The Cincinnati Reds made official their signing of right-hander Frankie Montas on Tuesday, noting that he’ll be guaranteed $16 million over the administrative portion of his one-year contract. That’s because he’ll technically earn $14 million for 2024 with a $2 million buyout of a $20 million option for the 2025 season that has a near 100% chance of being declined.
The #Reds today signed RHP Frankie Montas to a one-year contract through the 2024 season with a mutual option for 2025 and designated for assignment C Austin Wynns.— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) January 2, 2024
Austin Wynns, who the Reds previously signed to an odd split contract earlier in the offseason, was booted off the roster to make way for the Montas addition. And while that’s all well, good, and newsworthy, it was the series of comments made by front office honcho Nick Krall at the Montas presser that probably left the biggest impression on Reds fans today. As C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic relayed, the Reds are now likely done with ‘major moves’ this offseason, meaning it’s entirely likely that what you currently see is the best-case scenario roster the Reds will employ heading in to Opening Day 2024.
Asked a follow-up about trades, Krall said he doesn't see "any major moves" at this point heading into spring training https://t.co/n3nlMdUH0n— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) January 2, 2024
With Joey Votto’s contract off the roster, the Reds walked into the offseason with perhaps as much financial flexibility as they’ve had at any point in the last generation. They’ve now announced, publicly, that they’re basically done after signing the #13 ranked free agent in MLB Trade Rumors’ list of the Top 50 free agents of the offseason (Jeimer Candelario), #32 ranked free agent (Nick Martinez, to an undefined role), the #44 ranked free agent (Montas, who threw exactly 1.1 IP last year coming off major shoulder surgery), and reliever Emilio Pagan, all while opting against any major trades despite the seeming unbalanced glut on the talented, yet inexperienced roster.
The result is a amalgam of talent that certainly seems to have both a high floor and some promise, even if there may not be more than two or there players projected for the Opening Day roster who actually know their true, defined role. TJ Friedl is likely to be the everyday CF, and Alexis Diaz is going to be the closer - that much we can pretty well etch into stone. Whenever he’s healthy, Hunter Greene is going to be getting the ball on the mound to start every five days, likely with Opening Day his first start of the year. Tyler Stephenson and Luke Maile will now be the ones doing all the catching with Wynns’ departure, and that just about concludes what we, them, or anyone can say about how the Reds will line up in 2024.
Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz, Candelario, Jonathan India, Noelvi Marte, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand will presumably rotate amongst each other across the infield on most days in an odd glut of above-average (yet not yet elite) options. Spencer Steer, when not now manning the ‘right-handed bat’ portion of the outfield mix, will mix in there as well. Steer, Friedl, Jake Fraley, Will Benson, and Stuart Fairchild will deploy in a once again platoon-centric outfield mix - all once again with solid floors but debatable high-end upside.
On the pitching side of things, Martinez and Montas will join Greene, Nick Lodolo, Andrew Abbott, Graham Ashcraft, Brandon Williamson, Connor Phillips, and Lyon Richardson as likely starting options, with the latter two (if not three) parked in AAA as depth. It’s a mix with upside, to be sure, but it’s clear the Reds front office opted against investing what it took to land a ‘proven’ starter to lead their line, instead banking on the emergence to ace-status of a pitcher who, to date, has never yet achieved that level of precision. Montas could! Greene could! Lodolo, if ever healthy again, sure could! None of them have, however, and that means the team will once again be banking on significantly exceeded projections and expectations for the most key portion of their roster to truly take things to the next level in 2024.
That appears to be the defining revelation of this offseason, now that it’s mostly done, per Krall - they didn’t spend big or swing big via trade for someone the world already knows can be an elite, upper-echelon player at the Major League level, they instead added proven role players to a roster that contains a handful of young, inexperienced players whose upside projections suggest they could rise to star status.
Perhaps it’s prudent. If De La Cruz continues to develop the same pitch recognition and patience he did down the stretch in 2023, we know his other tools could morph him into a 5-6 WAR player as early as next year. The same goes for the same McLain we saw during his brief time in 2023 - if he can stay healthy at that level all year. Greene, Lodolo, Abbott, Ashcraft, and Montas have all flashed borderline-elite stuff on the mound, though none has put it all together at the absolute top-end for an entire season. One could! Two, three could!
Could. That still appears to be the mantra under which this club is operating, even in the face of their division rivals in St. Louis doing the exact opposite with their spending. The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, have yet to do anything this winter, though they are surely going to make a concerted effort to sign Cody Bellinger, Marcus Stroman, and who knows who else. Therefore, it’s hard to truly give a passing grade to a ‘finished’ Reds club right now even knowing their entire slate of moves, since the rest of the division has by no means put down their pencils.
The Reds look better now than they did at the end of the 2023 World Series. If this is all there is, though, it’s clear the team is still banking on a whole lot of hope going forward, a strategy that has foibles woven into its core.