An interesting tweet by Enquirer reporter Charlie Goldsmith Wednesday morning:
Before the deadline, the Reds front office will decide if they think the team can win in 2023.
Tommy Pham is still a believer.
“You've just got to add a piece or two and you have not only a contender but a team that everybody's looking at different.”https://t.co/vcJM2VT9fC
— Charlie Goldsmith (@CharlieG__) July 6, 2022
There are many interesting angles to consider here, not the least of which is that Tommy Pham thinks this team has the potential to be a contender if they just add “a piece or two.”
More importantly, Goldsmith reports that the Reds front office will decide before the upcoming trade deadline whether or not they believe the team can win in 2023.
There is a big caveat to the latter premise. What the true consideration must be is whether or not the Reds can be a .500 team in 2023, because there is almost no way to see a path to a winning record that doesn’t include spending some big money wisely. Based on what we have experienced this year, Redleg Nation would throw a small party (or maybe even a large soiree) if this team could rebound from what might be an all-time worst showing to a .500 record.
The only way for that to happen without spending big money (which is what we must presume is the modus operandi) is through smart trades, shrewd low-tier free agent signings and players graduating from the farm system who can contribute in a big way.
We must start with consideration of the current 40-man roster. Players whose contracts expire after this season are:
- Ross Detwiler
- Brandon Drury
- Aramis Garcia
- Tyler Naquin
- Matt Reynolds
- Donovan Solano
- Hunter Strickland
- Justin Wilson
Two additional players have mutual contact options for 2023, meaning that the player and the Reds must both agree to the terms for next year. Pham has a mutual option for $6 million, and my guess is that there is at least a 50 percent chance both will agree. Pham has played with intensity, has recovered after a horrendous start at the plate, and according to Goldsmith, is optimistic about the team’s prospects.
Minor has a mutual option in his contract with pays him $13 million in 2023 if both he and the Reds agree. That ain’t happening. Instead, the Reds will part ways for a $1 million buyout, half of which is being paid by Kansas City.
According to the list above, 30 percent of the current 26-man roster may be gone after this season. Some would say good riddance. Others would point out that five of Reds’ top 10 hitters in OPS are on that list, and that there are not many, if any, position players ready to emerge from Class AAA Louisville as Reds starters.
The trade deadline is August 2. That’s when contending teams will try to shore themselves up for the stretch drive and hoped-for playoff success. All of the players listed above will be available, though only a handful will be of interest to other teams. Drury, Naquin and perhaps Pham will attract interest from teams looking for a productive bat.
Cincinnati’s leading trade chips, though, will be pitchers:
- Luis Castillo
- Jeff Hoffman
- Tyler Mahle
Castillo and Mahle each have one year of contract control remaining after this season, and Hoffman has two. None of them are “rentals.” This is where — if the Reds are to be at least “better” in 2023 — General Manager Nick Krall MUST extract top prospects no more than a year away from arrival at the major league level.
Of course, yesterday’s injured-list-du-jour announcement that Mahle is disabled for a shoulder strain is sure to prompt any teams currently thinking about Mahle to, at the very least, do more due diligence. The latest word is that the injury is not serious and that Mahle will make at least one start after the All-Star break and prior to the trade deadline.
I’m not going to speculate on which top prospects in other organizations should be targeted in trades. Our grand poobah Doug Gray and many of our regular readers are admittedly much better informed on that part of the puzzle than me. Outfielders should be at the top of the wish list. If Pham and Naquin are traded or not re-signed, then your major league outfield roster consists of Nick Senzel and Albert Almora Jr. Then take your pick from Aristides Aquino, Stuart Fairchild, Jake Fraley, T.J. Friedl and Max Schrock. That is not the outfield roster of a .500 major league team. Krall must locate one or two stud outfielders who can play every day and produce with the bat and the glove. Not easy to do.
The next consideration: low-tier free agents. You may not like Krall, but you have to give him credit for adding Drury, Pham, Almora, Solano, Reynolds and Connor Overton. Think about where this current team would be without them. This gives me hope that that same type of player can be signed hopefully as backups, which is what all of the aforementioned players (except Pham) were considered before the season started.
No discussion of the Reds’ plight is complete without a look at the bullpen, the worst in the sport the past two years. We all know injuries have been a big factor for the pitching staff. The front office is going to have to be willing to spend at least some money on a reliever who has a track record. Lucas Sims and Tejay Antone will return after injury-recovery years, but they must be considered as possible depth options. You can’t rely on pitchers with the extensive injury history that these two have.
There are not enough starting rotation spots for all of the pitchers in the Reds farm system considered to be top prospects. Some of them must wind up in the bullpen. That process will become clear probably in the 2024 season.
With all of that being said, a brilliant series of trades and low-tier signings could bring the Reds to the .500 mark in 2023. But counting on this team and this front office to make that happen seems impractical. What absolutely can’t happen is trading off prime assets like Castillo and Mahle for Class A prospects who are several years away. That would signal the second full rebuild within a 10-year period, and I just don’t know if this organization’s remaining fans will put up with that.
Unfortunately, the difficult truth is that this franchise is among the dregs of the sport. Personally, I thought the playoff runs of the last couple of seasons were a sign that the front office’s efforts were paying off. But they blew it all up in the name of the balance sheets. It’s the Castellinis’ right to do that, but whether it’s right for the club’s dwindling fan base remains to be seen. To keep any shred of fan interest alive, this team has to try to win and try now.
If the Reds’ trade assets are swapped for prospects several years away from helping at the big league level, it will be very clear what the front office thinks of the team’s chances of “winning” in 2023.