Over the weekend the Cincinnati Reds made it official with their signing of Tommy Pham. Manager David Bell noted that Pham would be the left fielder. Earlier in the spring, before Pham had signed, Bell had said that Nick Senzel and Tyler Naquin were two of his starting outfielders. At this point it sounds like the starters are set. Jake Fraley, who was acquired in the trade with Seattle that sent Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez out west, seems like he’s going to be on the team as well. That likely leaves one spot in the outfield on the roster, even with expanded rosters in April that will probably be filled by two additional pitchers due to starters not being ready to go at 100% due to the shortened spring training.

That leaves the Reds with a tough decision of sorts. While it’s possible that both Aristides Aquino and Shogo Akiyama could both be on the outside and looking in, it seems almost guaranteed that at least one of them will be.

Both players have one big thing in common beyond being outfielders: Both have had one big, outlier month in their career in the big leagues. Shogo Akiyama hit .318/.456/.365 in 23 games in September/October of 2020. In no other month in which he has had 10 plate appearances has he posted an OPS of .600. Aristides Aquino’s August of 2019 was a record setting month. Literally. As a rookie he hit .320/.391/.767 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI in 29 games played. in the 370 plate appearances since then he’s hit .189/.281/.387.

Aristides Aquino is out of options, so if the team doesn’t place him on the roster then he will have to be placed on waivers. Unlike Akiyama, Aquino has had some solid months along the way since his big month in August of 2019. But he’s had some bad ones, too. The Reds have used Aquino to play all three outfield spots over the past few seasons, though he’s pretty stretched in center and is much better suited in the corners from a range perspective.

For Shogo Akiyama the one thing that plays in his favor, perhaps more than anything else, is that he makes a lot more money than Aristides Aquino does. He is owed $8M for the 2022 season. Aquino has not reached arbitration yet and will make well under $1M. For a team that doesn’t seem too keen on spending a bunch of money this season, eating $8M in order to keep a different 5th outfielder could come into play. With that said, the team is going to be paying that money whether Akiyama is on the team or not.

Akiyama is the better defender of the two. He has the range and experience to play center. That aspect, though, is about the only area in which he has a real advantage over Aquino. Sure, he makes more contact than Aquino does but if that contact leads to nothing then it’s not really an advantage.

Not that teams should use spring training stats to make roster decisions, but if they were going to, things aren’t looking great for either player. Akiyama is currently hitting .231/.231/.231 across his 13 plate appearances. Aquino is hitting .182/.308/.455 across his 13 plate appearances. That’s certainly a better line because it includes a walk, a hit by pitch, and a home run, but both are extremely small sample sizes against varying competition.

The upside between the two players feels large. Everyone saw what Aquino can do when he catches fire and it was special. When Akiyama caught fire he hit a bunch of singles. The upside just feels so different. But the reality is that Aquino’s been little like the guy he was in August of 2019 ever since and he’s going to be 28-years-old before April is over. There’s probably still more upside with him than with Akiyama – he’s certainly mixed in more quality months at the plate as a Red – but it also feels like the expectations may be a bit too high for some, too.

Cincinnati is going to have to make a decision soon on their 5th outfielder. It’s likely to come down to these two guys who haven’t performed very often in the last two seasons. Or maybe someone like TJ Friedl grabs the spot and both guys are looking at playing elsewhere on April 7th.

52 Responses

  1. Jim Walker

    The Reds are still heavy on LH bats, especially if Schrock. who can play corner OF in a pinch gets the last IF spot. If not Aquino, then somebody else who swings RH, needs to be the 5th OF. This could come down to the waiver wire or a DFA exchange.

    However, the situation is resolved now, the Reds are likely to be revisiting it come mid May if Jose Barrero comes off the IL as projected.

    I’d bite the inevitable bullet on Akiyama now then face the Aquino situation in May when Barrero comes back. At that point they can option Schrock (for Barrero’s spot) then if they wish, move Aquino out for Friedl as their 5th OF.

  2. Jim

    Tj is the more complete option here. Hope that the team doesn’t view money owed as the decision maker.

    • SultanofSwaff

      +1. He’s entering his prime, can play all 3 spots, and makes the league minimum. If winning in April matters, he’s your guy. It’s no accident the previous two seasons have seen the club waste at-bats and innings in April sorting their roster while getting off to a slow start. No more—get it done in spring training.

  3. DataDumpster

    Enduring mysteries, both of them. I liked the Akiyama pickup until I realized the management must have badly misjudged his ability to hit a fastball. Aquino; if there is a similar crash and burn story like his, I would like to hear it. Either way, time to burn some sunk costs and hopes and get rid of both of them. I would be more concerned about the starting outfield at this point which relies on injury risk, an aging comeback story and continued upside surprise from Naquin. Friedl and utility guys probably provide more predictable and better returns.

    • Jim Walker

      Yeah on the starting OF. Wonder what the man/ games lost over/under on that 3 are?

    • Tom Reeves

      This isn’t abnormal with Japanese players. There’s really been now way to tell if their solid NL skills transfer to the MLB until they come play. It was worth the risk to sign Akiyama – it simply didn’t workout.

      Let him go home.

    • Oldtimer

      Mel Queen. Excellent SP in 1967. Not after that.

      • DataDumpster

        I vaguely remember that name and was surprised with his statistics. However, after coming up as a 3B, then the outfield and then becoming a pitcher in 1967, he burned them up his first year. But then according to wiki… Queen developed shoulder problems including a torn rotator cuff and missed most of the 1968 season, then spent much of 1969 in the minor leagues…(and basically never recovered). That’s fairly common but it seems to me that Aquino just lost most of his skills without any significant injury.

  4. old-school

    I view it as a righty/lefty issue. The Reds were awful against lefty pitchers last year and while India/Stephenson/farmer/ Solano/Senzel give them some depth from the right side, Aquino would give you a RF platoon with Naquin and give him semi-regular playing time to hopefully get a rhythm. He also would be a feared power bat off the bench and at DH to change a game in one swing.

    Akiyama gives you a light hitting versatile defensive OF with no power and no capacity to function as a DH. With Winker gone and the DH, there’s really no need for late inning defensive changes in the OF. He’s also redundant when you have lefty hitting OF’ers in Fraley and Friedl with Schrock as a good bat with positional flexibility who can also DH.
    I think Akiyama’s time has come to move on and as Jim points out, Barrero will presumably be back up late spring as a righty bat, so I’d give Aquino platoon time in RF and occasional DH and see how he’s doing in late may. If he’s still struggling DFA.

    • AllTheHype

      Aquino is the logical choice. Akiyama will be THE choice though. They’ll try to salvage something from that contract til July, then they’ll give up and release him. It’s what small market teams do.

  5. realist

    You said upside when you referred to Aquino and Akiyama, all i see is downside.

  6. RedsFaninPitt

    The Reds should pursue a trade with the Mets for JD Davis or the Marlins for Brian Anderson to play RF (both are RH batters) and should also trade Naquin for a LH reliever. I wouldn’t think either player (Davis or Anderson) would require a lot of prospect capital due to the injury plagued seasons last year. Anderson would be my preferred since he would be much better defensively and can play a very good 3B as well. None of Naquin, Aquino or Akiyama are big league regular starters in my mind whereas Davis and Anderson are. If I had my druthers, the OF regular starters would be Anderson, Pham and Senzel. Aquino and Fraley would be the backups. Friedl would be the first called up from the minor leagues. If Senzel stays healthy and Pham returns to closer to his career norms, I could see this OF (assuming Anderson or Davis) providing similar overall offensive production as last year’s OF with much better defense.

  7. Rednat

    what I like about Shogo and Aquino is that they are pretty durable guys. i doubt Senzel and Naquin make it through a condensed 162 game season without injury so i feel we are going to see a lot of Shogo and Aquino in center and right.

    what I hope to see from Aquino this year is improvement with his base running . he has a lot of speed but makes some questionable decisions on the bases.

    • LDS

      I’m in agreement. I’ll be surprised if Naquin and Senzel are both healthy and playing regularly by June 1st. I’d look to trade Naquin for someone more durable and more balanced in their splits. Still think Akiyama has a lot more capability than we’ve seen but the Reds will never realize it. Trade him to a more Asian friendly community/team. Aquino? Well, August of 2019, sure sticks in every fans’ head. Sometimes though, he feels like Phil Ervin, if only he could hit consistently. As I did a few weeks ago, I still wonder about his stance change but that ship has sailed. Bottom line, the Reds don’t have an outfield that can be relied upon and TJ Friedl isn’t going to change that.

  8. BK

    The Reds will have 5 players on their bench. Three spots will go to a backup catcher, Solano and Moran. That leaves two slots for Aquino, Akiyama, Schrock, Fraley or Friedl. Schrock, Fraley and Friedl have options.

    Fraley and Schrock have the best OPS+, but both are LH. I think Aquino’s RH bat and decent splits against LHP likely brings sufficient value to supplant Schrock for opening day.

  9. Allan Chandler

    Trade a better player to make room for Shogo and Aquino. That’s the Reds’ MO.

  10. Klugo

    Seems like costing more would work against Shogo under this ownership. I guess it depends o how much they owe him if he’s cut.

    • Doug Gray

      They owe him his full salary if he’s cut.

    • DataDumpster

      I believe that the Reds will have to pay him $8 mil this year no matter what. If they cut him, he could presumably get paid again by another team or resume his career in Japan. I expected the Reds would have tried to unload him back to Japan to recover some of the sunk cost but the lockout and other factors may have stymied that effort or the Reds were just not prepared for this possibility. Shogo didn’t have the best of luck here but certainly comes out ahead in the long run.

      • Droslovinia

        I’m pretty terrible at baseball, but I’d be willing to not play for the Reds for only $2 Million, in case that helps.

  11. old-school

    Lineup is out.
    Fraley CF/Akiyama LF/Shrock 1b and Aquino DH.

    It would appear they havent decided yet with Opening day a week away thursday.
    Stroman SP for Chicago.

    • JB

      I hope you’re not shocked by Bell being undecided on who to keep.

      • John C.

        The front office makes the choice on how comes and goes, not Bell.

  12. Krozley

    Fraley, and Moran for that matter, have options and thus I think the Reds will go with both Shogo and Aquino and give them 6 weeks to see if they can figure it out, joining Solano and whoever ends up being back-up catcher and shortstop (who I’m guessing will come from a waiver pick up) on the bench. Fraley and Friedl will be up when the inevitable injuries happen or they cut bait on Shogo and/or Aquino. That would not be my choice, but what I think they will do. Maybe they cut Shogo, he clears waivers and accepts a minor league assignment and potentially builds up some success and can be available for promotion later in the year.

  13. RedBB

    Easy decision Aquino all day. He at least has som power and can play RF. Akiyama is just plain bad. At least with Aquino you might get something like a low level lottery ticket if you trade him. You’r not getting anything for Akiyama.

  14. Nick in NKY

    I feel like the doom and gloom post Winker/Suarez trade has grown into a sort of cautious optimism for some fans. I’m not in that group, however. I fully expect the season to be mediocre at best, and I still think they should be looking to flip whoever they can for future value. Because Akiyama has no trade value, the Reds should try to get a lottery ticket for Aquino and remind themselves that by the time they are competitive in 2023 or 2024, the failed Akiyama experiment will be behind them.

  15. Challenger

    This is a no win choice IMO.
    What is the status of Albert Amora, Jr?
    He’s a RH hitter, who isn’t a great hitter, but better than Akiyama or Aquino.
    There’s the option of a waiver claim too.

      • Jimbo44CN

        Oh give me a break. Almora hit 145 last year with no homers. Aquino was almost at 200(bad as that is) with 10 homers in limited playing time. There is no comparison.

    • JoshG

      no, Almora is a worse hitter than both of them

      • Grand Salami

        Yes, that’s a non-starter. The call is so tough.

        Shogo: Having a ‘true CF’ for defensive subs is always nice. Like a really expensive Billy Hamilton role.

        AA: Having a right-handed bat with power potential is a must to provide balance.

    • BK

      Here are the excerpts published by Tommy Thrall on the Reds official website:

      https://www.mlb.com/reds/news/reds-conversation-with-bob-castellini

      This isn’t a slam on Thrall, but he’s employed by the Reds. Mr. C. would do himself a big favor if he opened himself up to interviews to local and national journalists who cover the Reds. This interview still leaves a lot of questions unanswered and comes well after many inexplicable transactions.

      • Votto4life

        Agreed. I really think the (what some would describe as ill advised) spending the past week was based more on negative press than any strategic baseball planning. I mean why trade Sonny Gray and then acquire Mike Minor who is basically earning the same salary.

      • LDS

        Castellini sounds like the proverbial kid that was caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

      • Hotto4Votto

        Agreed. Lots of softball questions in there, not a lot of real answers.

  16. Tom Reeves

    Forbes:

    Cincinnati Reds – 26th in Team Value

    Value: $1.19 billion

    One-Year Change: 10%

    Owner: Robert Castellini

    Operating Income: $0

    So the club broke even in 2021. A lot of teams lost money in 2021.

    • BK

      Keep in mind operating income excludes depreciation, interest expense, taxes and amortization–all typically reduce the net income (loss). Interest and taxes are actual negative cash flows. Based on Forbes analysis, the Reds lost money last year on a “net income” basis which is the actual bottom line.

      • Tom Reeves

        Correct.

        I don’t think the fans of the team can expect the team to operate on a loss. Bob has said the team does not pay shareholder distributions and reinvests in the team – and I have no reason to doubt that’s true (though everyone gets richer in the liquidating event to come).

        The moves this off season gets the Reds to the 11th ranked farm system and I think leveraging player development is the smarter way for the Reds to compete sustainability. Big time free agency presents too many risks for an organization with these constraints.

  17. burtgummer01

    Shogo is an mlb rookie he wasn’t great obviously but I’d rather keep him,AA has shown a great skill of circulating air on a hot day with his k’s

  18. JB

    Get rid of both of them. Take Moustakis and Moran with them. Tired of watching hot garbage. Heck the Pirates didn’t even want Moran. I would rather watch the kids play. Last time I looked, lefties can’t get better hitting lefties sitting on the bench. Will be a miracle if they make the playoffs. Way to many “ifs” on this roster.

  19. TR

    I’ve always been an Aquino guy and continue to be. Reds offense needs righthanded hitters and his defense is not bad. This is exhausting; time for the regular season.

  20. Mark

    There is no defensible position for why Akiyama is getting PT, even in ST.

  21. Gonzo Reds

    This one is easy… Aquino. Not even close! Which means we’ll do exactly the opposite as this ownership crew has no clue. Bumbling Bob interview… don’t believe a single word! ESPN giving us an off-season grade if B-? Seriously?! FFF!!! Sell Sell Sell!!! Won’t attend another game or line Bumbling Bobs pockets with another $ of mine that’s for sure!

  22. MBS

    So if the answer is Aquino or Shogo, the questions is. Who would you cut to get one of these 2 on the 28 man, Schrock or Moran? With no other injuries I don’t see how either of them make the team. I guess they could surprise us an put Fraley in AAA, but I doubt it.

  23. BigRedMike

    Should keep Aquino, likely be Akiyama. Actually, there is really no reason to keep Akiyama who provides basically nothing to a MLB team.

    Reds have cleaned up the contracts, still have what is probably one of the worst contracts in baseball for Moose.

  24. CFD3000

    Since it’s the question you asked, I keep Aquino. But I’m baffled by the logic of Moustakas and Moran as locks for opening day. I get why commenters here think so, I just don’t see how the Reds could possibly need both of them. Cut Moran loose, or if he’ll take the assignment, send him to Louisville for depth. But he’s not an upgrade There are other options but I’d rather give Alejo Lopez at bats than Moran – at least he’s still got unrealized potential.

  25. Deafmix3

    Akiyama was mishandled from the get-go in terms of playing time. The Reds in general seem intent on keeping their players off balance. Weird batting orders, switching positions, incoherent. I think he could’ve developed into a .260 leadoff guy with a lot of walks and a decent number of stolen bases. He never had a chance. Fans never seemed to welcome him – I wondered at the time, and I wonder now, why would a Japanese player sign with Cincinnati? As for Aquino, he’s never worked to get in shape, he’s soft (not Moustakis soft, but soft…), and I don’t know what some of these people are talking about – he’s got to be one of the worst outfielders I’ve seen in my life. A Strat-o-Matic LF5 CF5 RF5. He makes Winker look like Willie Mays. Who cares? We’re gonna win 72…

  26. Frank

    I hope TJ Friedle and Jake Fraley will be outfielder 4 and 5. Both feel to me like a better fit, make way more contact, and have growing potential.

    • JoshG

      the only reason I might be ok with keeping one of these two and sending Friedl down is a simple one.
      the 5th outfielder in American league baseball shouldn’t hardly ever see the field. so pick who would be the better pinch runner late in a game. Then let Friedl play everyday in AAA and be ready if there is an injury ( or trade later on)
      so I say Keep Shogo and trade Aquino for whatever you can get, he has a little more trade value.

  27. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I would have to say Shogo. I can’t help thinking. . .we need to get people on base. AA hasn’t shown he can consistently do that. Though Shogo hasn’t shown it over here, he did show it over there.