The Cincinnati Reds may have a limited playbook, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know it by heart or can’t recite it back to front at the drop of a hat.
No, when things aren’t going well around their parts - a situation we’ve been forced to face more often than not over the last few decades - there are usually three go-to moves they use to begin the assuaging process.
- Addressing the problems ranked 5th and 9th on the ever-present List of Significant Problems with the Roster [TM], ignoring problems 1 through 4, 6 through 8, and 10 through 27, and rolling into Goodyear with ‘confidence in our club.’
- Signing free agent who originally hails from Reds Country. Jim Day will get to interview the entire family in the stands!
You laughed for a second while reading that - not because I’m funny, but because it’s true. You then stopped, paused with some reticence, had a sip of your tea, and immediately recalled numerous instances where Reds rosters ill-equipped to compete at the big league level followed that precise series of moves before punting. It is, I’m sad to say, a tale that’s not just as old as this ownership’s tenure, it actually pre-dates it.
Anyway, the to-do list of the Cincinnati Reds this winter would, in theory, be about 30 clicks long if winning big league baseball games in 2023 was actually their priority. It isn’t, as we all know, and we’re once again set for another year of watching the minor league crock pot simmer slowly in hopes that by 2024 we can finally feast. That, though, is where the playbook comes in.
A Reds club that shed as much payroll as they have over the last two years would, if they were a legitimate club, be spending money on an entire outfield, a backup catcher, a veteran starting pitcher to eat innings and pair with their talented set of sophomores-to-be, and a legitimate (likely left-handed) reliever to slot-in alongside the healthy returns of Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, and Tony Santillan next to Alexis Diaz. Is that a cheap series of moves? It is not! It would cost money! Real, actual money! The kind of monetary transaction that team-owners with money across the universe make on a daily basis to put rosters together capable of making the fans in the stands cheer and cheer and cheer!
It should be noted here that the briefly outlined course of action above would a) not put the Reds anywhere close to the top spending teams in the league and b) would not do a thing to prevent the 2024 crock pot of minor league succulence from carrying the franchise a step-forward in the future. It would bridge the gap, be fun, and even provide the slightest glimmer of hope of a miraculous 2023 run, something the Cleveland Guardians almost stumbled into this year a season ahead of their own expectations.
That sounds fun, right?
$40-50 million bucks for this franchise needs to go elsewhere, however. That’s just how this is going to work with this group in this town with this team at this time.
Instead, we’re going to get the usual, steady stream of bobbleheads, as we are wont to receive. However, this winter presents a rather unique opportunity for the Reds brass to check off play #2 and #3 at the very same time thanks to a pending free agent who fits both molds.
Madeira’s own Andrew Benintendi won the Gatorade Player of the Year in Ohio following a blistering senior season of play in high school, and while his commitment to attend the University of Arkansas was strong and well known, the Reds themselves selected him in the 31st round of the 2013 MLB Draft as something of a haute gesture and fun Wikipedia note for the future. Benintendi became a Hog, however, and after a brilliant college campaign he was taken 7th overall by the Boston Red Sox in the 2015 Draft.
He rose through the minors to quickly become the top overall prospect in the game, and while his career didn’t exactly mature into the Hall of Famer many hoped he’d be, he’s settled in as a nice regular in Boston, Kansas City, and even with the New York Yankees mid-year in 2022 before a hamate injury shelved him indefinitely.
He is still just 28 years old, however, and be a free agent for the first time this winter. And while he traded a power stroke for a more contact-oriented approach in 2022 - likely due to playing games in a home park in Kansas City that swallows fly balls like a grouper - he still managed a rock solid 120 OPS+ in his time split between Kauffman and the Bronx.
If Andrew Benintendi is your team’s 2nd or 3rd best outfielder, you have a very, very good outfield. That’s probably the best way I can describe why I think the Reds, even these Reds, might have the right kind of spending power to pursue him with their own limited playbook and payroll.
In the if they were actually going to try to compete ideal scenario for 2023, the Reds need a best outfielder, a 2nd best outfielder, and maybe even a 3rd best outfielder to turn this roster into one good enough to surprise, signings that would be right at the top of their ideal to-do list. These Reds, though, are not going to do that, and in a move similar to the ones they made with Tommy Pham and Mike Minor last winter - players who filled a role but were nowhere near good enough to fill the entire void - signing Benintendi to a 3 or 4 year contract to ‘address the outfield’ just feels like a move right up their alley.
Would it make the Reds a bit better next year? Yeah! It would!
Would it address the 4th or 5th biggest need on the ‘big needs’ list? Yeah! It would!
Would it bring a player from Reds Country back into the fold? Yeah! It would!
Would it stretch the payroll beyond a point where even the most frugal of team owners would feel they’d overspent? No, it probably would not.
Benintendi’s age will make him one of the youngest free agents on the market this winter, and that’ll likely mean adding on an extra year to any deal to ward off interest from other clubs. Still, the hamate injury and the average-ish performance since being traded to the Yankees will likely push him down the free agent outfield pecking order just enough to make his next contract palatable per-year for even the Reds, especially since the only two other guaranteed deals they have on the books (Mike Moustakas, Joey Votto) are done after 2023. He is, after all, going to be a corner outfielder who hit just 5 homers in 2022 in a winter where Aaron Judge signs somewhere for a half-billion bucks.
It’s just intriguing enough, just compelling enough, and likely just inexpensive enough (as ‘headline’ moves go) to begin to make all the sense in the world. At least, it is in a world where the Reds even care enough to care about keeping any bit of your interest, which might not even be the world we’re in these days.