Free agency is set to kick off any day now. Once the World Series is over there is a 5-day period in which impending free agents are only allowed to negotiate with the team that they last played for. After those five days are up, they can then talk to anyone and everyone that they’d like to. This is also the day in which teams must decide if they will or will not pick up options on players who have them for the following season.
The Cincinnati Reds, as currently constructed, project for the 2020 season according to ZiPS to be in that 82-85 win range. That’s a good place to start as was noted over the weekend. But it’s also not likely to be enough to make the playoffs. And that is the Reds stated goal for 2020 – as it should be. They’ve reportedly got plenty of money to spend, too.
There are a few ways that teams can increase their projected win totals. Making trades is a big one. Signing free agents is the other. Teams can beat their win totals by having players outperform their projections, but that isn’t something that a team should use as a plan – just happily accept it if it does indeed happen. With trades – it’s tough for anyone to go through and find all viable trade targets that would realistically be available. Here at Redleg Nation we’ll certainly talk about players that are rumored to be on the trade market as those rumors get out there.
Today, though, we’re going to start by looking at the free agent class of 2020. And it’s going to start with the catchers. Currently the Cincinnati Reds have Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali as their catching duo, with Barnhart being the guy who would get more of the playing time. In 2019, Barnhart was solid but unspectacular. But that doesn’t tell the entire story. During the first half of the season he hit just .191/.290/.315 in 60 games and 187 plate appearances. The second half was a big turn around, though. Over 54 games and 177 plate appearances he hit .273/.367/.448 while cutting his strikeout rate from 27% to 19%.
If the second half version of Tucker Barnhart is what you could expect to get, then the Reds probably aren’t out there looking to upgrade. But that’s not likely to be the case. And it’s why the Reds are rumored to be looking into Yasmani Grandal in free agency.
Yasmani Grandal, who put the Brewers up with a 2-run homer, will draw huge interest as a free agent this winter. The Reds, his original team, are expected to try again to bring him back.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) October 2, 2019
This would be the second season in a row in which the Reds have reportedly pursued the catcher in free agency. While we never heard what they offered him last offseason, we do know that he turned down a larger offer from the New York Mets (rumored to have been $60M over three seasons) to sign a 1-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers with a 1-year option. He’s likely to be expecting more than that, at least in years, this offseason. He is coming off a year in which he played in 153 games and hit .246/.380/.468 with 26 doubles, 2 triples, and 28 home runs. And he’s also known to be one of the best pitch framers in the league.
Grandal would be an upgrade on paper in every sense of the word. He’s likely to be significant upgrade at the position. Much of that would be on offense, but he might also be a small upgrade defensively, too.
MLB Trade Rumors have broken down the players who will be free agents this offseason. And when it comes to catchers, the pickings are slim once you get beyond Yasmani Grandal. Using Fangraphs version of WAR, Grandal is at the top of the list among free agents at 5.2. Only two other catchers are in the “league average” category of 2.0 or higher – Robinson Chirinos and Tyler Flowers – and they are at 2.1 and 2.3 WAR, respectively. Flowers may not even be available as he has a $6M club option with a $2M buyout.
If the Reds are going to go to free agency and look for an upgrade at catcher, it’s pretty much going to have to be Yasmani Grandal or bust. He’s the only option that’s an actual upgrade to what they already have. Spending the money on another player at catcher, at least as the roster is currently constructed, would be a poor use of their resources. The upgrade that could be had simply wouldn’t be enough to help get them where they would need to be. Grandal is a different story. He could be a legitimate 2-3 win upgrade by himself.