When the Cincinnati Reds stumbled into Dan Straily on the waiver wire on April 1st, 2016, they didn’t just happen upon 191.1 innings of 3.76 ERA ball. They stumbled into the team control that came with him beyond that breakout season, and while the Reds opted against rolling the dice to see if he could repeat that output, they were able to cash in on it through the trade market.
That begat Luis Castillo, you’ll recall, and he’s only pitched his way into the team’s Hall of Fame in the years since.
The Reds have seemingly spent the last eon in rebuilding mode, and that’s just as much the case today as it was back in 2016. Still, you’d like to think that if they’re ever going to get beyond that status for at least a year or so, it’s going to take uncovering some gems in ways like that to help them on their way. Turning some found money guys like Straily into something unexpected that can help serve as a foundation piece down the road, ideally.
While the Reds opted to cash-in Straily (and landed an absolute steal in the process), they opted to take a different route once they stumbled into Scooter Gennett. Calls rained down from the Red Reporter rooftops (and elsewhere) for the Reds to turn their waiver-claim-turned-star into something long-term, instead watching as they held onto him beyond his breakout 2017 campaign all the way through another miserable, 95-loss season in 2018, too.
The 2022 Reds are what they are, obviously, a last-place club that is hopefully doing what they can to prep for one of the top two or three picks in the 2023 MLB Draft at this juncture. That they’ve been so bad, and so beat up, has opened doors for a lot of guys to get some playing time with them this season when that option had mostly dried up for them elsewhere at the big league level, yet with trade season on the horizon, it’s imperative for the team to make the call on whether they’ve found something worth holding on to, or worth cashing in.
Unlike with Straily and Gennett, though, this iteration of the Reds throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it sticks hasn’t really yielded anything obvious for the long-term in and of itself.
Brandon Drury has been a revelation for the Reds, for instance, and it’s absolutely worth wondering where the offense would be right now without him having been around. But with his team control up at the end of this season, this upcoming month becomes the lone chance the Reds have to end up with anything tangible beyond this lost 2022 season as a result of signing him and providing him the chance to resurrect his career.
Tommy Pham falls into that category in a similar way, though he was certainly signed with much more expectation of production than was Drury. He’s a name-brand and is performing roughly to those expectations at the moment, but with him heading towards free agency again at season’s end, cashing in on him this month also seems to be the only feasible way to get something beyond 2022 for having rolled the dice on him last offseason.
The reality is that the Reds have four players on their 40-man roster right now who they picked up off the scrap heap since last season and have team control remaining after this season: Albert Almora, Jr., Aramis Garcia, Matt Reynolds, and Connor Overton. The frustrating reality as we sit here on June 27th, however, is that none of them has managed to emerge anywhere close to the way that Straily, or Gennett managed to do.
They still could, in theory. Scooter only had a .751 OPS and was still featuring in a super-utility role as late as June 4th of his breakout 2017 campaign, his 4-homer game against St. Louis still two games further into that season. He started that game in LF, too, showing just how much of that season was left for him to establish his name. Considering that Pham (and Tyler Naquin) are both going to be firmly on the trading block for the next month, that could give Almora, Jr. (who has team control for the 2023 season) the kind of opportunity to play every single day and emerge as a legitimate big league option again (even if it’s just as a 4th OF).
Aramis Garcia is a backup catcher who, for the most part, has looked very, very backup catcher-y. For as much as the pitchers who have thrown to him so far this year have raved about his ability to call games, I think we’ve seen right through his swiss cheese bat. Not a bad piece to have discovered for what was expected - to be a backup catcher - but that’s about as straightforward of a discovery as possible.
Reynolds, to his credit, hit the ground running with the Reds after coming to them mid-year. For a time, he looked the part of a 31 year old journeyman who was hell-bent on proving to the world he could actually cut it as a big leaguer if simply given the opportunity, something he’d never truly been given in parts of five big league seasons with multiple other franchises. That decision making by other clubs is why he’s got team control through 2026 despite already being 31, of course, and while he looked like a small-scale revelation at first, he’s dipped to just 6 for his last 37 over the last 12 games. Maybe, just maybe he’ll end up more Kyle Farmer than Jack Hannahan, but at least he’ll have the next three months to let the Reds find out.
Connor Overton, I guess, is the one chance the Reds have to come up Millhouse in a big way with their bargain-bin pickups. His incredible, yet incredibly small 4-game sample from earlier this year showed a pitcher pitching with aggression and precision despite a lack of overwhelming stuff, something that is absolutely required if you’re to make a career-altering jump at age 28 after having been mostly overlooked for your entire career. Maybe that was Derek Johnson finding the right tweak with him, something that would make having team control over him through 2027 a true diamond in a stack of coal. Of course, he’s already been on the 60-day IL due to a stress-reaction fracture in his lower back, and that’s not exactly the prime recipe for replicating the terribly small, yet terribly successful 4-game sample from earlier this season.
The 2022 Reds have been frustrating in just about every level imaginable. Their season was sunk before it ever began thanks to the offseason’s frugality, and injuries only served to further torpedo things. We’ve not been able to see the existing pieces of the future play together everyday due to injury, either, with Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson, and Jose Barrero all having been seriously banged-up, too. The hope, then, is that there’d at least be some sort of found money that would emerge in that wake, a surprise find that could help become an unexpected part of the rebuild. So far, even that’s been out of reach for these Reds, and the clock’s ticking for it to actually happen for them at all.