The Reds aren’t going to make any big splashes in free agency during the offseason, but it sounds like we shouldn’t expect them to be as quiet as they were last winter, either. After taking the reigns from Walt Jocketty after the 2016 regular season concluded, general manager Dick Williams has been candid about the team’s needs.
Along with bullpen arms and a starting pitcher to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation, Williams said finding a right-handed outfielder to add to his bench is on his to-do list, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans.
It’s fair to question why the Reds would target a bench bat. As Steve Mancuso pointed out on Monday, the Reds’ main goal should be focusing on the future and allowing the young kids to play this season. Williams seems to agree with this, however, so perhaps any free agent they sign shouldn’t expect a ton of playing time. Per Rosecrans’ article:
“Our major questions are more about which young players are ready to step up, and the good news is we have numbers in that area,” Williams said. “It’ll be fun to see who grabs the opportunity.”
That being said, the Reds don’t have a ton of big-league ready depth behind Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, and Scott Schebler right now — at least until Jesse Winker is ready. You have to figure Steve Selsky and Patrick Kivlehan — a late season waiver addition — are going to have a shot to win the fourth outfield spot out of spring training, but there aren’t many others ready to compete for that position yet. Former highly touted prospects Yorman Rodriguez and Kyle Waldrop were probably the most likely candidates; however, they both opted for minor-league free agency after being outrighted to Triple-A Louisville. First-round draft pick Phil Ervin is getting closer to the big leagues and could start at Triple-A in 2017, but most scouting reports indicate he’s still got some work to do before making it to The Show.
Whoever the Reds opt to bring in, they’ll likely be looking for someone who brings pop. The club didn’t hit a single pinch-hit home run last season, one of only four teams (along with the Royals, White Sox, and Rangers — three American League clubs who don’t use pinch hitters nearly as much) to pull that off.
Here are the home run totals for the Reds’ bench players last season:
|Ivan De Jesus Jr.||1|
That’s it. Nine home runs from the bench. So with few answers in the outfield — at least to begin the 2017 campaign — it’s not the worst idea to bring in some competition to spring training.
Here are some free agents the Reds could target in the coming weeks and months:
Okay, just kidding.
2016 Stats (High-A Daytona): .346/.370/.385, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 123 wRC+
Bringing back a familiar face in Rodriguez seems to make a lot of sense for the Reds, if he’s willing to return. He’s a right-handed hitting outfielder, he’s still just 24 years old, and giving him playing time would make more sense for a rebuilding team than allowing a 30-year-old veteran to accumulate 200 plate appearances.
The team took a risk by designating the talented outfielder for assignment on Oct. 28. While he snuck through waivers, he still elected to become a minor-league free agent. If he proves to be healthy, there will certainly be plenty of teams vying for his services, as he’s still young and has plenty of untapped potential. Perhaps his familiarity with the Reds will give them a leg up on other teams. After all, it is the only organization he’s known since signing as a 16-year-old.
Rodriguez has never quite lived up to his potential, but he has improved every year. Scouts have raved about his raw power, and with a reliable glove, an elite arm, and slightly above-average speed, he has the makings of a solid fourth outfielder. The questions will be about his health and whether he’s ready for a fresh start with another team.
2016 Stats (White Sox): .254/.318/.343, 0 HR, 18 RBI, 79 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR
Jackson is a potential buy-low candidate after struggling in his only season in the south side of Chicago. He didn’t get much going through 54 games and his season ended prematurely in June due to a torn left meniscus. While he wouldn’t be a huge power threat coming off the bench, he has shown decent pop in the past, averaging 10 home runs per season between 2011 and 2015. He also brings some speed to the table, with 108 career steals and a 17.9 baserunning rating, according to Fangraphs. Jackson’s defense in center field has dropped off a bit in recent years, but he rated out much better while playing the corner outfield spots with the Cubs in 2015.
While he has the makings of a fourth outfielder, a couple of things may work against the Reds. Several teams will likely be interested in signing him and he’ll only be 30 years old when the 2017 begins, so will he want to come to a rebuilding team where he’s unlikely to get many starts? And will he accept a bench role? After all, he was the starting center fielder for the White Sox before his injury. He’s probably on the lower end of candidates for the Reds to sign.
2016 Stats (Braves/Marlins): .254/.297/.378, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 77 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR
It seems like Francoeur is about 50 years old now, but he’s still just 33. Like he has for most of his career, he’ll be looking to find a bench spot with another team in 2017. He’s not a flashy player in the slightest, as he still strikes out a lot (27.2 K% in 2016) and doesn’t walk much (6.0 BB%). However, he does bring some power (160 career home runs). In the field, he’s still got a cannon for an arm and had a resurgence in right field last season, with seven defensive runs saved and a 4.1 ultimate zone rating (10.5 UZR/150). His defense in left field, where he spent most of his time, was mediocre to slightly above average, as DRS (5) was more kind to him than UZR (0.0).
Francoeur is pretty much the definition of a replacement level player, but at the very least, he’d give the Reds a power option off the bench. And who knows, maybe he plays well enough that the Reds could flip him in a trade like the Braves did in August.
2016 Stats (Mariners): .246/.329/.452, 14 HR, 39 RBI, 114 wRC+, 0.6 fWAR
Since he’s played most of his career in the American League, mostly out west in Seattle, many Reds fans are probably unfamiliar with Gutierrez. Let’s jog your memory a bit:
This came against the Reds on May 21 — a 473-blast that went down as the eighth-longest home run of the 2016 season and one of the furthest in the history of Great American Ball Park.
Gutierrez is no longer a defensive whiz, sporting an average glove in left field and a poor one in right. But he’s prolonged his career by providing power off the bench for the Mariners, hitting 29 home runs in 472 plate appearances over the last two seasons. The 33-year-old crushed the ball in 2016, with an average exit velocity of 92.9 mph (the MLB average was 89.1 mph). His on-base skills have traditionally been subpar, but he’s set new career-highs in walk rate in each of the last two years, including a 10.2 BB% in 2016.
Selling out for power has also resulted in a sharp spike in strikeouts for Gutierrez, as he punched out in a staggering 30 percent of his plate appearances last season. Injuries have also been a problem, as he played just 82 games between 2012 and 2014. All in all, with renewed health and a change in plate approach, he has revived his career, posting a 167 wRC+ in 2015 and 114 in 2016. For a bench player, that production will work just fine, though that means he’ll have several suitors.
There aren’t many free agent outfielders who make a ton of sense for the Reds — especially those who hit from the right side of the plate. In the team’s current state, Rodriguez may be the best fit if he’s healthy and the club is able to re-sign him, but the list of major-league outfielders on the market consists mostly of players 30 or older. On a rebuilding team, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to sign players like that. Perhaps the Reds give someone like Drew Stubbs a chance on a minor-league deal or make another low-key signing. Whoever the Reds go after, it will likely be someone who can hit an occasional home run and potentially be flipped before the trade deadline when Winker is ready.
Or maybe they’ll just bring back Tyler Holt as their backup outfielder/closer.
Growing up just north of Cincinnati, Matt has been a Reds fan for as long as he can remember. As a kid, he was often found leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 and imitating his favorite players (Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns) in the backyard. One of his earliest baseball memories is attending the final night game at Cinergy Field. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in the Dayton area. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.