Opening Day sits just over two weeks away. That’s a sentence that needs neither comma nor qualifier, as baseball’s return to full-season play is really freaking close.
The Cincinnati Reds entered spring camp with surprisingly few roster battles on the docket, owing in large part due to the fact that they spent most of the winter making almost zero additions of note. What had been was to be again, with a few promotions from within destined to round out the roster for their Opening Day tussle with the St. Louis Cardinals.
At least, that’s what was supposed to be the case.
Since then, though, we’ve seen a litany of injuries crop up in camp, a positive COVID test, as well as a pretty major shift in direction regarding several key defensive positions, too. All told, the last four or five days have led to a true evolution of the roster in ways we could not have foreseen a week ago, making the timing of today’s stab at the Opening Day roster look vastly different than it would have then.
Starting Rotation (4)
RHP Luis Castillo, RHP Tyler Mahle, LHP Wade Miley, RHP Michael Lorenzen
With Sonny Gray’s back setting him back a bit and Tejay Antone’s tender groin, I think these four arms have risen to the top of the pecking order for April 1st against St. Louis. Of course, two off-days by April 9th means the Reds won’t need a true 5th starter for a bit, and I think that’ll ultimately be dealt with by an early-April return by Sonny.
LHP Amir Garrett, RHP Lucas Sims, LHP Sean Doolittle, LHP Cionel Perez, RHP Cam Bedrosian, RHP Jeff Hoffman, RHP Noe Ramirez, RHP Jose De Leon, RHP Tejay Antone
The looming option situation is still casting confusion into this, as there’s a chance each of De Leon and Perez end up with an additional option for 2021, which would obviously make some of these decisions more flexible. With each of Garrett, Sims, Perez, Hoffman, Ramirez, and De Leon out of options - as well as Carson Fulmer and Sal Romano, who I’ve got missing the cut here - that’ll make for quite the difficult overall bullpen management for the duration of the season, especially since at least a couple of those guys are listed here as bullpenners while also serving as the #6-9 starters on the depth chart, too.
It’ll be tough to both park them in the bullpen and keep them stretched out enough to fill in the rotation if need be if they can’t be shipped to Louisville for a week or two. Antone’s groin injury complicates this a bit, too, though I think he’ll be plenty fine enough by April 1st to still warrant inclusion.
If De Leon does end up with an additional option year, I could see him miss the OD roster to stay stretched out as rotation depth, though the lack of AAA baseball until early May throws that otherwise obvious logistical quirk into the spotlight. So, I’ve got him on this roster because of it. Also, Cam Bedrosian is the lone non-roster guy who made the cut here, so there would need to be a 40-man roster move to get him on.
Tucker Barnhart, Tyler Stephenson
This one’s about as straightforward as it gets. I’m excited as heck for Ty Steves, though I’m still a bit bummed the Curt Casali Era ended so quietly.
1B Joey Votto, 2B Jonathan India, SS Eugenio Suarez, 3B Mike Moustakas
The status of all four spots here is completely different than it was one week ago. Right now, there’s some worry Votto won’t be ready by Opening Day as he recovers from a COVID diagnosis we didn’t know about until a week ago, while Geno’s move into the SS mix from stalwart 3B shuffled the entire rest of the infield.
Moose will slide back to his native 3B, while India - a rookie whose service time is seemingly less likely to get manipulated than it would’ve in the before-times, for whatever reason - has burst into the frontrunner to get everyday reps at 2B with a spring performance that matches the 24-year old’s draft pedigree.
Frankly, it’s an infield alignment that would’ve turned the malaise of the winter’s lack of shortstop signings on its head if the club would’ve considered it publicly months back. It’s damn exciting.
LF Jesse Winker, CF Nick Senzel, RF Nick Castellanos
No surprises here, as the hamstring injury to Shogo Akiyama pretty well cemented this group as the everyday regulars
IF Alex Blandino, IF Kyle Farmer, IF/OF Scott Heineman, IF/OF Dee Strange-Gordon
Blandino has again had a brilliant spring, and his versatility will, I think, finally earn him a bench spot in the bigs. Farmer’s role obviously bore the brunt of the Geno-to-SS news as he’d entered camp with hopes of being a regular there, but he’ll still ply his versatile trade all over the place as the team’s go-to utility guy, perhaps with some early additional time at 1B if Votto is worked back slowly.
Strange-Gordon’s ability to play all over the infield and in CF, if need be, puts him on this roster, especially with his speed a factor in any newfangled extra-innings scenarios. He’s a lefty hitter, too, which I think gives him an inside track, something that made picking Heineman (a righty) over Mark Payton (another lefty) a trickle-down decision. If Dee is a lefty bat on the bench, that makes carrying Payton just to have one less of a priority, giving Heineman’s ability to play some 1B if need be the added versatility to get him picked.
Injured List (4)
Shogo Akiyama (10-day), Sonny Gray (10-day), Brandon Bailey (60-day), Jared Solomon (60-day)
Shogo figures to be back in mid-April at some point, while Sonny could probably be ready sooner than the 10 days he’ll spend on this list (but the Reds will likely be cautious enough to wait that out). Bailey and Solomon had arm surgeries that will hold them out for all of 2021, but moving each to the 60-day list will open up a pair of 40-man spots, ones that’ll be needed for the additions of Strange-Gordon, India, and Bedrosian.
As for the other 40-man spot they’ll need to open, that would likely come in the former of losing Jonathan Holder back to the New York Yankees, as he’s a Rule 5 draftee (via the Philadelphia Phillies) who’d have to be offered back if not on the active roster. Of course, I’ve got each of Fulmer and Romano missing the cut here, too, and both are out of options, meaning they’ll be on waivers and off the roster, too, though potentially back in the fold in the minors should they clear.