Is winning baseball games during the 2023 Major League Baseball season a priority for the Cincinnati Reds?
Is diving into the free agent market to strategically negotiate with the best of the best in hopes they sign lucrative deals to change the baseball landscape of the franchise a priority this winter for the Cincinnati Reds?
Is cashing-in on the trade market with proven veterans at the top of their game to bring in a return of prospects poised to be the bedrock of the future of the club a priority for the Cincinnati Reds this winter? There aren’t any left, so...
The primary jobs of a General Manager in today’s baseball world involve a) making sure the team’s ownership gets what it wants and b) building the best possible baseball roster to fit those parameters. For the Cincinnati Reds, that means get cheap and get around to winning later, goals that GM Nick Krall has been attempting to execute with precision for several winters running. However, with a dearth of existing veteran players left on the roster and a pile of prospects marinating for the future staring at the clock and waiting to be a few years older, his task list for the winter of 2022-2023 has been trimmed significantly.
In reality, it’s a list that has one big, red circle on around finding a taker for as many of the 18 million bucks due to Mike Moustakas for the 2023 season - and of the 4 million more bucks it will take to buy out his 2024 option.
Get around to winning later is an ownership goal that doesn’t really apply here. Get cheap, though, is a goal whose only real avenue is shedding Moose’s contract, since only he and Joey Votto - he of a full no-trade clause - are the only two players remaining on the Reds with any sort of guaranteed money left. Dealing Moose, then, becomes the only way Krall can effectively achieve the set-out goals for this winter.
Problem is, the market for broken down 34 year old hitters coming off three consecutive seasons of injury and underperformance is, shall we say, shallow. The only real selling point on which Krall has to lean is that back in 2019, before the pandemic and when the balls used by Major League Baseball were still juicy, Moose swatted 35 homers while posting an OPS+ 14% better than league average, back when he was a spry 30 year old who’d yet to be asked to make the odd late-career move from 3B to 2B.
The lone leverage Krall has right now is that there’s a very real chance that Moose is not a bad baseball player at this juncture. If that sounds simplistic, well, it is, but the reality is that we’ve not seen Moose take the field each and every day and be terrible once as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. That hasn’t been the problem. The problem has been that we’ve never seen him at all, let alone regularly or - ha - every day. He has appeared in just 184 regular season games since signing his record deal with the Reds prior to the 2020 season, while the Reds have been asked to field a team for 384 games in that time. And, as you’d expect with someone who misses that much action, even many of the 184 saw him look beat up, slow, rusty, and hobbled, his plantar fasciitis clearly impacting the way in which he played.
Who knows, three juice cleanses and the right orthotics might well be all it takes to keep Moose healthy for six straight months, and a healthy Moose for six straight months might still have a lot of keen batting eye ability left within in. He’s socked 203 dingers in his career, after all, and won a World Series. As someone who has dealt with plantar fasciitis in my own life, I can tell you that it a) sucks terribly b) is debilitating and c) can pop up almost out of nowhere, but it also does not involve ligaments tearing or capsules popping or bones torqueing their way out of socket. When it isn’t flared up, you actually feel pretty normal, and maybe, just maybe, there’s another window where it won’t set him back, one that could give him the opportunity to show he’s just been beat up the last three seasons, not entirely washed.
That’s the needle Krall must thread this winter, a winter that obviously must include Moose being in that kind of shape for marketing purposes. Even then, though, finding a team that would both be in need for that kind of gamble at a position where there are usually a plethora of available options who would also have something useful to send back to the Reds creates a Venn diagram with the tiniest of possible overlaps.
Could the New York Mets and their endless financial resources be in the market for a Moose? They traded away JD Davis, Eduardo Escobar is no spring chicken, and Dan Vogelbach is something of a Moose-Lite-Junior, and taking back, say, the contract of catcher James McCann would maybe unlock their roster enough for them to make a big money run at free agent Willson Contreras. The Reds would have to eat a handful of millions to make that even begin to be palatable - that’s a theme you’ll run up against again and again while trying to virtually shop Moose - but with that team’s willingness to spend $300 million a year, you just never know.
The Reds could use some right-handed outfield help, in theory, though in theory admittedly bumps up against having anything about the 2023 Reds season actually matter. With only Stu Fairchild and Nick Senzel (and maybe Jose Barrero) as RH OF bats, a vet like AJ Pollock around wouldn’t be a terrible idea, plus it would give Pollock a chance to hit in a hitter’s park to maybe, maybe get one last contract in free agency after 2023. He’s owed $5 million in 2023 (assuming he picks up his player option with the White Sox), and Chicago posted only a collective 93 OPS+ against RHP last year, so maybe, maybe that’s a move on this kind of radar.
Could the Reds loop-in Jerry Dipoto and the Seattle Mariners again? I can’t really imagine why in the world they’d want Moose on top of Eugenio Suarez, Ty France, and Jesse Winker (assuming Winker gets more DH duties in 2023 after Carlos Santana hit free agency), but with Dipoto you simply never know. Surely they’re interested in dumping the early guaranteed money they gave to former 1st rounder Evan White that looks sunk at this point, and nobody could give White more of a chance to learn on the fly at the big league level than this Reds roster at the moment.
The stretchiest of stretches gets us to the Washington Nationals, I think, and the disastrous contract that they doled out to lefty Patrick Corbin. That deal has two years and a hair under $60 million left on it, while the 33 year old lefty has pitched to a 6.05 ERA and 5.14 FIP combined over the last two seasons - two seasons in which he was actually healthy enough and on the mound enough to lead all of baseball in losses both years. This would be the lone deal on the planet in which the Reds would actually be getting money in return for a Moose deal, as Corbin’s got less value than Moose at the moment, and if there’s anything Bob Castellini loves, it’s getting money without caring about the product on the field. With the Reds in need of a Mike Minor replacement to eat innings while their young starting pitching matures, the idea of putting Corbin into the rotation for 30 starts of [insert whatever bad yet meaningless quality] does at least fit the mold of what the Reds are creating for 2023, and we know the Nationals already have been trying to unload Corbin in bad-contract swaps in the last year anyway.
It sounds icky, and it is. For the same reasons that the Reds thought they could fix Minor, and Wade Miley, and Sonny Gray, though, there’s at least a glimmer somewhere that says hey, Derek Johnson could work with this. Corbin is, after all, a guy who has twice received down-ballot Cy Young votes, and was good enough to earn that nine-figure contract in the first place.
The options beyond Corbin get very, very, very slim. Slim to the point where cutting Moose, eating the money, and following in the Shogo Akiyama transaction tree become more likely than not. Still, if you squint so tightly that a lone beam of light gets in, you can maybe see a route where the Reds could get something out of dealing Moose this winter, even if it comes with a whole different world of issues.
Squeezing out those extra bucks is Krall’s most difficult task of the offseason.