If it seems to you as if the Cincinnati Reds have been in somewhat of a holding pattern for a few weeks, you aren’t alone. They made a huge splash in signing Mike Moustakas on the eve of RedsFest, and later backed it up with a potentially savvy signing of Wade Miley to help round out the team’s starting rotation, but since then it’s been somewhat of a game of chicken between the Reds and the free agent market.
More specifically, it’s been a game of chicken between the Reds and the outfield portion of the free agent market.
They’ve been linked with the biggest remaining fish there, with both Marcell Ozuna and Nick Castellanos having their names pop up in rumors repeatedly. Lately, it’s been Japanese star Shogo Akiyama who has been most connected to being a potential new Red, and the repeated interest in those three pretty effectively emphasizes one clear point:
The Reds are in the market for OF upgrades. They really should be, too.
The three current on-paper starters for the 2020 Reds in the outfield are Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, and Aristides Aquino, it would appear. If you look back at the last two seasons for all three - six seasons in total - you’ll find that four were cut short by season-ending injuries, and a fifth was poor enough for one to actually be designated for assignment. The latter, of course, was Aquino after 2018, but the Reds were fortunate enough to keep him around and luck into his reemergence in 2019, but his September struggles again serve to highlight the flaws in his game that had him once bumped off the roster to begin with.
Beyond that, just factor in that at the outset of the 2019 season, not a single one of that trio was actually an everyday starter on the Reds, either. That OF featured Winker more often than not, but it also included the likes of Matt Kemp, Scott Schebler, and Yasiel Puig. Eventually, the likes of Derek Dietrich, Josh VanMeter, Phil Ervin, Michael Lorenzen, and Brian O’Grady picked up decent time in the grass, too, serving to highlight just how hard it is to count on merely a trio to man those positions over the course of the season.
Of course, that’s merely a focus on the quantity the Reds had and have to consider. That they’re chasing Ozuna, Castellanos, and Shogo suggests they’re in the market not just for quantity, but also quality upgrades, too. Adding one of that trio wouldn’t inhibit the ability for their young trio to still get enough PAs to hopefully continue to improve into above-average big leaguers, but the fact is that the Reds team offense ranked 25th in MLB by wRC+ last year, and the only place on their roster where there is room for a significant offensive addition resides in the OF.
It’s much less of a major concern if and when that addition occurs, but it will absolutely be interesting to see where the ripple effect from that add shows up in the rest of the Reds roster. At current, the Reds have 10 OFs on their 40-man roster already, and a few of them are in a fairly precarious position.
Each of Ervin, Schebler, and Travis Jankowski are out of options at the moment, meaning they can’t merely be stashed in AAA to begin 2020. Considering that the Reds already reached an agreement to avoid arbitration with Jankowski, it would appear he’s got an inside track to be on the Opening Day roster, while Ervin’s performance in 2019 and ability to mash LHP would certainly make him a favorite to crack that roster, too. Schebler’s precipitous fall and repeated shoulder injuries likely mean he’ll be an odd-man out, and that doesn’t even get to recent Rule 5 draftee Mark Payton - a player the Reds can only hold on to if they keep him on the active roster.
(For the record, I’m assuming Josh VanMeter is pretty well a lock for the Opening Day roster at this juncture and he certainly is able to see time in the OF with his versatility.)
If you pair the current roster with the OF totem pole in the franchise, that would make the most likely AAA OF to begin the season one that includes the recently acquired Nick Martini (who has 1 option remaining) flanking Jose Siri, who’ll likely get full run in CF in hopes that his tools can finally shine through in the upper minors in what should finally be a good offensive environment for him. Beyond those two, things do appear to get a bit more murky.
It would appear that for day one of the 2020 season, Narciso Crook has the inside shot at rounding out the Bats OF, as he turned in a mostly full, healthy season in 2019 with an .806 OPS combined between AA Chattanooga and AAA Louisville. But while he’s a toolsy 24 year old, he’s not exactly one of the more highly touted Reds prospects, and a trio of them - Stuart Fairchild, TJ Friedl, and Michael Beltre - all both are, and have already spent a chunk of time plying their trade at the AA level.
The Reds are pretty notorious for promoting their prospects at somewhat of a glacial pace, and reading the tea leaves at this juncture suggests that likely won’t be changing too much as they head into 2020 with their OF glut, either. Both Fairchild and Friedl in particular seem to be particularly impacted in that regard, as both will enter 2020 as 24 year old college products who’ve shown promise at the AA level already yet will likely still be stuck there again on Opening Day come April.
The major caveat here, of course, is that Opening Day come April is still a third of a year away, and the Reds can, and will, do plenty to make this entire article irrelevant in that time. They’ve got bullpen issues to address, and signing those arms will need space on the 40-man roster. The trade market is perpetually open, too, and many of the names previously mentioned could be attractive pieces in a pursuit of Francisco Lindor, Whit Merrifield, Starling Marte, or any of the other big pieces potentially being shopped. As it stands today, though, it sure feels like there’s going to be a purge in the Reds OF depth between today and the end of March, even if no major addition is brought in (for whatever disastrous reason that would be).