, the Giants will hope he can return to decent form and will likely look to flip him come July.
In slightly-less-Redsy-but-still-fun-to-ponder news, this nugget from MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart about the state of the Houston Astros payroll is an interesting launching point:
More to come from Luhnow, but he said club would have to make some trades to free up money to sign a top-end staring pitcher. Payroll in uncharted territory.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) December 11, 2019
Pair that with word from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that the Astros have considered dealing star SS Carlos Correa, and you begin to get into both a fun rumor to ponder and an increasingly problematic issue facing MLB as a whole. The Astros are one of the single best clubs in baseball, yet they’re using the luxury tax as something of a salary cap in this instance, and might be willing to dump one of their best players purely to save a few bucks. That’s the same story we’ve heard regarding the Boston Red Sox and Mookie Betts, as well as with the Chicago Cubs and Kris Bryant. These are huge market teams who’ve experienced huge success, yet they’re willing to shed their best players just to save a fringe amount of money? That’s a major, major issue for baseball as a whole, though it’s one that the Reds might well be able to leverage to their advantage.
Just last year, they helped bail the Los Angeles Dodgers out of a luxury tax penalty by taking on money in the huge Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp deal (with some creative accounting), and were able to do so because they’re one of very few teams who a) were well clear of the luxury tax threshold and b) actually looking to improve and add salary. They’re in a similar spot this year, too, and certainly could use an upgrade the likes of Correa, or Betts, or Bryant (as if the latter would ever go down). After losing out on Didi Gregorius, Correa seems like a potentially perfect fit, and while he only has 2020 and 2021 as years left under team control, his age - he’s 5 months younger than Jose Peraza, for instance - makes him a prime candidate to try to extend as a franchise cornerstone for any potential acquiring team, Reds included.
Speaking of ‘prime candidates to try to extend as a franchise cornerstone,’ the Colorado Rockies did just that with Nolan Arenado last winter. Of course, they also inserted an opt-out clause for after the 2021 season at their own suggestion, meaning that in theory, Arenado could be just as close to free agency again as Correa and Bryant. And with the Rockies disappointing 2019 season in the books, MLB insider Jon Heyman hears the Rockies are willing to listen on absolutely everyone on their roster - Arenado included. The likelihood of the Reds getting in on that market are slim given their current roster (hello, Geno!), but the “and anyone else” in Heyman’s tweet did make me remember the Reds being connected with a potential acquisition of Charlie Blackmon earlier this year. Blackmon is truly an enigma, as his Coors/Road splits are predictably gargantuan and he’s a posterboy for raising questions about defensive metrics, but it’s hard to deny the kind of offensive numbers he’s posted in recent seasons. Of course, he’s also turning 34 next summer and has a veritable triceratops of cash left on his contract, so any deal would absolutely have to include some of that dino-money being moved, too. I’m not saying I’m for it or against it, but it would need to be quite a tricky deal, and I wouldn’t doubt if we see that rumor resurface at least once or twice again this winter.