5 key questions facing Cincy this offseason

October 11th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- The Reds put together a winning season in 2021 with 83 victories, but the postseason was out of their grasp. A stark fade down the stretch sealed their fate.

It’s already time for Cincinnati to start planning for 2022.

“It’s really hard to make the playoffs with 80-85 wins, so we’re going to have to play better next year,” first baseman Joey Votto said. “The long [17-game] winning streak by the Cardinals notwithstanding, we’d still have to be closer to 90 wins to expect to make the playoffs. We’ve got to play better next year. I’m hopeful that we will.”

The first step for general manager Nick Krall and the front office is to establish a payroll number with ownership, which is happening during these early days of the offseason.

“How we use our money at the end of the day, that’s going to depend on where we are from a budget standpoint,” Krall said. “That’s going to be first and foremost, and over the next couple weeks, we’ll have that set. Then we can go forward.”

Once that happens, here are five questions facing the Reds this offseason:

Who plays third base?
The Reds have two pricey veterans who will be coming off very down seasons: Eugenio Suárez and Mike Moustakas.

Suárez, who has three years and $35.6 million remaining on his contract, hit 31 homers but had an MLB-worst .198 average, despite being Cincinnati’s best hitter in September.

Moustakas is owed $38 million over the next two years and missed 85 games on the injured list this season while batting .208 with six homers. Manager David Bell used a platoon towards the end of the season that proved unsuccessful in getting either hitter going.

Both players will not have much trade value, and it would be a mistake to package them with highly desired players or prospects as a way to offload their salaries. Adding a designated hitter to the National League could help create some flexibility, but the Reds are in a quandary to find a solution at this position.

How to fix the bullpen?
When payroll was slashed last offseason, Cincinnati’s bullpen felt the cuts the most as closer Raisel Iglesias was traded to the Angels and Archie Bradley was non-tendered. What resulted was a series of veterans added either through Minor League deals or waiver-wire acquisitions.

The Reds’ bullpen ranked 27th in the Major Leagues with a 4.99 ERA and spent most of the first half ranked at the bottom of the league.

Bell didn’t rely on a dedicated closer, which resulted in 10 different relievers notching saves. Mychal Givens and Michael Lorenzen are both expected to depart as free agents in the offseason.

The club’s best reliever, Tejay Antone, is out until 2023 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. But Cincinnati will have Lucas Sims, who overcame an elbow injury to post a 1.26 ERA with 25 strikeouts over his final 15 appearances (14 1/3 innings). Luis Cessa had a 2.05 ERA in 24 games after coming over via a trade with the Yankees. Art Warren, Tony Santillan and Dauri Moreta will all get shots to close.

Amir Garrett had an unexpectedly rough season with a 6.04 ERA, but looked better in the final month. Clearly, there is work to be done to upgrade the back end of the bullpen.

Rotation depth?
Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle are expected to be the team’s top three starters next year, but questions remain about the fourth and fifth spots. Wade Miley has a $10 million club option for 2022, and it’s not clear if it will be exercised. Vladimir Gutierrez had nice starts after being called up in late May, but ran out of gas down the stretch.

Rotation depth was an issue for the Reds this season, but it could improve in 2022 with the arrival of some younger arms. Top prospect Hunter Greene will get a chance to make the team, and No. 2 prospect Nick Lodolo could also be ready sooner rather than later.

Reiver Sanmartin impressed in two big league starts vs. the Pirates in the final week of the regular season, and Riley O’Brien could also get a longer look in the rotation next year. The club also likes Santillan as a starter.

Who plays shortstop?
The biggest hole of the last offseason went unfilled, and Cincinnati unsuccessfully tried moving Suárez to short. The Reds caught a break when utility player Kyle Farmer showed he could not only play shortstop, but play it well. Farmer became a dependable regular and also had a nice second half offensively.

Cincinnati also has Jose Barrero, who has exceptional defensive skills but still lags behind as a hitter. Barrero, who was the organization’s No. 3 prospect until graduating from MLB Pipeline’s rankings, also saw some action in center field during the final weeks of the season.

Barrero would likely need to improve his hitting to be considered as a center fielder, but this switch would allow both him and Farmer to be in the lineup. If Barrero lands at shortstop, Farmer would likely return to a utility role.

What happens in the outfield?
If Nick Castellanos invokes his opt-out clause and becomes a free agent, the Reds will have a big hole in right field to fill.

In center field, the Reds hope to see the return of Nick Senzel, who went on the IL on May 21 with a left knee injury and was out for the rest of the year. Often injured since his debut season in 2019, the club can no longer count on Senzel as a lineup fixture.

Jesse Winker, who had a career year in left field before an intercostal injury in mid-August, will be a big left-handed bat in next year’s lineup. Tyler Naquin, who stepped in nicely for Senzel and offers left-handed power, could be a center fielder or corner outfielder. If Barrero becomes the center fielder, Senzel could be used as a utility player who gets closer to regular playing time. TJ Friedl should also be in the mix for a reserve role.