CINCINNATI -- A large majority of the free-agent class remains available, and that includes the cream of the crop among shortstops. The Reds still have a need at that position, but do they have the means to fill it?
Last month, Reds general manager Nick Krall shaved roughly $15 million from the 2021 payroll by trading closer Raisel Iglesias and his $9.1 million salary to the Angels and non-tendering arbitration-eligible players like setup man Archie Bradley and catcher Curt Casali.
While not fully signaling a payroll reduction, Krall noted that the savings from the transactions “helps us reallocate resources and to be used on different things.” It’s not fully clear, yet, if the Reds plan to shed more players to meet a still unspecified budget number.
Besides financial considerations, shortstop prospect Jose Garcia also figures into the equation. Garcia, who went from Class A Advanced in 2019 to debuting in the Majors last season, is ranked by MLB Pipeline as Cincinnati’s No. 6 prospect. The 22-year-old’s highly rated defensive skills were as advertised, but he endured difficulty while adjusting to big league pitching.
“Having that experience last season really leads me to believe that he's really close,” Reds manager David Bell said last month. “Would it be good to get him more time in the Minors? Maybe. That might be the case. I think he's a lot closer than maybe it appeared last season. That's where we are.”
Here are some outside options:
Marcus Semien, 30
Semien finished third in American League MVP voting in 2019 after he hit 33 home runs and batted .285 with a 139 OPS+ and 8.9 bWAR for the A’s. Then he bottomed out in 2020, slashing .223/.305/.374 with seven homers, a 91 OPS+ and 0.5 bWAR. That certainly didn’t help his market value, but that could benefit the Reds.
Didi Gregorius, 30
Gregorius, who turns 31 next month, offers a level of familiarity. He was developed in the Reds’ system and made his big league debut for them as a slick-fielding 22-year-old in 2012. Since a trade to Arizona, and then to the Yankees, he developed his left-handed power, and that could fit well at Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati was in the running to bring back Gregorius last winter before he signed a one-year, $14 million contract with the Phillies and turned in a solid ’20 season while batting .284/.339/.488 with 10 homers, 119 OPS+ and 1.2 bWAR.
Andrelton Simmons, 31
A four-time Gold Glove winner, Simmons missed half of the 2020 season with a left ankle injury. He still batted .297/.346/.356 in 30 games, but for a Reds lineup starved for runs, Simmons doesn’t hit many homers or drive many people in. But he’s a low-strikeout risk and can get on base for others. The best attraction Simmons offers is he’s still one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball.
Francisco Lindor, 27
Perhaps the most intriguing option, Lindor is still under contract with Cleveland, and reports expect him to earn north of $20 million via his final year of salary arbitration. A four-time All-Star who will be a free agent next offseason, Lindor averaged 34 homers a season from 2017-19 and is a legitimate superstar in his prime. Although the commitment to his salary would only be for one year, the cost in prospects for Cincinnati to acquire Lindor could be prohibitive. On the other hand, the longer the free-agent shortstops remain unsigned, the harder it is for Cleveland to set a high price for a deal.
The good news for the Reds is that Semien, Gregorius and Simmons were not given qualifying offers by their former clubs, which means no Draft-pick compensation is attached to signing any of them.
The key questions: How much and how long can they offer a deal to a free agent? Would the Reds do better to make a trade?
As has been the case throughout the offseason, the answers remain uncertain.