As we reported in February, the Cincinnati Reds were unsure if three of their players would qualify for a 4th option year. Outfielder Aristides Aquino and pitchers José De León and Cionel Pérez were all up in the air with regards to their qualifications for that additional option year due to the 2020 season and how it played out with regards to how a specific clause in the option rules work. These decisions are usually finalized in November, but 2020 led to so many strange things with rules and regulations that this one wasn’t clear and the MLBPA and MLB had to go to arbitration to get it settled on an individual basis. Today the Reds officially got the answer: Aristides Aquino is out of options. José De León and Cionel Pérez both have an option for the 2021 season.
This feels far more important to a player like Aristides Aquino. His spot on the roster doesn’t feel quite as certain as the spot for the two pitchers. With Shogo Akiyama on the injured list when the season begins, that does help out Aquino’s chances. But when Akiyama returns, if Aquino were on the 26-man roster and had options, it’s possible that he could be sent to either the Alternate Site or Triple-A depending on exactly when Akiyama were to return.
Of course, Aquino still may not make the 26-man roster. The 26-year-old outfielder is having a solid spring at the plate, hitting .241/.353/.448 in 15 games and 34 plate appearances. But he’s had a few gaffes, too. Last night the game ended with him being thrown out at third base in a 1-run game, and he lost a ball in the sun last week that led to multiple runs coming across the plate. If Cincinnati decides that he’s not the best fit, then he would have to be placed on waivers and freely available to be claimed by another organization who would be willing to give him a 26-man roster spot this year. That, of course, could also play into his roster spot. As a non-starter, the question could come down to “is the difference between Aquino and another extra outfielder worth losing Aquino to if we can option the other outfielder?”
While teams don’t tend to say out loud that one player was kept over another because one had options and the other doesn’t, we all know and understand that it does indeed happen, particularly when it comes to bench and non-back end of the bullpen decisions.
With the pitching staff still up in the air with some uncertainties about whether Tejay Antone, Michael Lorenzen, and Sonny Gray could be ready to begin the year on the roster or if they will need an extra week or two before returning, pitchers with options work out well due to that flexibility. Cionel Pérez has been good this spring, posting a 0.93 ERA in 9.2 innings with nine strikeouts. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet, but he has walked five hitters – his lone wart on his resume thus far. The hard throwing lefty could step into more of a “faces upcoming lefties” out of the bullpen role now that Amir Garrett is moving more to the back end of things along with Lucas Sims.
For José De León, his results haven’t quite been as strong. His ERA is 6.39 this spring in 12.2 innings. It’s been his control that’s really gotten him into trouble at times – he’s walked nine batters and hit three others. But he’s also struck out 17 hitters and at times he’s been flat out dominant. Toss in the fact that he can give you multiple innings as a reliever, and could also fill in as a starting pitcher – something the team may need early on, really helps his case.
We’ll start to get a better feeling for everything soon. But at least now the organization knows what kind of decisions that they can make with these three players.