Can Reds add another bat at Winter Meetings?

December 5th, 2019

CINCINNATI -- The Reds didn’t wait until the Winter Meetings started to be perky and aggressive. They’ve already filled their need at second base with free agent and they were trying to land catcher Yasmani Grandal (White Sox) and starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (Phillies) before those free agents signed elsewhere.

President of baseball operations Dick Williams and general manager Nick Krall still have more to accomplish in San Diego when they and Cincinnati’s baseball operations department arrives on Sunday. The 2019 Winter Meetings will be held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel through Thursday.

“We’re working on a few things that I would say could probably come to a conclusion this week or next,” Williams said. “But I don’t know if it’s a favorable conclusion for us. Some free agents have said they would make decisions that we’re interested in. I don’t know exactly how it will play out.”

Last year, the Reds were one of the most aggressive clubs in the offseason -- including the Winter Meetings -- as they successfully upgraded their rotation. This time around, finding run producers is the top priority. Moustakas was a good start in that area as the 31-year-old veteran slugger signed a four-year, $64 million contract.

Now it’s time to check off some of the other boxes on the wish list.

Club needs

Adding more offense is priority No. 1 and this could be accomplished in a couple of spots -- namely the outfield and at catcher. The team appeared interested in finding a shortstop, but could live with there if there are no fits outside the organization.

The pursuit of Wheeler showed that Cincinnati wanted to make a big move to strengthen an already formidable rotation. A bigger pitching need, however, is in the bullpen. That’s an area that needs to have more veteran innings eaters to bridge the gap between the starters and back end of the game.

Whom might they trade?

The Reds looked into trading catcher last winter for J.T. Realmuto before the Marlins moved him to Philadelphia instead. The interest in Grandal shows the team would like to improve offensively at the position and Barnhart has two years left on his four-year, $16 million contract.

If Cincinnati is able to sign a slugger for the outfield, it would likely have to move one of its current corner outfielders -- such as or . Winker is coming off two injury-shortened years, but Aquino could be intriguing after his historical home run binge in the second half of 2019.

Prospects to know

With Moustakas in the fold, the Reds have three of their four infielders locked into long-term contracts – with shortstop being the lone exception. That could mean that third baseman/second baseman -- the Reds' No. 3 prospect and No. 93 overall on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 -- is expendable. India, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, hasn’t hit as well as expected and is coming off a poor Arizona Fall League season.

Left-handed starter Nick Lodolo (No. 2 in the organization, No. 56 overall) is likely to begin 2020 at Double-A, but scouts believe he could reach the Majors in the upcoming season after being the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 Draft.

Rule 5 Draft

The Reds left several of their Top 30 prospects unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft, which will be held on Thursday as the Winter Meetings wrap. The list includes shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez (No. 18) and outfielders Andy Sugilio (No. 19), TJ Friedl (No. 20), Michael Beltre (No. 21) and Mariel Bautista (No. 24).

Rodriguez, 25, could be the most intriguing and a pricey loss for Cincinnati, which signed him out of Cuba for $7 million in 2016 with the idea he’d be the future big league shortstop. He could play the position defensively right now, but has been a very light hitter thus far in his pro career.

Payroll summary

Williams has not provided a definitive figure but said after the season that the team’s payroll would get “a nice increase.” The Reds, who had a club-record $126 million payroll in 2019, have already completed the richest free-agent contract in franchise history with the Moustakas deal. Wheeler got $118 million over five years from the Phillies, which underscores that the Reds were ready to spend big in their pursuit. But several free-agent starters remain available, including left-handers Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel.

One question: Who could fit for the outfield?

The free-agent market for outfielders isn’t robust, but good names are on the board that would fit the Reds' needs. Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna top the list and both have track records for having big power. Corey Dickerson, a lefty hitter, could be more reasonably had and has historically raked at Great American Ball Park. Shogo Akiyama is a 31-year-old free agent from Japan. A .301 career hitter, Akiyama has averaged 23 homers over his last three seasons with the Seibu Lions. The Reds have never signed a Japanese player.

On the trade front, there are some big-hitting outfielders as well, but their availability isn’t fully known. The 2018 American League MVP, Mookie Betts of the Red Sox, would be very intriguing and expensive. Others who could be pried loose might be Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies, Tommy Pham from the Rays and area native Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs.