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Jeimer Candelario officially signs, and the Cincinnati Reds roster Tetris begins

A closer look at how the Reds might unlock their roster’s potential.

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images

Spencer Steer will play outfield more often than not in 2024, a move that coincidentally unlocks more versatility by reducing his versatility. Such was effectively confirmed when the Cincinnati Reds officially announced the signing of infielder Jeimer Candelario yesterday, the 30 year old putting pen to paper on a deal that will guarantee him $45 million over a trio of years that includes an additional $15 million option for the 2027 season.

MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon provided confirmation of the deal, as well as some details on how it impacts the rest of the club.

Candelario will play 3B, 1B, some 2B, and DH a bit, a versatile piece of what’s become a complete mix and match infield. Despite the reduction of the ability to shift - a defensive strategy that virtually eliminated the need for players to know traditional infield positions since they’d all line up all over the dirt depending on the handedness of the hitter at the plate - it seems the Reds are now going to trust their crew to play in different spots almost daily, with in-game switches around the diamond still very much a part of David Bell’s plans.

Matt McLain can play both SS and 2B. Noelvi Marte could see time at 3B, 2B, and maybe even SS. Elly De La Cruz has an arm sent down by Zeus himself with the speed to cover as much ground as needed, a combination that makes him a perfect defender for either SS or 3B. Christian Encarnacion-Strand, meanwhile, likely profiles best at 1B, but he’s got a wealth of experience at 3B and even got an inning here and there in the OF corners last year. All will play all those positions, with the DH spot there daily to allow them to rotate through, too.

Jonathan India still fits into that mix, by all accounts. He’s going to get time at his traditional spot at 2B still, though getting him reps at 1B is in the cards, too. On top of that, it appears he may well get some time in the corner OF spots, too, as The Enquirer’s Charlie Goldsmith relayed.

It’s a combination that, on paper, features a sparkly young player lots of fans really want to turn into a star starting on the bench everyday. The thing is, it won’t be the same sparkly young player starting games on the bench every single day, as that’s 6 players to rotate through 5 spots throughout the season. In a perfectly healthy world, that means playing 5 of 6 games for 6 months of baseball, or starting 135 games of the 162 game season. Not to mention that whichever player that doesn’t start a game will undoubtedly be getting switched-in at some point in a strategic spot by Bell, the versatility of their gloves never really putting any restraints on when and how that move gets made.

Kevin Newman got 253 PA for the Reds last year. Joey Votto got 242. Jason Vosler, Wil Myers, and Jose Barrero all chipped-in. Tyler Stephenson got 189 PA at either 1B or DH while the team oddly carried a trio of catchers for most of the year, while Steer himself logged some 506 of his 665 PA last year while playing an infield position or at DH. In other words, there were plenty of PA to go around given the subtractions (and position changes, assuming Steer’s time is now exclusively dedicated to the OF), with the wonder of which outfielder is going to be out of the starting lineup now just as much of a conundrum as that of the infield.

If Steer’s your everyday LF, for instance, which of Will Benson, TJ Friedl, or Jake Fraley are you benching against a RHP? Does Fraley get the DH spot in situations like that, and which two infielders then get to ride pine for the first few innings?

It’s a great ‘problem’ to have, one that undoubtedly will be sorted out in ways that are as frustrating as the Baseball Gods can make them. Injuries will happen, as they always do, and last year’s wave of them across the Reds lineup is why we got the chance to have such high expectations for so many of the youngsters in the first place. Votto, India, and McLain all were shelved for long stints - all at the same time, for a bit - and that meant the Reds needed to tap all the way down to Noelvi Marte for depth.

Is there a chance the Reds get opportunistic before the start of the 2024 and deal from within that depth? They certainly could, and wouldn’t be too worse for the wear, especially if they then turned to the free agent market to backfill with some additional depth. That said, they could very well opt to deal from deeper on the farm to acquire a frontline starting pitcher, or even deal from within their burgeoning depth of young starting pitchers to land such a prize.

The point is, there’s room for Candelario, even if the Reds chose to acquire red, borrow a little yellow and blue, and mix them all together rather than just buying brown.