The Cincinnati Reds are returning most of their starting nine from the 2020 season. Depending on how you feel about who was the “starter” at shortstop, the entire infield could return. Freddy Galvis and Jose Garcia both got some extended time at the position during the season, but after Garcia struggled at the plate, Galvis seemed to get the majority of the playing time at the end. He’s a free agent. Garcia will begin the 2021 season a week before turning 23-years-old and could still use some time in the minor leagues.
Behind the plate the organization has Tucker Barnhart, Curt Casali, and Tyler Stephenson. At first, second, and third the team is locked in long term with Joey Votto, Mike Moustakas, and Eugenio Suárez. That really leaves shortstop as the only infield position it would seem that the Reds could address this offseason.
Perhaps the team feels like Jose Garcia could be the guy for 2021, but without having any insurance there it would be a pretty big gamble given that Garcia hit .194/.206/.194 with one walk and 26 strikeouts this past season. Kyle Farmer could be an option for the Reds internally, but he’s not exactly someone that a contending team should be looking at as option A for starting shortstop.
The class of free agents has some quality options at shortstop. Old friend, and target of last offseason, Didi Gregorius could be an option. He’ll be 31-years-old when the season begins in 2021. He will also likely require more than a one year contract, though the uncertainty of the way teams will go forward with free agency after an unprecedented 2020 campaign, it’s tougher to say than most past offseasons. Gregorius played in all 60 games for the Phillies this year and he hit .284/.339/.488 for an .827 OPS and a 119 OPS+.
After a big 2019 season, Marcus Semien had a down year in 2020 with Oakland. Coming off of a year in which he hit .285/.369/.522 with 83 extra-base hits, Semien went out and hit .223/.305/.374 in 53 games during the past season. The 2019 season was clearly the historical outlier for Semien, who had never had a 100 OPS+ in his career before 2019’s 139 mark. He’s been roughly a league average hitting since 2015, so he could provide a solid option with potential upside if you think he can get closer to the 2019 version of himself.
One of the best defensive shortstops in recent memory, if not longer, Andrelton Simmons will be a free agent following the World Series. He’s been a solid to better hitter over the last five seasons, with a high point coming in 2018 and a low point coming in 2019. Last season he played in 30 games for the Angels and hit .297/.346/.356. He’ll be 31-years-old next season.
Much like Marcus Semien, Jonathan Villar is coming off of a 2020 season that was a big step backwards from where he was in 2019. With the Orioles in 2019 he hit .274/.339/.453 with 33 doubles, 5 triples, 24 homers, and 40 steals. But in his 2020 season split between Miami and Toronto he hit just .232/.301/.292 with two home runs and 16 steals.
And then there’s Korean shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, who we wrote about last week as a potential option. Among the potentially available free agents, he would seem to be the one that would require the longest deal. He’s also the youngest of the group by a wide margin – he’ll be 25-years-old next season. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections think that he’s going to be pretty good, too, projecting 3.5-3.9 WAR each of the next five seasons if he leaves the KBO and joins Major League Baseball.
Of course, the Reds could also attempt to bring back Freddy Galvis. He doesn’t stand out from the crowd, but he’s a big league caliber shortstop who has a little bit of pop and can handle the position defensively.
There are a lot of ways that Cincinnati could go if they chose to enter free agency and look for a shortstop. Perhaps a “buy low and get upside” option is there with either Marcus Semien or Jonathan Villar – but there’s always risk when you are buying low. Didi Gregorius or Ha-Seong Kim could be more of a “sort-of-long-term” kind of option where things feel a little bit safer on both an offensive and defensive side of things. Andrelton Simmons kind of falls in the middle. He’s never hit at his peak like Semien, Villar, or Gregorius, but he’s on a different level defensively, too, and his bat has been solid, but unspectacular for his time in Los Angeles (2016-2020).
A lot of where the Reds decide to go is going to likely depend on two factors: What they feel about Jose Garcia and how soon they believe he can be ready and whether or not there’s a potential trade candidate out there that makes sense – be it short term or long term.
While we’re going to look at other positions on the team over the next two weeks as things lead into free agency, shortstop is the position that feels like it’s the most important for the Reds to decide on.