Eugenio Suarez is a 3B, one with a few dinger records to his name already. Mike Moustakas, penciled in at 2B nowadays, was long a 3B by trade, one with numerous accomplishments on his ledger. Nick Castellanos has played far more career games at 3B than at any other position, while Nick Senzel was drafted as - you guessed it - a 3B.
The single most obvious hole in the current Cincinnati Reds roster is a rough and ready shortstop. This, though, is an article about acquiring another 3B.
This last week saw the first real blockbuster trade of the offseason in the baseball world, as Cleveland bailed on superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and sent him, along with righty Carlos Carrasco, to the New York Mets in exchange for a new future. It was the latest move in a pair of troubling trends, the first being Cleveland’s continued tear-down of a roster that had great success over the last half decade as well as continued austerity from most - and mostly Midwestern - franchises during the troubling times.
The days of Corey Kluber, Lindor, Carrasco, Michael Brantley, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Santana are long gone now for Cleveland, who now has a projected payroll for the 2021 season of something in the range of $40-45 million.
That’s it. That’s the whole thing.
Leading that tab, for now, is Jose Ramirez, who thrice over the last four seasons has finished in the Top 3 in AL MVP voting, and at the still-prime age of just 28 years old is due some $9.4 million for the 2021 season. That absurdly affordable salary comes with an $11 million team option for 2022 and a $13 million team option for 2023, bargain-bin rates for a player of his pristine combination of prowess and age. And if Cleveland is this committed to tearing apart any and everything to save cash this offseason, he’s the one big piece they still have around.
From the Reds perspective, there are several key components to this worth breaking down. While I’ve exhausted the point that their roster already has beacoup 3B, Ramirez does have ample experience all around the infield, and while I doubt severely he’s a full-time shortstop option anymore, parking him at 2B is still a viable concept at this point - especially given how the Reds have currently been willing to assemble their infield. Also, while picking up Ramirez wouldn’t solve the team’s problems at shortstop, the overriding goal of the club this winter was supposed to be ‘fix the awful offense,’ and it’s clear Ramirez would provide a major boost to that cause - one that might even allow the Reds to not need to spend huge for an offensive shortstop aside him.
Even with a somewhat down 2019 season in which he slumped early, Ramirez is still the owner of a .917 OPS (139 OPS+) over the last four seasons, with his low strikeout rate precisely the kind of offensive element the Reds lack at the moment. That’s loads better than Lindor, even, whose .844 OPS (120 OPS+) obviously comes at a more vital defensive position, but isn’t the boost with the bat Ramirez would bring.
Here, folks, is where the puff piece must end. At least, the puff piece regarding a team like the Reds actually putting themselves out there to make such an acquisition.
Ramirez is essentially every front office’s dream, at least under anything akin to normal circumstances. He was locked up early to an incredibly team-friendly contract, and is now in his prime providing production at a fraction of the cost he’d take to replace in free agency. On top of that, he doesn’t even have guaranteed money holding him down in the event of a catastrophe, as those years come in the form of team - not mutual - options. Cheap stardom and flexibility are the beacons of roster management, and in any offseason other than this one would make Ramirez the kind of player who’d take a fortune in prospects to acquire.
While that last sentence still likely holds true, the reality is that in this austere winter of transactions, the other half of the deal might end up slightly more fungible. Whereas Ramirez’s contract would’ve stood out as dirt cheap in predictable-revenue seasons, now there are many teams out there who are treating any contract with multiple commas as pariahs to their business model completely. And maybe, just maybe, Cleveland will continue down that path, making Ramirez - even at his low rate relative to his peers - a piece that’ll end up on the move.
For the Reds, it would take a huge commitment to unloading prospects, with none of Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, or anyone else off the table as headliner. It would also need a landing place for one of the other 3Bs on the current roster, since the addition of one more would likely put them beyond even their sky-high 3B quota. But the funny part about this particular sky-pie scenario is that Cleveland and Cincinnati have already hooked up on a pair of three-team deals in the last decade, deals that altered both franchises significantly.
Perhaps that’s something the Reds could pull off once more. If, y’know, they actually put their money where their mouth used to be and decide to spend a little this offseason in a year where the NL Central has never been more attainable. Maybe they could package one of their prized pitching prospects with Castellanos or Moustakas, or at least offer to chip in significant amounts to pay down the remainder of their respective contracts. Moving Moose would open a one-for-one replacement scenario, while moving Castellanos - if there actually is a DH in 2021 - would allow Moose/Votto to rotate as 1B/DH with Ramirez then at 2B.
I keep having to walk myself back a few steps with the completion of every sentence here, since it’s hard to write this 100% under the premise of a baseball team out there might actually want to try to get better this winter. It’s a concept that shouldn’t need a set of fan-goggles to be real, yet that very much appears to be an increasingly rare trait across the 30 franchises at the moment. A week ago, Cleveland was one decent signing away from being a legit World Series contender (again), and instead they decimated an otherwise stout roster. The Chicago Cubs are willingly hemorrhaging talent by the day, while St. Louis and Milwaukee haven’t made a peep all winter despite watching numerous talented players walk into free agency.
The Reds, while not nearly as talented on-paper as they were during the 2020 season, are still very much on the cusp of the best roster in their division. One big move would give them just that, if they could just find the gumption and finances to make it happen. Never before in recent memory has there been a better chance for a team willing to be a financial bully to benefit from their limited number of peers, and despite the odds of it looking slimmer by the minute, the Reds could still be one of those bullies.
Adding Jose Ramirez would be just that.