CINCINNATI -- Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams and general manager Nick Krall were two of the busiest, and most aggressive, executives in baseball last winter. They made a flurry of moves to improve the rotation and attempted to boost the offense.
Expect more of the same when the Hot Stove season ramps up in earnest after the World Series, but with an added twist.
“We will have a bigger payroll,” Williams said on Wednesday in his office. “We will have money to spend. It will be a nice increase.”
The Reds made strides during the 2019 season, but still finished 75-87 and in fourth place in the National League Central.
Williams would not disclose specifics on finances, but Cincinnati opened 2019 with a reported record $126 million payroll. He pointed to several of the previous offseason moves as evidence that his team can be bold again this winter -- including acquiring pitcher Sonny Gray from the Yankees and signing him to a three-year, $30.5 million extension, getting starter Tanner Roark in a trade with the Nationals, making a seven-player trade with the Dodgers that brought Yasiel Puig, Kyle Farmer, Alex Wood and Matt Kemp to Cincinnati and signing José Iglesias and Derek Dietrich to Minor League contracts.
Wood was sidelined by a back injury for most of the season, and he was limited to just seven starts. Kemp was a salary dump for Los Angeles to make its payroll work, and he was released by the Reds in May. Roark, a free agent this winter, was dealt to Oakland on July 31, the same day the Reds sent Puig to Cleveland for pitcher Trevor Bauer, who is under club control for 2020. Puig also will be a free agent this offseason.
“I think we've shown that we can make a lot of good decisions, and that's why we're confident in our abilities going into this offseason to try to get creative,” Williams said. “Whether it ends up being trades or waiver claims or free-agent signings, [we will] continue to find players that will help.”
Much of the priority will be on improving the lineup and offense, which dipped in 2019. The Reds ranked 12th in the NL in hitting (.244) and runs scored (701) this season and although they set a new club record with 227 home runs, they scored only five more runs than last year.
“We want guys on base so when those homers happen, they really cause damage,” Williams said. “It's just making sure we give ourselves more opportunities to score. Having more guys on base earlier in the innings creates more traffic, and I think we'll have more success. We've got guys that can do that, but we're going to have to create a lineup that generates more offense.”
The team potentially could look to upgrade offensively in the outfield, at second base and, possibly, at catcher.
“I think we have the potential to have three everyday outfielders in [Jesse] Winker, [Nick] Senzel and [Aristides] Aquino, but we cannot go into next year counting on all three of [them] to be everyday guys,” Williams said. “It just isn't going to be that easy. We have to create more impact in that group, and still give those guys the opportunity to play their way into everyday roles or complementary roles, but the outfield area is [one we] would be looking to supplement.”
The Reds also will seek to improve the bullpen, but they feel good about a core of Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett and Robert Stephenson. The rotation’s front four will be Luis Castillo, Gray, Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani.
Internal options for the fifth spot could include Kevin Gausman, Tyler Mahle, Lucas Sims and No. 4 prospect Tony Santillan. But there will be some looking elsewhere as well.
“This year, we have starting pitching that we feel good about,” Williams said. “And it certainly creates a floor for us of what we can expect. I think if there's any area to add to, it might be the depth.”
Other short-term issues remain. The Reds must soon decide whether to pick up the $5.5 million club option on infielder Freddy Galvis. That is somewhat linked to whether they can bring back Iglesias at shortstop.
“We have the benefit of time there before he hits free agency,” Williams said of Iglesias. “We will definitely have some conversations. We haven't made a decision yet on what's best for the team, the makeup of the lineup and everything.”
Even after a busy offseason of maneuvers designed to make the Reds more competitive, the postseason still got underway without them for a sixth consecutive year.
Hence, the front office isn’t doing a victory lap or patting itself on the back.
“No one here is happy, satisfied or content because there was a moral victory. We want to play in the postseason. We want to keep playing after September,” Williams said. “That’s all we’re thinking about for next year. We’ve already started thinking about it.”