For a while there I did this thing where I gave unsolicited advice to the Reds’ decision-makers and it was all really dumb and not at all reasonable and I guess I really hoped it was funny or something. Invariably one or two people thought it was serious and I always thought that was great. Anyway, I think this here is sober and measured and feasible. No fake.
The Reds are in a real damn position here this winter. They are a few steps away from being a legitimate World Series contender as is, but they also cannot afford to spend another season planning for the next season. 2020 is going to happen, folks, and the Reds see it as a hand they absolutely must go all-in on. That means they will be busy this winter and that they cannot afford to miss.
I don’t want to go off on a tangent so early in this here thing, but 2020 is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for these Reds. Dick Williams and Nick Krall and the rest of the front office folks have enjoyed a fairly long runway since they took office three years ago, but they need to land the plane this coming season. I’m not one to speculate, but their jobs could totally depend on it. We’ve seen front offices get canned for less. Bob Castellini has given no indication that he has anything but total faith in Williams and Krall et al, but I don’t know, man. I’ve been pretty happy with what they’ve done with the franchise, and I think the relative failures we’ve seen in these three years are generally more a function of circumstances beyond their control than anything else, but baseball is not an industry that measures success on effort and good intentions.
All that said, I think making the Postseason in 2020 is very much within the realm of possibility. If the Reds were to just do everything I say here, it would absolutely turn out perfectly and good and winning. How do I know that? Well, everything else in my life is a rousing and satisfying success, so I obviously know what I’m doing. (upside-down face emoji)
Let’s get to it. Here are some moves the Reds can make to put themselves in position to crack some skulls in the NL Central this coming season.
Get Jonathan Villar to play second base
This one has a ticking clock that is quickly approaching midnight, and my guess is that the Reds are up to their knees in it already. Last Wednesday, the Orioles put their best player on outright waivers to avoid paying him the roughly $10 million he will earn next year, his last before reaching free agency. This is the bloodless reality of a Major League Baseball that is run by Wall Street bros and arbitrage pirates, but here we are.
Villar has proven himself to be a very good and sometimes great baseball player in his seven seasons in the bigs split between the Astros, Brewers, and Orioles. His best year was 2016 with the Brewers when he led the league with 62 steals and posted a sterling .369 OBP, but his 2019 wasn’t far behind that. He swiped 40 bags with 62 extra-base hits, good for a 109 OPS+, while playing solid defense at 2B and SS. It was good for 4 WAR.
The fact that he is on outright waivers complicates the situation a bit, but not dramatically. Basically the Orioles are saying that they are absolutely trading him and other teams need to get their best offers in right now because they aren’t going to fuck around. The deadline to tender players in his situation a contract is today, which is why the O’s are pushing it right now.
So what is a reasonable cost for a fella like Villar? Well, I think the trades the Reds made last offseason for Tanner Roark and Sonny Gray could be illustrative. Both Roark and Gray were in their last years of arbitration eligibility and set to make roughly the same kind of cash that Villar will. We know the prospect cost of those two players, and I figure a good guess for Villar is a bit more expensive than Roark but not as expensive as Gray.
Get Dylan Bundy as well
It’s pretty gross how the Orioles are stripping the entire organization to the studs in order to start a total rebuild, but it’s not like they are alone in this. As crappy as it is now, teams like the Astros, Cubs, and Phillies have proven it can be a winning formula. Not only are they moving Villar, but they are reported shopping Bundy, as well. He has two more years before he reaches free agency and is set to make something like $6 million next season.
Dylan Bundy has some serious Homer Bailey vibes, you guys. He was at one time the top pitching prospect in baseball, and though he has made 89 starts the last three seasons, he has been frustratingly inconsistent. The difference, of course, is that Homer actually had some real-ass legitimate great seasons before the injuries. This is kind of a thing with the Orioles, you know. Jake Arrieta did the same thing with the O’s before moving on and winning a Cy Young. Same thing, to a lesser degree, with Kevin Gausman. The O’s have been blessed with supreme pitching talent in recent years, but they’ve been chronically incapable of fully developing it. I’m not a baseball expert, but maybe that’s why the organization cleaned out the front office and brought in a whole new leadership group.
The Reds don’t need another starting pitcher, but we all know the axiom that There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. The prime corollary to that is You Can Never Have Too Much Pitching. And you know, Bundy seems like exactly the kind of pitcher that Kyle Boddy and his crew could whip into shape. Bundy gets loads of strikeouts and doesn’t give up too many walks, but he has suffered from a chronic case of gopheritis. His HR/9 is a bowel-gurgling 1.7 for his career.
Trade for Omar Narvaez
Back in July, I pointed to The Narv Dog as an interesting trade target. Not much has changed since then, aside from Mariners’ GM Jerry DiPoto being explicit in his interest in finding a good trade partner for Narvaez. It seems likely that he’ll be playing with a new team next season, and it might as well be the Reds.
Narvaez seems like he’d be a perfect compliment for Tucker Barnhart behind the dish. He is a bat-first heavy with a stout .361 career OBP. He has also steadily increased his power output the last three seasons, posting SLGs of .340, .429, and .460. 2019 was naturally his best season, as he put up an .813 OPS (good for a 120 OPS+) in a career-high 132 games.
He is clearly a below-average receiver, though. He’s capable behind the dish, at least, but he is not going to save any runs back there. But his bat is so good that it more than compensates. I think either Tucker Barnhart or Curt Casali would be best served as dedicated back-ups, and the acquisition of Narvaez (or any other catcher for that matter) would necessitate the trade of either Barnhart or Casali. Getting a legitimate bat at catcher would go quite a long way to goosing the lineup, for sure.
Sign Shogo Akiyama
The Reds have been actively looking at additions to the outfield this winter and I happen to think Shogo would be the best fit. Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, and Aristides Aquino all have All-Star potential, but none of them are there yet. And being realistic about it, there is a decent chance that none of them will. But I happen to think the best path forward is to afford all three of them the opportunities to get there.
The Reds have been looking at big-ticket free agents like Nick Castellanos and Marcel Ozuna, but getting an outfielder like that means giving him 600+ PAs a year. Those would be PAs not taken by the talented youngsters. I think an ideal OF rotation would allow for 500 PAs apiece for four different fellas, allowing David Bell to optimize match ups and keep everybody well-rested. That means adding a fourth outfielder to the existing mix who won’t demand more than that (either explicitly or implicitly) but would still be able to step up and contribute, even in CF, in the case of injury. I think Shogo is the best fit given all these parameters.
I talked up Shogo Akiyama a few weeks ago in a bit I wrote about the group of Japanese players interested in making the jump from NPB to MLB this year. I think Shogo is the best of that bunch. He’s a straight-up free agent and so isn’t required to go through the posting process. He is 31 and a five-time All Star in his nine seasons in the NPB. He isn’t quite the defender in CF that he used to be, and a lot of MLB folks think he is best suited to the corners now. But given the relative size of CF at Great American Ballpark, I think he’d be just fine covering it if need be. I mean, Shin-soo Choo played a full season in CF for the Reds for crying out loud.
Shogo’s left-handed OBP-heavy bat would be an ideal compliment to fellow lefty Jesse Winker and righties Nick Senzel and Aristides Aquino. Also, it seems like he could be signed to a very reasonable contract, something like two years and around $15 million. It’s not the big free-agent splash the Reds have been talking up and a lot of fans are expecting, but I think it addresses a particular need at a price that is not at all prohibitive.
Sign Didi Gregorius
Here’s your free-agent splash. We’ve covered this quite a bit already in the last month or so, so I don’t want to wax too verbosely about it here. But the Reds have been one of the prime suitors for Didi since he officially reached free agency last month and it’s probably the move that makes the most sense of all of these here. The Reds biggest needs are boosting the offense and getting a legit shortstop, and Didi addresses both of those. He’s the best shortstop available on the free agent market so he has a number of teams interested in him, but the Reds have the right blend of available cash and desperation to best any and all offers he receives from their competitors.
A quick back-of-the-notebook sketch of the 25-man in the event all of these moves come to fruition gives us a roster that I think is more than capable of pushing for the NL Central pennant (remember we get 26 this year):
Barnhart or Casali
Bowman / Kuhnel / Reed / Romano / Sims
All of these moves are totally reasonable, would not cost a ton in terms of prospects and / or money, and would legitimately improve the team to the point where they would enter the 2020 season as at least co-favorites to win the NL Central. I humbly submit this manifesto for the consideration of the Reds’ front office. If you have any further questions, please contact Wick. He can come down to the sub-basement in RRHQ and knock on the door of my little fort I have built out of plastic cat litter jugs.