Ian Happ, OF - 29 years old
In his six seasons as a big leaguer, Happ has never once posted an OPS+ below 102, and in 2022 finally drew rave enough reviews defensively to post a career-best 4.4 bWAR for the season as a whole. He’s managed to become a more consistent switch-hitter (last season his vs. RHP/LHP splits featured a .780 and .788 OPS, respectively), though his career mark against RHP being .108 OPS points higher than against LHP suggests he might well begin to benefit from the lack of shifting that’s about to be instituted.
The Cincinnati Reds need corner OF depth in the worst way with Wil Myers hitting free agency, and let’s be frank - not a soul in existence has hit the ball better in GABP than Happ since he broke into the bigs. He hit 26 homers overall off Cincinnati pitching during his first six big league seasons (more than any other opponent) and the 16 he hit in GABP in that time ranks as the 12th most by any player in that time - tied with Jonathan India, more than Nick Senzel (13), Mike Moustakas (11, oof), and nearly as many as Tyler Naquin (18).
Happ and Jake Fraley in the corners flanking Elly De La Cruz in CF would make for a pretty electric, thumpy outfield.
Aaron Nola, SP - 30 years old
Nola probably isn’t the guy who put up a ~10 WAR season in 2018. In the 3 full seasons since then, he’s only posted full-year bWAR totals of 3.6, 2.4, and 6.0, with the highest number of that trio representative of the work he did in helping the Philadelphia Phillies reach the World Series in 2022.
Nola butters his bread by pounding the strike zone, as evidenced by his MLB-best 8.10 K/BB last season (and 6.74 since the start of the 2021 season, second only to Max Scherzer’s 6.82). On top of that, his offerings confound opponents, too, as he ranked in the 92nd percentile in hard-hit rate allowed and 90th in chase rate - numbers that all indicate he throws balls in and around the zone that hitters simply don’t have a way to square.
That’s the kind of workhorse ace that would mesh perfectly with Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Graham Ashcraft, even though he may well command the highest non-Ohtani guarantee among pitchers in this free agent class.
Matt Chapman, 3B - 31 years old
While his bat continues to look the part of an MLB star, it’s evident that the move to 3B hasn’t exactly been the smoothest for Noelvi Marte’s glove. A move across the diamond to 1B to attempt to fill the Joey Votto-sized void there now looks like the most obvious way to further unlock this Reds roster, but that leaves a hole at the hot corner next to SS Matt McLain.
Enter Chapman, whose glovework there has genuinely been lauded as some of the best of all-time, even as he’s reached his 30s. The 2x Platinum Glove winner and 3x Glove Glover is a master there, enough so that it’s been almost a bit easy to overlook that he socked an even 100 homers from 2019-2022 - the 21st most in all of baseball.
His right-handed bat would be a welcome addition to the lineup after Myers’ departure, though he’s hit RHP (.796 OPS) nearly the exact same way he hit LHP (.800) over the course of his career through 2022.
What’s that? None of these players are actually free agents right now?
That’s right, they’re all set to be free agents at the end of the 2023 season - not right now - assuming they don’t get locked-up to extensions before then. But given that the Reds seem committed to absconding the free agent party altogether during this current offseason, sitting frugally at a ~$80 million payroll, and waiting for another year before even attempting to compete at the big league level, it’ll be this class that’s on the market the next time the Reds even begin to think about spending again.
While they’re surely, completely, absolutely not going to be able to a) afford or b) attract Shohei Ohtani - hands down the single biggest likely free agent next winter - it is at least mildly soothing to know that there will be a pretty robust crop in another year. Manny Machado could opt-out and become one, as could Max Scherzer, and Rafael Devers could well be the next $300 million signee if Boston doesn’t find a way to lock him down sooner. Teoscar Hernandez and Jesse Winker (!) will be free agents, while each of Rhys Hoskins, Josh Bell, Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Mahle (!) should be, too.
It’s not that we’re overlooking the 2023 Cincinnati Reds season here. No, no...we wouldn’t do such a thing on January 4th of that year! We’re merely starting the process of looking towards the date the club actually might maybe potentially begin acting like a big league club with intentions once again, and doing some legwork to be prepared for when that happens.