CINCINNATI -- Before baseball shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Reds manager David Bell already had too many outfielders and not enough lineup spots. That will be less of a problem when the delayed 2020 season opens next month with full-time implementation of the designated hitter.
“We built this team to have a DH,” Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams said. “We’ve got hitters, and the ability to get more bats in the lineup is a great thing for us. So I was really happy to see that sneak in for this year, just given the roster components we have. From a competitive standpoint, advantage Reds.”
While some clubs might be scrambling to determine who will be their DH, Bell has plenty of solid options.
Likely leading candidates
One of the Reds’ big free-agent signings in the offseason to play right field, Castellanos signed a four-year, $64 million contract with opt-out clauses after the 2020 and ’21 seasons.
Over 151 games last season with the Tigers and Cubs, Castellanos batted .289/.337/.525 with 27 home runs while leading the Major Leagues with 58 doubles. Following his July 31 trade to Chicago, the righty hitter slugged 16 of his homers with a 1.002 OPS in 51 games.
Defensive metrics are not very good for Castellanos, however. According to Statcast, his -24 outs above average (OAA) for Detroit in 2018 was ranked poorest among all outfielders. Across his two-club tenure in ‘19, he posted -7 OAA.
Before camp was halted, Winker’s lineup status was somewhat murky for the regular season. Center fielder Nick Senzel was close but questionable for the original Opening Day while recovering from right shoulder surgery. Cincinnati also had Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama slated to play regularly. Senzel is recovered and ready, and if Castellanos and Akiyama are in the outfield, Winker might now have a spot.
A left-handed hitter, Winker has a career .909 OPS vs. righty pitchers, but he's put up a -14 OAA mark in the three years Statcast has tracked the metric. He hit all 16 of his homers in 2019 against right-handers before missing the final six weeks of the season with a back injury. Winker bounced back well in camp, batting .368 with an .879 OPS.
Known as “The Punisher,” Aquino became a national sensation when he burst onto the scene late last summer. Following his Aug. 1 promotion from Triple-A Louisville, he batted .320 with 14 home runs and 1.160 OPS in his first month with Cincinnati. Then came a giant September swoon, during which he batted .196 with five homers and a .619 OPS.
A right-handed hitter, Aquino appeared to be the odd man out of the outfield picture in spring and likely to begin 2020 in Louisville. He batted .077 in 10 games with 11 strikeouts in Spring Training. Aquino has played only right field in the big leagues, and he looked awkward when he got a look in center field during a Cactus League game. If Castellanos remains the right fielder, Aquino could have an added chance to use his power.
Another free-agent prize this offseason, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract, Moustakas is a natural third baseman who will play second base this season. If the club becomes concerned about his defense, Moustakas could be a DH answer.
A three-time All-Star for the Royals and Brewers, Moustakas batted .254/.329/.516 with 35 home runs and 87 RBIs in 143 games for Milwaukee in 2019.
The right-handed-hitting Ervin has some power and received the most big league playing time of his career with 94 games in 2019. He was a .349 batter vs. lefties and .227 vs. righties and hit seven home runs overall. With a 4 OAA mark last season, Ervin has more versatility in the outfield since he can play all three spots. Bell might want that flexibility instead of keeping him at DH.
A non-roster player in camp after being brought back in the offseason, Dietrich hit 19 home runs with 43 RBIs in 113 games last season for Cincinnati. But he batted .187/.328/.462 overall, including an .071 stretch with one homer after the All-Star break as he battled with a sore left shoulder that required surgery in September.
Dietrich was fully recovered in camp and hit two home runs before the shutdown. He can play multiple positions as a bench player.
Of course, Votto is the mainstay first baseman and a six-time All-Star. But he’s had his lowest production over the past two seasons and will turn 37 on Sept. 10. It’s unlikely he would DH regularly, but this could be a place to give him partial days off while keeping his bat in the lineup.