The gig is up, the rumors are news, and the Cincinnati Reds have really signed Nick Castellanos. It could be just for 2020, it could be for four years, but the reality is that the Reds have brought in a player who has compiled 162 total extra-base hits over the last two seasons, and figure to feature him prominently in their revamped offense alongside the likes of Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, and Mike Moustakas.
It’s a brilliant addition, really, even if his defense comes with a gallon of question mark sauce. What it doesn’t do, though, is give us any real indication of what the heck the Reds are going to do both with their roster and their everyday lineup, since a bevy of outfield-only bats already exist in their realm.
We explored that concept a bit at the end of last week when the rumors persisted about the Reds maintaining interest in Castellanos, so I’ll try not to echo too many of them here. The gist, of course, was largely that a) you can never have too many bats, b) each of Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, and Aristides Aquino have minor league options remaining, and c) even Shogo Akiyama - promising and pricey as he was - is no guarantee to be a rockstar at the MLB level (even though we all hope he will be).
The fact is, though, that having Winker, Akiyama, Aquino all be OF-only bats means that someone who probably deserves to be playing everyday won’t be in the lineup every night. Castellanos is going to play, obviously, as is Nick Senzel, who was lauded as a universalTop 10 overall prospect with an electric-light future all of, I dunno, 8 months ago. Senzel has the ability to play some infield, too, but given the presence of All Stars Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakas there, there isn’t even really a natural spot for him to slide to on days when the rest of the OF is chock-full.
So, what’s going to give?
It could well be that Castellanos, a righty bat with infield experience who has pummeled LHP to the tune of .303/.368/.532 in his career, will spell Joey Votto at 1B on days when a potent lefty starter is on the mound. That’s a concept we explored in depth earlier at the end of last year given Votto’s decline against lefties in recent seasons (and was why we thought bringing in Yasmani Grandal to play a similar role was such a good idea, too). If that gets Castellanos an extra 100 or so PA and puts Votto in a better spot to succeed on the whole, that opens up more time in the OF corners for the likes of Aquino, Winker, and the out of options Phil Ervin.
Still, that would certainly appear to still have quite the backlog in the OF on a day to day basis. Obviously, if things play out in 2020 the way they did in 2019, that wouldn’t be such a big deal - each of Winker, Senzel, and Scott Schebler fought numerous injuries and had their seasons cut short, Matt Kemp broke a rib early and was cut loose, and Yasiel Puig was firmly in the mix for over half the season, too. But in an ideal world where players stay healthy and produce to their capabilities, the Reds sure do appear to have more good players than they have ample playing time.
Naturally, that prompts trade talk, and that’s exactly what we got from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman this morning, as he revealed the club has been willing to discuss Nick Senzel in potential deals.
Reds are considering trading Nick Senzel. Have heard his name is out there on market.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 27, 2020
Let’s walk through some things here first. Given the logjam they themselves have created in the OF, it’s nearly impossible to envision them shopping him for another OF. We mentioned the presence of Suarez, Moustakas, and Votto as stalwarts in the infield, so the Reds are not shopping Senzel for a 3B, 2B, or 1B. Their starting rotation is as rock solid as it comes, so it’s nearly impossible to envision them shopping him for a SP, either.
That leaves three spots where they might be targeting - an everyday SS, a top-tier C, or a relief arm.
At SS, the rumor mill has been on overload all winter as Cleveland flirted with whether or not to put superstar Francisco Lindor on the market given the almost certainty that he doesn’t stick around once his final two seasons of team control are up. Cleveland manager Terry Francona poured cold water on that idea (for now) earlier in January, however, and barring a massive change that’s pretty well sewn up. Upgrades from Freddy Galvis do very much exist out there, however, though the unfortunate reality is that there are a) precious few of them and b) they all play on teams intent on winning games in 2020 instead of tanking, making an obvious deal hard to fathom. Carlos Correa had his name pop up in brief rumors earlier this winter, and given Houston’s drama (and forfeited 1st round picks in the wake), perhaps they’d consider dealing him to bolster a farm system that’s going to rapidly deplete. Up in Boston, they’ve been adamant about shedding salary to get under the luxury tax (for nothing more than monetary reasons), and shedding Xander Bogaerts and his big-money deal would certainly help them do so (even though we’ve not seen any suggestion that he, instead of Mookie Betts, is truly on the block).
At C, there’s almost no deal out there that makes sense at Senzel’s value. The Reds chased and lost out in their quest for J.T. Realmuto last year, and he’s firmly entrenched on a Phillies team with big aspirations for 2020 (and the two have even been discussing a potential extension). Yasmani Grandal would’ve been a great add, but he just landed with the White Sox and won’t be dealt this winter. Rumor has it that the Cubs have been shopping Willson Contreras, and while he’d be an upgrade over what the Reds currently have in-house, it’d be a shocker to see those two NL Central rivals make such a monumental deal while both have eyes on the 2020 division crown. Beyond that trio, the catching position becomes a bit of a wasteland in terms of elite-level talent.
As for the bullpen, well...well, let’s just say that dealing Senzel at his age with his level of team control for a relief arm would be an incredibly tough pill to swallow. It would have to be, say, a Josh Hader level talent, and be an arm (like Hader) that comes with many seasons of team control. And even then, there are about two of those out there, and one of them (Hader) resides in that same NL Central. In fact, the idea of the Reds trading Senzel at this point for a reliever has me too razzed to keep harping on the idea, so I’m going to just end that talk right here.
In other words, it’s going to take some distinct creativity and threading a perfect needle for the Reds to move Senzel and land the perfect piece in return. Add-in that Senzel is recovering from shoulder surgery and hasn’t swung a bat in a few months and the Reds are going to have to use their A-game sales pitch to convince teams that Senzel is still as valuable to them as he was just a few months ago, otherwise they’d be selling quite low on the best position player prospect they’ve had in over a decade.
And maybe that’s it. Maybe that Senzel isn’t healthy right now is why the Reds have built things up around him, as they don’t want to put too much of a burden on him and his surgically repaired shoulder too early in 2020. It’s not something they’ve said publicly, of course, and they’ve even let on repeatedly early in the process that they expect him to be 100% in spring training. But if he isn’t, can you really say the Reds are in a position to not have a rock-solid backup plan given how much emphasis they’ve placed on winning games in the 2020 season? I’m not sure they’ve built up enough goodwill during the ages-old rebuild to do that, and in bringing in Shogo and Castellanos - with those opt-out clauses that are very interesting in this light - certainly helps guard against that worst-case scenario.
It’s a confounding scenario, albeit in a very, very good way. The Reds have loaded up - overloaded, even - and seem intent on making sure they have the best possible players at every position, something we’ve not been able to say about them in quite some time. It might mean a familiar face you’ve grown accustomed to rooting for during the copious amounts of losing won’t be around much longer, and that’s certainly going to take a bit of time to get used to. It might just mean that guy doesn’t play as much anymore, though, because there’s finally someone good enough to take his job that’s around too. That’s simply how winning baseball teams function, and the Reds have done just about everything on-paper to make that a very realistic level of optimism for the 2020 season, and beyond.
It’ll ruffle a feather or two, I’m sure. That’s just part of the business of baseball. But in doing so, it shows the Reds have begun to acknowledge that they’ve ruffled quite a few fan feathers over the previous years of 90+ losses and irrelevance, that certainly deserves to be an important part of the equation, too.