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Free agent fits for a Cincinnati Reds club on a tight budget

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Baseballin’ on a budget.

Cincinnati Reds v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick McDermott/Washington Nationals/Getty Images

It just might be one of those winters where the baseball world pulls the covers up to its collective chin, casts a thorough shiver, and hunkers down against the cold. With news earlier this week from commissioner Fred Manrob that baseball’s 30 franchises had run up nearly $3.0 billion in debt during a 2020 season that featured a reduced schedule and no fans in stands, it’s hard to envision any team really swinging big in the free agent market this winter, let alone the small market clubs who typically operate with tight purse strings in normal years.

Despite their nearly $170 million outlay last winter, the Cincinnati Reds have historically been one of those penny-pinching clubs, at least in recent memory. The Reds have no money and are talking to no one became a bit of a Red Reporter meme for a decade thanks in large part to those tactics, and while a non-dive into spending this winter certainly wouldn’t earn them a ton of favor with their salty fans, there is at least an existing core in place at the moment that suggests that the right strategic, low-cost moves this winter could still vault them into contention in 2021.

Only if they get it precisely right, of course.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for players the Reds should target at positions of need that won’t break the bank, and just might provide them with the kind of low-cost reward to make them legitimate World Series contenders.

CF - Skip Schumaker

While an excellent all-around outfielder, it’s in CF where Skip truly excels. It was the position he first played when drafted out of UC-Santa Barbara, and to date he carries a career .306 average and .366 on-base percentage while playing the position over the course of his career.

He has even homered 5 times while playing the position, and how many humans on the planet can make such a claim?

RF - Skip Schumaker

If the Reds try and fail to land Skip Schumaker to augment their production in CF, perhaps they could pivot and chase RF Skip Schumaker instead. While not a .306 career hitter, RF Skip Schumaker is a career .285 hitter, and in a shocking turn of events has the exact same career number of homers (5) and arby-eyes (36) as CF Skip Schumaker - and did so in 131 fewer career PA!

Clearly, RF Skip Schumaker is more of a slugging Skip Schumaker, and would probably therefore be best suited hitting in the middle of the lineup instead of atop it, which is where CFs are designed to bat.

LF - Skip Schumaker

While lacking the premier prowess of both CF Skip Schumaker and RF Skip Schumaker, LF Skip Schumaker would still be quite the consolation prize for the Reds. With 6 homers and 48 career runs batted in in LF, LF Skip Schumaker packs the kind of overall resume that neither CF Skip Schumaker or RF Skip Schumaker can claim, and with 193 career games played in LF, LF Skip Schumaker is the far more experienced of the three.

That experience, of course, is completely invaluable. It’s the kind of intangible that would likely warrant a 2-year deal instead of just a 1-year deal, however, and it remains to be seen whether the Reds have that kind of financial flexibility in their budget.

RP - Skip Schumaker

While the offense was clearly a problem for the 2020 Reds, the old adage of you can never have too many arms certainly applies to their bullpen construction going forward, too. Add-in that each of Anthony DeSclafani and Trevor Bauer are free agents, and bringing in top-tier bullpen depth to back a depleted rotation is a savvy way to address potential pitching woes.

Enter RP Skip Schumaker, who has struck out Humberto Quintero, Trent Oeltjen, and Blake Hawksworth in his big league career, perhaps making him the only pitcher in Major League Baseball history to strike out a player from Venezuela, Australia, and Canada in his career. He has been pitching in the bigs since 2011 and owns a career 4.50 ERA, demonstrating both his effectiveness and longevity.

SS - Aaron Miles

It is tempting to list SS Skip Schumaker as the top target at a vital position of need for the Reds, but despite his ability to throw right-handed, SS Skip Schumaker has never actually played SS at any level professionally. So, much like the arguments for moving Brandon Phillips to SS from a few years back made sense on-paper, I can’t imagine the Reds actually trying to pull that off even if it makes perfect sense.

Enter SS Aaron Miles, who ticks all the boxes. He has not only started 97 games at the position over the course of his career, he has also played in both the American League and National League, making him a prime target for a schedule filled with interleague play. What sets him apart from his peers, though, is that he is both the only player to ever homer off RP Skip Schumaker and - get this - the only player to ever in history get an RBI off RP Skip Schumaker.

C - J.T. Realmuto

A budding superstar, Realmuto is fresh off a 2020 campaign that saw him log a career-best .840 OPS and a stellar 123 OPS+, his xwOBA ranking in the 76th percentile among all big league hitters. That, of course, comes paired with his Gold Glove caliber defense, so it’s little surprise that his 12.3 fWAR since the start of the 2018 season is the best among all MLB catchers.

In fact, while second-best Yasmani Grandal checks in with 11.6 fWAR in that time, Christian Vasquez’s 5.1 fWAR ranks third, highlighting just how valuable the former Marlin and Phillie is to overall roster construction.

He will likely cost a fortune, however, even in this likely depressed winter market. As the Mookie Betts extension from earlier this summer showed, teams are likely still going to be willing to splash cash on star-caliber performance while balking at the middle and lower-tiers of free agents to save cash, making the likelihood the Reds land Realmuto the most ridiculous suggestion in this otherwise entirely plausible post.