During the 2020 MLB season, the Cincinnati Reds received a grand total of 0.1 fWAR from their cadre of shortstops, a group that included veteran Freddy Galvis, utility-knife Kyle Farmer, and raw prospect Jose Garcia. That ranked as the fourth lowest total from the position among all clubs. In fact, dating back to the start of the 2018 season - the first in the post Zack Cozart era - the Reds have had the third worst overall fWAR from their shortstops, something that’s a bit hard to reconcile given the illustrious history of that position within this franchise.
So, it should come as zero surprise that when a national know-it-all implies that the best shortstop in baseball is likely to get traded this winter, this Reds bloggadocio found his head in the attic after jumping through the ceiling. That’s the case, however - both cases, actually, as Francisco Lindor has been the best shortstop in baseball since 2015 and, apparently, has USA Today’s Bob Nightengale convinced he’ll be traded this winter.
Cleveland, strapped for money, intend to trade All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor by opening day, several rival teams have been informed. Lindor earned $17.5 million last season and is projected to earn about $21 million in salary arbitration in his final year before free agency— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) November 5, 2020
‘Cash-strapped club makes frustrating move because cash-strapped’ is a story with many chapters in the history of baseball. Heck, it’s one Reds fans of the last decade lived right through. It’s why they gave away Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and the likes during their most recent rebuild.
In fact, there is even a bit of Cleveland-Cincinnati lore within this particular would-be transaction already. Part of that roster purge back when ‘the Reds had no money and were talking to no one’ included letting Shin-Soo Choo walk after his brilliant 2013 campaign, as the club was resigned to the fact that they could not afford to re-sign him. Choo, who the Reds had picked up in a three-team deal from, you guessed it, Cleveland, went on to sign a 7-year, 9-figure deal with Texas, and the dismantling of the cash-strapped Reds began.
In that deal that landed Choo, you’ll recall that a pair of other interesting names were involved. For the Reds, it cost them moving their would-be star shortstop, Didi Gregorius, who just so happens to now be a free agent looking for a new home this winter, too. It also involved Arizona sending one Trevor Bauer to Cleveland, and Bauer, you’ll recall, is the preeminent pitcher on the market this winter.
In other words, it appears the Reds will have a trio of stars at their disposal this winter, two with previous trade-connections to the Reds themselves, and one who might well be the most perfect fit for the current roster. At still just 26 years old, Lindor is just a year away from free agency, but is precisely the kind of player you throw every dollar you have at if you’ve got the sole right to negotiate with him at the time. (See: Betts, Mookie, and the wise Los Angeles Dodgers.)
That said, it remains to be seen if cash will be what hinders the Reds this winter, too. There’s the Bauer pursuit that will be fascinating to watch play out, and this all comes on the heels of Nick Castellanos opting to return while the Designated Hitter in the NL is in question for the 2021 season. In other words, a Reds club that just splashed some $170 million in free agency prior to losing copious cash during the pandemic is about to have ample places that look like worth investments this winter, but just might not have any cash with which to spend on such worthy pieces, either.
I know his stats were not as good in 2020 as they once were. I know he’s going to cost a fortune to keep around for the future, and probably cost a prospect fortune to acquire for even just 2021. What I also know, though, is that some team out there is going to bite, and if it’s not the Reds, well, it’ll be yet another opportunity missed to land a future Hall of Famer. And when you haven’t so much as won a single postseason series in 25 years, watching these kinds of opportunities pass by makes the gray hairs start to pop out.