Free agency is set to kick off any day now. Once the World Series is over there is a 5-day period in which impending free agents are only allowed to negotiate with the team that they last played for. After those five days are up, they can then talk to anyone and everyone that they’d like to. This is also the day in which teams must decide if they will or will not pick up options on players who have them for the following season.
The Cincinnati Reds, as currently constructed, project for the 2020 season according to ZiPS to be in that 82-85 win range. That’s a good place to start as was noted over the weekend. But it’s also not likely to be enough to make the playoffs. And that is the Reds stated goal for 2020 – as it should be. They’ve reportedly got plenty of money to spend, too.
Yesterday we took a look at how the Reds could possibly look at the catcher market to improve their project win total for 2020. Today we are going to take a look at the middle infield. Currently the Cincinnati Reds middle infield is a big question mark. Jose Iglesias started most of the year at shortstop, but he’s a free agent. Freddy Galvis came over on waivers in August – but he’s got a team option that we aren’t certain will be picked up yet (it seems likely that it will, though). And then there’s the group of younger guys in their mid-20’s with Jose Peraza, Josh VanMeter, and Alex Blandino. The wild card option could be sliding Nick Senzel to second base if the team finds a bonafide center field option that could force him back to the infield.
You can make an argument for any single one of them to have a solid role on the team, perhaps even a starting role in some cases, shortstop and second base are areas that could certainly be a place where a real upgrade could be made for Cincinnati.
MLB Trade Rumors has the entire list of available middle infielders on their website if you want to check it out. But there aren’t exactly a lot of inspiring shortstop options. At second base there could be more options for the Reds to explore.
When it comes to shortstops the only real player to look at would be Didi Gregorius. Yeah, the same player that the Reds traded away years ago in a deal that also included Trevor Bauer, bringing Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati. Gregorius had a strong 2018, and an above-average 2017 – but his 2019 saw him miss about half of the year and have a down season. He hit just .238/.276/.441 on the year. That was good for an 87 OPS+. The previous two seasons saw his OPS+ sitting at 106 and 124.
If the Reds believed that it was the injury that held Didi Gregorius back on offense and he could return to 2017/2018 form, that’s a decent upgrade over what they got in 2019 out of the shortstop position. The Reds were 26th in baseball in OPS+ at 84 during the year. But if they get the version from 2019, well – it’s not an upgrade at all, really. This is why you pay your scouts – to tell you what to expect. And whether that’s going to be worth it if you could just play Freddy Galvis there for $5.5M.
Second base has a lot more options than shortstop does, but there doesn’t really appear to be a true difference maker at the position either. Among the guys who played every day you’re basically looking at Mike Moustakas, who hit .254/.329/.516 this past season with 35 home runs. That would be a significant offensive upgrade over what the Reds got in 2019. Cincinnati second basemen hit .221/.288/.390 on the season – the second worst line of any position they had among the starting eight.
But there could be some rather useful options. Howie Kendrick has been on fire in the playoffs, and he’s missed time over the last few years – but he’s also a guy who hit .344/.395/.572 this season in 370 plate appearances in the regular season. He’ll be 36-years-old, so you probably don’t sign him to a longer deal. But if you can get him in a deal that makes sense for both sides, he’s probably a pretty big upgrade when he’s on the field. And you’ll still have solid options to go to at second base to give him rest, or if he does get injured and has to miss time.
Could there be a reunion with Scooter Gennett? After trading him at the deadline to San Francisco his struggles continued with the Giants. They released him four weeks later. No one picked him up. After his injury in spring training the 29-year-old just never got his bat going in 2019. Between Cincinnati and San Francisco he hit just .226/.245/.323 with just two walks in 139 plate appearances to go with 41 strikeouts. In the previous two seasons he hit .303/.351/.508 for Cincinnati with 52 doubles, six triples, and 50 home runs in 295 games. And given that his 2019 season went as poorly as it did there very well could be plenty of upside on a no-risk contract for 2020. If the 2017-2018 version of Scooter Gennett shows back up, that’s a decent sized difference maker for one of the worst offenses in baseball.
Then of course there’s the guy that is almost assuredly out of the Reds price range, Anthony Rendon. He hasn’t actually played second base since 2015, but he’s likely more than capable of still doing it. Of course he is going to get a very long, very expensive contract – something the Reds haven’t really been involved with when it comes to free agency. That said, our own Chad Dotson may have fired off a very angry letter to me had I not mentioned Rendon as a possibility here. Perhaps Bob Castellini has finally invented that new fruit that Brandon Phillips was talking about earlier this decade and the money is there to make it happen. It would certainly dramatically change the division – but don’t expect it to happen.