It seems like just minutes ago that there was something of a running joke around these Reds, one manifested through a source of unique extravagance not often seen around these parts.
Cincinnati, you see, had hoarded all of the 3Bs. All of them.
During the Great Free Agent Spending Spree of 2019-2020 [TM], the Reds invested heavily in Mike Moustakas, guaranteeing the veteran 3B a hefty $64 million that broke the team record for free agency expenditure. They intended for him to play 2B at the time of that signing, but let’s be honest about both then and now - he’s a 3B. That came despite the fact that Eugenio Suarez was already in-house and due some $46 million (at minimum) through the 2024 season - but remember, Moose was going to be a 2B, folks.
Two 3Bs, with one due a boatload of money to play out of position. But that was merely scratching the surface, of course, because the Reds still had Nick Senzel on the roster playing wildly out of position in CF despite being - you guessed it - a 3B through and through. And just two years after drafting Senzel as a 3B out of an SEC program, the Reds went out and drafted another 3B out of an SEC program in Jonathan India, a prospect who clearly should be knocking down the big league door while each of Senzel, Moose, and Suarez were all still under contract.
Before this gets too lengthy, I’ll just quickly add that on the heels of the Moose deal, the Reds signed Nick Castellanos to his would-be $64 million deal (with the now infamous opt-outs), too. Almost two years of playing only RF later, and I’ll point out that Castellanos has still played 3B in 38 more career games than he has played RF.
All. Of. The. 3Bs.
One part gluttony, one part narrow-sightedness, perhaps. Regardless, the Reds found themselves seemingly teeming with options at the hot corner. They’d invested a gargantuan amount of money for the position by any payroll standards, let alone by their own self-created small-money standards.
So, you can imagine how alarming it must be to scoot over to FanGraphs this morning and see this:
That’s the MLB leaderboard, sorted by fWAR, for total team production from the 3B postion during the 2021 season. That’s also an MLB leaderboard that shows that of all 30 MLB clubs, no team has gotten worse production from their collective 3Bs this season than the Cincinnati Reds.
(Surely it’s complete coincidence that each of the bottom 13 clubs on this list are almost certainly going to miss the playoffs this season.)
As I attempt to get back to the point here, I’ll freely acknowledge that part of that 3B problem has been that Jonathan India has turned right in to an All Star caliber 2B, one who will quite likely run away with the National League Rookie of the Year award. It’s a very good thing that he’s not part of the 3B talk anymore because he’s the sole reason there is no 2B talk now, or for the future anymore. He’s an answer, and answers are quite good.
3B, though, could well be a mess. Moose will turn 34 years old at the tail end of next season, and as someone who personally deals with plantar fasciitis on a more regular basis than I’d like to, I’ll acknowledge that it’s something that most likely isn’t just going to ever really get better for him. It’ll be manageable, and if he can dodge significant flare-ups, it might not even get bad enough to mention, but much like back pain or arthritis, it’s kinda just going to be there for him, and considering that’s been the reason we’ve rarely seen him for two seasons now, that’s a big deal. So, the odds of getting peak-Moose are pretty well out the window here, with the lessened hopes of getting a carefully managed, curated season from him now the best option (akin to how the Reds, for a time, got the best out of the guy in the picture up top of this page once upon a time).
Thanks to the miracle of backloading contracts, Moose is still due a minimum of $38 million on his deal (including the option buyout), meaning he’s not exactly the kind of player the Reds could just trade away to save money. They’d have to pay a hefty piece of that just to get the rest off the books.
It’s a slightly similar story for Eugenio Suarez, unfortunately. That pool mishap prior to the start of the shortened 2020 season might not be the sole reason for his dip in production, but the timing of it and the history of shoulder injuries wrecking big league careers do appear to me more than just coincidental. He’s hit just .195/.289/.432 since the start of the 2020 campaign, and that paired with blasé defense has made for a dramatic decline from the guy who got back to back down-ballot MVP votes.
He also crossed the 30 year old threshold, and thanks (again) to the miracle of backloading contracts, he’s due a minimum of $35 million (including the option buyout) for the rest of his deal. Again, not a contract that teams will be readily taking on without some financial incentive.
As for Nick Senzel...at this point, I’m just going to hope he’s healthy enough to show up and be a part of anything for 2022 and beyond, but I’m neither going to delve deeply into how he’s reached this crossroads nor am I going to opine the Reds count on him for anything other than insurance right now.
So, I’m just not sure exactly what the Reds are going to do here. The fact that Geno’s bat has finally, mercifully woken up this September is probably the easiest thing to bank on them banking on, as his 1.236 OPS and 7 dingers this month suggest there might finally be a spark back in him. Simply hoping Old Geno returns and banking on the DH coming to the NL to shoehorn Moose into the lineup on a regular basis without the strain of defense is the easiest option to see here, since it would keep the status quo and not be any public acknowledgement that the spending on this part of the payroll hasn’t exactly gone as planned.
That said, the bulk of what we’ve seen from those two since the start of the 2020 season suggests you don’t really want either of them in a competitive lineup everyday, let alone both of them.
Maybe Father Time will hit the snooze button and forget about aging these two for 2022 and, like their friend across the diamond, they’ll turn back the clock next season like Joey Votto did. With $27 million tied up in them both and the ownership looking to pinch-pennies anywhere else they can, though, you wonder if simply sticking to the status quo and hoping it gets better at the hot corner will mean a lack of investment elsewhere, something that could continue to force this team to play with one arm tied behind its back the way they did without a bullpen all season in 2021.
Somehow, the Cincinnati Reds still have a 3B problem, though.