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Questions the Cincinnati Reds must ask this winter

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A peer into the future.

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

This article is titled ‘Questions the Cincinnati Reds must ask this winter,’ for the record. It is not titled ‘Questions to which the Cincinnati Reds will find answers this winter.’

Many of these will not be straightforward, especially inside the monopolous vacuum that is Major League Baseball, where there is extremely limited supply and every other team is mostly looking for the exact same things, too. Maybe the Reds will be able to unearth things within their own organization to solve these issues, but the likelihood is that they’ll have to outmaneuver the other 29 franchises to solve at least some.

Of course, they’ll need to decide who’s in charge of most things, first...

Who the hell is in charge around here?

Fridays are often ripe for news-dumps, and that was certainly the case around the world of the Reds. News abruptly broke that star pitching prospect Hunter Greene was having his season shut down because he’d reached his innings limit, but given that he was still listed as a starter in AAA for that weekend, it seemed odd from the start that the fact that he’d reached a mythical limit in his previous start hadn’t been part of what should, on the surface, had been a pretty simple ‘1+1=2’ kind of equation.

Perhaps it wasn’t at all. Pitching Coordinator and Driveline creator Kyle Boddy announced he and the Reds were parting ways very shortly after the Greene announcement, ending the two-year relationship that had finally been an example of the Reds being on the forefront of adding analytics to their decision-making. Then, minor league hitting coordinator CJ Gillman announced he was leaving the organization, too, meaning a pair of hires from former GM Dick Williams were no longer in the plans as the 2021 wound down.

Of course, that’s the prerogative of current GM Nick Krall. That the entire minor league system had seemingly taken massive steps forward in terms of development while Boddy and Gillman were around takes a backseat to the GM’s overarching plan for things, I guess, and now he’ll have a chance to put in place a philosophy that more closely matches his beliefs. I guess.

Things get more interesting when you get to the current manager of the Reds, as David Bell is both out of contract at season’s end and also a hire of Williams. Much ado was made about Bell at the time of his hiring given his previous stint in the front office of the San Francisco Giants and willingness to lean on analytics more than many traditional managers, and given the other moves Krall & Co. have made with analytic-minded folks...well, we may well be in for a major shakeup.

Will there actually be a DH in the NL?

While they juggle the decision-making, the first big decision-making-input they’ll be trying to pinpoint is just how the roster rules for 2022 and beyond will look. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) will expire later this year, and as MLB and the MLBPA try to hammer out a new deal, there’s long been an expectation that the Designated Hitter will finally come to National League play (whether you like it, or not).

This Reds roster, even after the expected or potential departures (more on that below) sure looks like one that could use the DH, for what it’s worth. They owe a minimum of $38 million to Mike Moustakas, a 3B coming off a second straight sub-par year, and Eugenio Suarez, a 3B coming off a second straight sub-par year, meaning moving either without just eating tons of money will be nearly impossible, and that’s something these frugal Reds simply do not like to do. So, they’ll be stuck sorting out that roster mismanagement while also employing the services of Joey Votto again, who’ll be 39 in September of next year and might need some extra time off from defending, too.

There’s also the idea that getting Tyler Stephenson more PAs would be a good thing, and rotating him through C/1B and DH, too, could do that. More on that below, too...

Pull the parachute to save some coin?

These Reds are frugal. Frugal. We saw it this year with the rug-pulls of the bullpen, as Raisel Iglesias and Archie Bradley were shed and not replaced simply to save bucks. That makes for an obvious ‘follow the money’ trail to follow when you look at which transactions the Reds might pursue this winter.

Wade Miley has a $10 million team option with a $1 million buyout, meaning the Reds have a $9 million decision on a 35 year old to-be who struggled mightily down the stretch after being oh-so-brilliant earlier this year. Do they risk picking it up and then trying to trade him? Are Greene and Nick Lodolo ready to step into the Reds rotation to fill that void, even with the service time that would require the Reds to pay for down the road? Or, do the Reds keep Miley and maybe decide to shop one of their other starters, as each of Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle will be making decent money through contracts/arbitration next year?

It’s a similar story behind the plate, as the Reds have a $7.5 million team option on Tucker Barnhart, one that comes with just a $500K buyout. That’s a $7 million decision to keep around a team leader and brilliant defender, even if his offense has slipped in the season’s second half, too. That’s where Stephenson comes into the equation, as the seeming ‘catcher of the future’ has assimilated incredibly well the last two seasons and is probably poised for a bigger role. Still, you need at least two solid catchers to make things work even if there’s not a DH, and if there is, that makes the need for two that much greater. Will the frugal Reds pay that much for a second catcher, though, when they weren’t willing to pay for a damn bullpen all year this year?

How much can they trust their outfield?

Remember Nick Senzel?

Remember the last time both Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker were healthy at the same time?

Remember the last time Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker played full, healthy seasons?

It pains me to say that while my answer to all three rhetorical questions here is ‘yes,’ I cringe a bit when I answer each one.

Just how much faith the Reds will continue to have in their former 1st round picks is something that must be determined now, more than ever. In Senzel, you’ve obviously got a longer track record of being sidelined and shorter, less qualified amount of actual production on which to lean than you do with Winker, who’s been brilliant against RHP when he’s managed to stay on the field. But when you factor in the overall struggles (and looming age-33 season) of Shogo Akiyama, the likely opt-out of Nick Castellanos, Tyler Naquin’s lengthy injury history, and Aristides Aquino again failing to turn his August 2019 into reality, there are huge, huge issues facing these Reds if anything less than the perfect scenario plays out in 2022.

Going to Castellanos and saying ‘hey, we’ll pay you full market rate to stick around’ would help alleviate many of the OF qualms, but there’d still be a need to find something else dependable out there.

Who’s your shortstop?

Kyle Farmer is not the reason why the 2021 Cincinnati Reds will, barring an absolute miracle, miss the playoffs this year. He’s been a solid defender as the team’s primary shortstop, had a brilliant hot streak at a time when the Reds made a push to make this season memorable, and at 1.4 fWAR through 138 games, he’s almost on the kind of ~2.0 WAR trajectory that forms the baseline for an average-ish starter in this league.

At 31 years old, though, it’s not hard to let your mind wander to whether there’s more to him than that, even if what he currently brings is quite valuable as a part of a big league roster if used in more positions.

In Jose Barrero, the Reds have a legitimate star-caliber prospect, one who has risen to be ranked among the Top 20 in the game after a brilliant 2021 season split between AA, AAA, and the bigs (even if some of that has come in CF). 2022 will undoubtedly be the appropriate time to let him shine.

Got any money to lock folks up?

There was a time when the Reds and extending their players was a big thing. It’s how Geno and Votto and Tucker all got on their current deals, and the same can be said for Sonny after his acquisition. That, though, has dried up of late, and I’m just going to take a guess that team’s frugality is again the culprit.

If Winker and Castillo and Mahle are going to be long-term parts of this organization, now’s the time to make moves on those kinds of extensions. If Stephenson and Jonathan India are the building blocks and future stars all rolled into one, maybe aim toward them to get long-term deals done the way Atlanta did with their young stars. Failing to do so from the ownership level simply makes operating as a GM against teams that are willing to pursue those kinds of deals almost impossible.

The ironic part here is that in locking up players here to big money deals, it’s often the single best way to save money, something that the Reds would surely like to do. I mean, Ronald Acuña Jr. for only $100 million over 8 years, are you kidding me? But, these deals also run the risk that the players don’t turn into stars, and that heavy money will end up tied to them when they’re no longer playing to that caliber (/stares at 3B). But, that would certainly seem to give some sort of direction to where this franchise is going, something that the entirety of the rest of their moves lately sure haven’t done.