Prior to the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season, the Cincinnati Reds splashed what could amount to $164 million in the free agent market. It landed Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, and Wade Miley.
It also shocked our socks off.
Spending in free agency simply has not been ingrained in the Reds business model for most of my adult life. Thinking back, there’s the then-record 4-year deal doled out for closer Francisco Cordero that topped the $40 million mark, a 2-year reunion with Ryan Ludwick, and the gritty foray into Skip Schumaker territory that come to mind, and that’s just about it. That’s the kind of reticence that creates a bit of a reputation, while also help explaining why the Reds overall payroll has consistently sat in the bottom half, if not bottom third, among all MLB clubs.
While that’s all pretty meat & taters straightforward, it’s paramount that we mention that while the Reds have largely avoided free agency, they haven’t avoided spending money entirely. Joey Votto fans have scars from defending his massive contract, while we’re all still a bit traumatized by the Homer Bailey deal. We saw a brilliant deal struck to extend Eugenio Suarez and his brilliant bubble-blowing skills, Tucker Barnhart is pulling down Gold Gloves while in the midst of his extension, and Sonny Gray was inked for what could be a full handful of years upon his acquisition from the New York Yankees.
Contract extensions, while obvious commitments to the future of the club, also lock-in cost certainty. The arbitration process built into MLB’s wage structure includes what can only be described as rampant variability, with player performance over 162 game samples determining multi-million dollar swings in player salaries going forward. And while clubs should, in theory, be elated that their players play well enough to perhaps warrant their payrolls skyrocketing, I’ll admit, it might be a bit of a sucker-punch to be told one day that you’re suddenly on the hook for an extra 4 million bucks.
Enter the world of contract extensions. Commitments to the future cogs of your organization, and building in cost certainty. If you’re the front office, it’s obviously a chance to hopefully ‘buy low’ on a player who will otherwise get more and more expensive, in theory, while if you’re the player, you’re getting the kind of life-changing money that will set up you and your family for life. No front office wants to massively overpay, of course, just as no player wants to forfeit millions they could have otherwise earned, so that middle ground becomes somewhat hard to find, but nevertheless, it’s found by the two parties on almost every team, every winter.
We’re going to dive into what the next wave of contracts could look like for the Reds in the coming days. We’re going to do so with the looming austerity put in place league-wide thanks to the 2020 season seeing revenues plummet. We’re going to do so with the 2021 season still undefined, as the pandemic is not only still freaking here, it’s also taking the hell off again. We’re also going to do so with the next Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations hanging over our heads, with negotiations between MLB and the Players Association set to take place this calendar year as the current deal sunsets.
Rule changes must be taken into account. The variability of three-batter minimums, roster size, roster structure, and whether there will be a Designated Hitter all must be considered. Heck, even the prospect that MLB will expand from 30 to 32 teams must be baked in, since that could open up another ~52 big league jobs for players going forward, thereby causing a massive shift in supply/demand charts in the Red Reporter Contract Extension Article War Room.
Anyway, we’ll be breaking down what contract extensions could look like for the most eligible Reds in the coming days. By most eligible, we mean the likes of Luis Castillo, who is scheduled for his first trip through arbitration this winter. We mean Jesse Winker, who was the one true beacon on the offensive side of the ball this year. We mean Tyler Mahle, whose breakout we hope is real, and who - as a former 7th round draftee - doesn’t have a huge signing bonus already stashed in his bank account. We mean Nick Senzel, who does have a huge signing bonus already stashed in his bank account, but is at somewhat of an inflection point in terms of how counted-upon he should be within the organization.
It’s a wild time for MLB clubs and their books at the moment. Predictive modeling for what kind of billion-dollar business this will be in the near term is probably churning out the widest range of results these clubs have seen in years. Still, there is baseball expected to be played, and if teams are going to try to win anything, they’re going to need to pay the good players to do it for them. The Reds have a pile of them, to be sure, but they’re going to have to figure out exactly how to manage keeping as many of them around going forward as possible, and that’s never a simple task.