After four years of sitting dead last in the NL Central - and after five years of sub .500 ball - the Cincinnati Reds finally got proactive this winter. They shed the weight of the disappointing Homer Bailey, moved on from the disappointing offense from Billy Hamilton, and swung a trio of huge trades to revamp both the starting rotation and the outfield. They also held on to all of their top prospects, and even held roles for promising youngsters Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel as they return from injuries that derailed their 2018 seasons.
All were pretty positive moves, no? It’s hard to find a Reds fan that isn’t thrilled with all of these developments.
So, it’s somewhat of a wet blanket to hear that just days after players reported to camp in Goodyear, one of them isn’t happy. That would be 2B Scooter Gennett, who isn’t thrilled that the Reds haven’t opened up a line of communication on a contract extension with him, he told The Enquirer’s John Fay, as he enters the 2019 season in his final year of team control. One quote in particular stood out to me, at least...
“But being here two years, busting my butt for the team and seeing other guys get stuff who haven’t been here, it’s like ‘man, OK, sweet.’ You throw your hands up sometimes and go: ‘Really?’ ”
Considering there’s one player and one player only who has picked up a contract extension recently while spending less time with the Reds than Scooter’s two years, it’s pretty obvious that’s in reference to Sonny Gray, who signed a 4-year contract (with a year 5 option) after the Reds picked him up via trade from the New York Yankees. And in case you haven’t watched the Reds try to pitch for the last half-decade, that deal was swung because the team has lost copious amounts since Scooter has been here because the pitching has been awful. Not only is it somewhat easy to justify Gray’s contract given his track record over the last five years, it’s also easy to justify wanting to control a player beyond just one year if you’re going to give up the likes of Shed Long to acquire him. So, to critique that contract in particular as if it wasn’t warranted is a bit ripe, and that’s before we even dip into whether or not the Reds should even consider an extension for Scooter.
For one, we’ve watched as the market for 2Bs in or around their 30th birthday has fallen hard. 30 year old Eduardo Escobar landed a 3 year, $21 million extension from the Arizona Diamondbacks just days before he was set to reach free agency in October, and that marks the longest contract issued to a 2B to date this winter despite the impressive list of 2B free agents (DJ LeMahieu, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier, Jonathan Schoop, Josh Harrison, Jed Lowrie, Ian Kinsler, and Asdrubal Cabrera, among others). None has topped the $24 million guarantees issued to LeMahieu and Murphy, respectively, and both of them are going to be playing positions other than 2B just to fit in with their new clubs. In other words, there really isn’t a huge market out there for Scooter’s peers at the moment, which means the Reds would in essence be bidding against themselves in securing Scooter beyond this year.
Then, there’s the presence of Nick Senzel, the top prospect in the system who projects as a more-than-capable 2B. Factor in that the Reds traded away significant prospect depth that looked like it could help cover 2B long-term if Senzel was to play another position full-time (Long and Jeter Downs), and it would seem that they’ve opened a window for him to take over at 2B once Scooter is out of contract. Senzel is going to try to play CF this spring - and, in theory, for the 2019 season - and there’s always the chance he takes to that position the way that Billy Hamilton did when transitioning from SS, and if that happens, perhaps the Reds might consider just keeping him there, in which case revisiting a contract for Scooter might well become something worth exploring. For now, though, it would obviously behoove the Reds to give Senzel time to show what he can do in CF before making any sort of inroads on a Scooter deal so that they know exactly what their other in-house alternatives may be. (Not to mention, 1st round pick Jonathan India is a potential option at 2B as early as 2020, if he moves through the minors anywhere as quickly as his fellow SEC college product Senzel.)
Yes, Scooter has been excellent for the Reds in his two years. He’s flirted with a batting title, socked 4 dingers in a single game, made an All Star team, and posted a robust 124 OPS+ since being plucked off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers. At age 29 this season, he’s still expected to be a big part of what the Reds try to do, too. That said, it’s become increasingly obvious that teams aren’t interested in committing huge dollars to middle infielders beyond age 30, and that’s precisely where Scooter will begin any would-be extension.
It will certainly be interesting to see where the Reds go with Scooter, and that will absolutely depend on a number of factors beyond just how well he’s playing. Scooter is just one of a litany of Reds who are in their final years under contract - Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, David Hernandez, Zach Duke - and how the Reds look in the standings as the July non-waiver trade deadline approaches will have an incredible impact on how the Reds choose to navigate their roster issues. Perhaps it would be a bit different if Scooter was the only such Red in that situation, but given how many other potential long-term decisions the Reds are facing, it’s not surprising in the slightest that he’s being treated as one of that group even despite him having been a Red for a bit longer.
Of course, that’s also a huge set of 2019 payroll obligations that will come off the books if not extended beyond this season, so the idea that the Reds could stomach a significant extension to one or several of those players - Scooter included - isn’t at all out of bounds. The question becomes whether investing in a player who can only play 2B, isn’t a great defender there to begin with, who has a top prospect capable of taking over at said position, and will be on the wrong side of 30 is really where the Reds should channel some of that money. It appears given the stance the Reds have taken so far, they plan on using some, or all of the 2019 season to help determine whether that’s a wise course of action, or if they should earmark that money towards something else for 2020 and beyond.