Free agency is here. Mostly. Players who were extended a qualifying offer still have time to decide if they will accept it or decline it – but everyone else is now free to sign with other teams. And what that means is that everyone is talking about, ranking, and predicting who will wind up where. In the last two days MLB Trade Rumors, Fangraphs, ESPN, and The Athletic have all had authors put together their lists.
MLB Trade Rumors is the best place to start. Why? Well, unlike the lists at ESPN and The Athletic, it’s free to read and doesn’t require a subscription. That said, ESPN+ and The Athletic are both worth the price of the subscription if you’ve got a few extra bucks. But what MLB Trade Rumors has that Fangraphs, which is also free to read, doesn’t, is a prediction on where the player will land.
There are over 130 players who are free agents this offseason. Some of them aren’t going to have jobs next year. And some of them didn’t even have jobs this year. But MLB Trade Rumors focused on the Top 50 free agents heading into the offseason earlier this week and they have the Cincinnati Reds making a splash or two.
While Cincinnati isn’t expected to land anyone inside of the top five, the crew at MLB Trade Rumors does believe that the Reds are going to land catcher Yasmani Grandal. The former Reds 1st round pick never made it to Cincinnati before being traded away in the deal for Mat Latos. But the Reds have been thinking about him for a while now, having pursued him last offseason, too. One of the better defensive catchers in the game, Grandal can also hit for power and get on base. As a player who had a qualifying offer extended to him in 2018, that can’t happen again. Signing him wouldn’t cost the team a draft pick. Not that it should matter given that the pick it would require would be far down the draft.
There are some reasons for why signing Yasmani Grandal would make sense. He’s arguably one of the three best catchers in baseball today. He brings a strong ability to buy his pitchers strikes with quality framing. And his bat would be a big upgrade behind the plate for the Reds, who need to add offense in a big way if they plan to compete. Tucker Barnhart made changes in the second half and hit well – but even that version, the best stretch he’s ever had, was still a little less than what you would expect to get from Grandal. With a stated goal of making the playoffs in 2020, Grandal likely gives you the best chance of getting there.
On the flip side, there are some reasons why signing Yasmani Grandal makes a little less sense, particularly for four seasons like MLB Trade Rumors suggests. The first would be that one of the Cincinnati Reds top prospects is catcher Tyler Stephenson. The 23-year-old is coming off of a strong season in Double-A with the Chattanooga Lookouts. While he likely needs to spend some time in Triple-A during 2020, he is not far from being ready. There is always uncertainty with prospects until they go out and show they can get it done at the big league level – but it’s not like the Reds have no options moving forward from the farm system to pair with Tucker Barnhart.
With that said, the team could always sign Yasmani Grandal and keep him, while trading Tyler Stephenson for something else that they need. Or they could sign Grandal and keep Tyler Stephenson around, and when he’s ready, trade Grandal for something that they need. There are options worth exploring on all fronts here.
A little bit further down the list is where the Reds are predicted to make another splash. Coming in at #12 on the top free agents list is Didi Gregorius – another former Red. Unlike Grandal, Gregorius actually did put on a Reds jersey. It wasn’t for very long – he played in eight games for Cincinnati in September of 2012 before being traded that offseason to Arizona in a deal that also included Trevor Bauer (who went to Cleveland, while the Reds landed Shin-Soo Choo).
For Cincinnati it could be a big upgrade at shortstop. But the key there is the word could. After having Tommy John surgery, Didi Gregorius didn’t quite show up as the same hitter that he had been the previous two years for the Yankees. In both 2017 and 2018 he was an above-average hitter, posting a .277/.326/.486 line with 50 doubles, five triples, and 52 home runs in 270 games played. But in 2019 he hit just .238/.276/.441. The power was still there in the 82 games that he did play, but the rest of the stats simply weren’t.
The shortstop market, at least among free agents is thin. It’s so thing that it’s basically Didi Gregorius and then a handful of guys who are likely backup infielders on competing teams. Cincinnati won’t be the only team looking at Gregorius, who will be 30-years-old next year, and trying to land the only starting caliber shortstop on the market. And they won’t be the only team hoping that if they do that they’ll get the healthy 2017-2018 version of him, too. If so, it would be a very big upgrade to the offense. But if not and it’s more of a 2019 version, well, that’s not going to be much help when it comes to scoring more runs.
Fangraphs rated Yasmani Grandal as their #5 free agent on the market. They had Didi Gregorius at #9. Kiley McDaniels had this to say about Grandal:
If you haven’t looked, you may not believe it: Grandal has posted five straight seasons of 4 or 5 WAR. In a catching landscape that increasingly looks like a Mad Max film, the backstop keeps performing, though I’m sure his fingers are crossed that robo umps are still a ways off given his +134 runs career framing figure.
First off, that’s a great movie reference. Secondly, adding 3-4 wins would go a long way for the Reds who are currently projected to fall in the 82-85 win range. That move alone isn’t likely enough, but coupling that with a move to add Gregorius certainly could place them right where they want to be.
Jim Bowden wrote up details for the 35 top free agents at The Athletic on Monday. While he doesn’t predict where anyone will ultimately sign, he does give contract predictions and teams that fit best for the player. Old Leather Pants thinks the Reds will be looking at the catching market. He suggests the Reds are best fits for Yasmani Grandal, Robinson Chirinos, and Travis d’Arnaud. Bowden also thinks that the Reds are a good fit for Didi Gregorius. His projection for a contract is significantly different from everyone else – he believes Gregorius signs a 1-year deal and tries to test the market again in 2021.
Keith Law of ESPN seems to be a big believer in Didi Gregorius. He thinks that he’ll return to his previous levels and thinks a big contract may be on the horizon for the shortstop.
He’s a mediocre-to-low OBP hitter with plus power, especially for a shortstop, and a below-average runner with great instincts who has shown plus range since he was a prospect. He’s also the only everyday middle infielder available in free agency this winter, and that alone might push him to four or five years at $20 million per, which would be a bargain if he gets all the way back to his 2017-18 production.
The Didi Gregorius market is going to be rather interesting to watch for the reason mentioned above: He’s the only real shortstop out there. The trade market does exist, but it’s always better to just have to spend money to get a player to fill a need than to spend money and trade someone else away to fill a need.
There’s money there for the Reds to spend. And there are more than a few places they could spend it to improve the roster. We’ve written about improving the catching position – mostly focusing on Yasmani Grandal. We wrote about the middle infield, mostly focusing on Didi Gregorius. The outfield had several options worth exploring, too. And then yesterday we also looked at the starting pitchers who could help swing the team in the right direction.