The gross spend of the Cincinnati Reds in free agency at the big league level this winter has constituted, in total, the addition of pitcher Edgar Garcia on a league-minimum deal and the split-contract doled out to Kyle Farmer merely hours after he was technically non-tendered.
That’s it. That’s the joke dot meme.
Just one year removed from breaking from their years-long tradition of avoiding big spending on free agents like the plague, the Reds have taken almost a 100% step back in that arena. On top of that, the additions they have made beyond the free agent market have similarly been low-budget, with peripheral trades and leverage of 40-man roster spots facilitating the additions of a number of talented, yet very flawed young arms and bats to complement what’s still around.
There have been no big-budget additions despite last year’s opening of a ‘window’ of competition. While the rest of the NL Central has repeatedly slapped the snooze button and opened up the chance to stake claim, the Reds have chosen to merely abide, using the strategy of sinking the least relative to their peers to increase standing.
That’s the one thing the Cincinnati Reds haven’t done this offseason that’s obvious. They simply haven’t spent any money, notably shedding plenty of it in various moves instead. The pessimist in me keeps repeatedly banging that hammer against my temple each time I stare at the roster, to be quite honest. It’s unrelenting.
However, there’s another aspect of the moves made (and not made) by the Reds this winter that has increasingly stood out to me as we inch ever closer to the date pitchers and catchers (might) report to camp in Goodyear, Arizona...
There are no retreads on this roster.
There aren’t really any on minor-league contracts with invites to camp.
While we grew accustomed to the Reds being spendthrift in free agency over the last decade - even in the precious few seasons in which they intended to ‘compete’ - there were still dips into the prescient presence of veterans that littered their rosters year after year after year. There were Kevin Gregg and Jason Marquis. There were the low-dollar multi-year deals to Miguel Cairo, Jack Hannahan, and the GOAT Skip Schumaker. There was the late signing of Yovani Gallardo, the minor-league invite to Carlos Marmol (#memories), the heel-turn with Marlon Byrd.
I dare not overlook Jordan Pacheco, I shalt not omit Ross Ohlendorf, I refuse to let the memory of Steve Delabar go lightly. Bronson Arroyo 2.0 is buried almost deep enough to forget, but not deep enough. Therein lies the Cliff Pennington Era, too. It’s all enough to make Opening Day Starter Scott Feldman [TM] a memory worth savoring.
While we can obviously debate the measures of the Reds tendencies this winter and point at the numerous question marks still lingering around the roster, it appears pretty clear, to date, that those moves of yore might not carry as much weight anymore. The Reds did not dump Raisel Iglesias and Archie Bradley in order to backfill them with a 35 year old who relies on a changeup 60% of the time because his fastball no longer exists. As currently constructed, there will be no bench bat brought in to be the guy you talk to about bunting in the dugout instead of a viable threat for the 25/26/28 man roster.
This front office is building a peripheral roster not based on what they’ve seen players do before anymore. It’s building one full of players they think can do more.
At least, that sure seems to be the case with the arms on the staff at this juncture. The position players are largely unchanged due to the question marks surrounding the DH in 2021 and the cull of expanded rosters used in 2020, but the bullpen - and even the rotation, depending on how things shake out - might well be turned over to a lot of players with very limited, and flawed, backs of baseball cards.
Those players can all hum the hell out of a fastball, though. They might not know where it’s going just yet, but they can freakin’ sling it. And that, finally, appears to be where the current Reds are going to put their fringe money nowadays, trusting in talent and the ability of the coaching staffs to mold them rather than trusting a weathered, leathery veteran to double-up on ice baths and maybe, just maybe, slip a few more feats of guile past professional hitters before their gig is totally up.
Is it low-cost? It sure as hell is.
Is it risky, if ‘actually winning baseball games’ is a thing that means anything? 100%
That said, in a division where every single team is simply trying to tread water longer than their peers instead of, y’know, investing in a flotation device, perhaps the proper low-cost strategy this time around is the one that at least brings a slimmer of promise of future production, too, instead of one that has a incredibly likelihood of turning to dust before a finish line is even in earshot.
Neither strategy is truly fun when ‘just pay the good players to be good’ is still a concept other clubs employ, but if we’re going to fan hard for a team that’s going budget, at least this route is eschewing the stodgy ways that leeched fun out last decade. And maybe, just maybe, one or two of them will pan out.
(The Reds now have just over two months to sign players that make this entire article bunk.)