The Cincinnati Reds need outfield help in the worst of ways. Their collective outfield unit produced a meager 86 wRC+ during the 2022 season - tied for the 3rd worst of any MLB club - and that was production that included the efforts of Tommy Pham.
Barring significant position changes, there’s no lightning in a bottle offense waiting in the wings, either, unless Jose Barrero can magically turn his fortunes around and make a move to the grass. Luckily for the Reds, though, the free agent market looks robust with at least a lengthy list of corner outfield bats, and the nature of that group has a particular aspect to it that could well render the Reds with some leverage heading into the winter.
(If, of course, they’ll actually cut a check to sign anyone.)
Behind the top-tier option of Aaron Judge, whom the Reds won’t even dream of pursuing, the next tier consists of the likes of Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Nimmo, Joc Pederson, Michael Brantley, Michael Conforto, Joey Gallo, and old friend Tyler Naquin, among many others. And if that list looks particularly cherry-picked, it is - at least in a pair of ways.
For one, that’s the bulk of the legitimate options out there, even if some are coming off down years (or, in Conforto’s case, no year). Just as important, though, is that each of those free agent outfielders hits left-handed, a characteristic that defines the bulk of the options out there on the market as a whole this winter.
After Judge, the precipitous fall to the next tier of right-handed hitting outfielders is incredibly steep, with the likes of Mitch Haniger, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Duvall, Pham, and Robbie Grossman part of that group with ample warts. That’s a particularly old group, too, with none aside from Haniger having any shot at landing a multi-year pact anywhere this winter.
So, the scenario that appears to be setting up here is that there is a decent glut of corner outfield bats on the open market and the majority of the ‘good’ ones hit left-handed. It’s the wild card third component here that make this of particular interest, too - that the league will be seriously restricting the ability for defenses to shift beginning in 2023, in theory doing more work to help lefties with their craft than righties.
Could that mean the ever-frugal Reds might end up getting a bounce-back candidate on the cheap? Are there more lefties out there looking to show that they can mash in a post-shift world than there are good teams in need of providing that opportunity? Could a year hitting in GABP 81 times with the short porch in left field and no shifting on the right side of the infield be the perfect situation for Conforto, or Joey Gallo, to sock copious amounts of lasers?
It might also just end up with the Reds going with Jake Fraley, Nick Senzel, TJ Friedl, and Stuart Fairchild, with Aristides Aquino again in the mix, as the team goes from losing 100 games to 89, or so, and continuing to kick the can of any expectation at all another year down the road. Wouldn’t that be fun?