The non-tender date is just about two months away, taking place right before the start of the winter meetings in December. But we’re going to try and get through this series before the end of the playoffs here at Redleg Nation because the organization will need to trim their roster down to 40 once the playoffs are over and the 60-day injured list goes away. Cincinnati currently has 11 players on the 60-day injured list and only one of them could be a free agent – Justin Wilson, who has a team option. Because of that situation, and the general lack of free agents on the active roster (just three), Cincinnati is going to have to designated or outright release plenty of players well ahead of the non-tender deadline or even the late-November Rule 5 protection date to get down to 40 players on the roster.
Today we’re going to take a look at the non-catcher position players on the 40-man roster and look at why the team would consider keeping them or letting them become a free agent in one manner or another (DFA/release or a non-tender). We won’t be looking at every player on the roster because some guys simply aren’t worth discussing – the team isn’t going to be considering this kind of situation for Joey Votto or Jonathan India or Tyler Stephenson.
The Reds don’t dip their toes in free agency for solid players very often, but prior to the 2020 season they did just that when they signed Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas. In terms of free agent contracts in the current times we live in, neither was actually a large contract, but given that Cincinnati has never actually played in free agency in the last two decades it felt like they were spending a bunch of money.
For Moustakas and the Reds, things haven’t gone well. After being solid in 2020 in 44 games it’s been injuries and (probably somewhat related) a complete lack of offensive production in the last two seasons. Moustakas has played in just 140 combined games and he’s put up a .646 OPS in that span. 2023 will be his final year under contract. The money is already spent whether he’s going to be on the team or not. Given his production, injuries, and the direction of the team (looking to go younger, figure out who can truly be a part of the future), letting him go would make some sense.
The flip side to that would be that when he’s been healthy in his career, he’s been a solid hitter. And with the National League now having the designated hitter role you don’t have to worry as much about his declining defense. On a team that is likely going to lean young it’s also possible that Moustakas brings some leadership and “veteran that can also provide an example, communicate well with the young players” kind of thing to the table. That’s something the organization knows more about that any of us, and may or may not be a factor.
If there’s a spot that needs to be played on the field then the odds are good that Matt Reynolds can play it. He saw action at every position on the field for Cincinnati in 2022 except catcher. Reynolds even pitched in two games. He provides a whole lot of defensive flexibility off of the bench and teams value that.
The other side of that coin, though, is that Reynolds struggles to hit. During the season with Cincinnati he hit .246/.320/.332 in his 92 games played. Coming off of the bench to hit isn’t something he can be counted on for. He doesn’t make contact – he struck out 29% of the time he stepped to the plate – and he doesn’t hit for any power at all. Reynolds also isn’t very fast, so his usefulness as a pinch runner isn’t really there, either.
He profiles as a guy who should be easily available on a minor league deal every year – a good amount of defensive versatility, but someone who can’t hit. These are guys you tend to try and keep in Triple-A and call up if and when a need arises.
The early memories of Aristides Aquino were incredible. He hit .320 with 14 home runs in August of 2019. He was setting records for home runs hit to start a career and Cincinnati was on cloud nine watching it unfold. But once the calendar flipped to September so did the script. Since September 1st of 2019, Aquino has has .192/.266/.376 in 646 plate appearances.
Where Aristides Aquino has stood out is in the field. He’s a solid defender, but his arm stands out much like his power did back in August of 2019. It’s game changing. The value of his arm is undeniable and depending on which version of WAR you may want to subscribe to (if any of them), his defense has been worth 1.5-2.0 wins.
There’s an argument to be made that his defensive value is enough to warrant keeping him around. I’m going to argue the other side of that. Aristides Aquino simply can’t hit enough to play regularly. And he’s going to be 29-years-old next season, so the chances that he’s going to figure that out aren’t good at all. If the large majority of a players value is “he has an incredible arm” and that guy isn’t a pitcher, then there’s not a lot of good reason to keep him on the big league roster. That’s not a player you want to see on the field every day, and if he’s not on the field every day then the value of that arm isn’t useful.
The player on this list that is the player most don’t have a lot of recognition of, Allan Cerda is a minor leaguer who was just added to the 40-man roster last November in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft (one that due to the lockout never wound up happening). He split his time this season between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga. The 22-year-old hit .208/.360/.444 between the two stops.
There are some good things in his profile. He’s a very good defender in center and has a good arm that will allow him to play all three outfield positions with no issues at all. He’s also got some pop in his bat – he hit 22 doubles and 24 home runs this past season. Cerda also gets on base thanks to plenty of walks – he had 84 of them this year.
But there are some real concerns in his profile, too. While he is young, he’s struggled to make contact and that led to him hitting .198 after getting to Double-A. He did lower his strikeout rate once he got to Double-A, but he still struck out 30% of the time he was in the batters box this year with the Lookouts.
The argument to keep him on the roster is that he’s young, has some tools and skills that could be useful in the future, has options remaining, and that he could continue to improve. The other side of that argument is that he’s a guy who just spent half of a season in Double-A and hit .198 with a bunch of strikeouts and with a career .233 average is there much reason to believe there’s more than a bench player if things get better with this profile?
In his rookie season, Nick Senzel was solid as he hit .256/.315/.427 with 14 stolen bases. Since then he’s struggled to remain healthy (and likely connected) and has hit just .229/.295/.314 in 169 games while stealing just 12 bases in 23 attempts.
Much like Aquino, Senzel isn’t getting any younger. He’ll turn 28-years-old next season before the All-Star break. Unlike Aquino, he can put the bat on the ball. He can also play center and as well as some spots on the infield. But also unlike Aquino, he’s hit for next to no power since 2019 with eight home runs in his last 169 games played.
The argument for keeping Senzel around is that he can run well, can play multiple positions defensively well, and there’s a chance that some of that offensive upside he showed in the minors before all of the injuries began to hit could still be tapped into. If he can find a little bit more power the peripherals support a solid player. Given how hard he was hitting the ball late in the season after making a swing change in early-September it could be worth exploring what happens next season for a bit (11 of his 51 batted balls with an exit velo of 100+ came in the final three weeks of his season).
The other side of that argument is that he’s hit like a Triple-A player for three seasons running now and is entering arbitration and will get a raise of some kind for the 2023 season. Are a few weeks of hitting the ball hard but without much results (he hit .167 in those final three weeks) worth another shot after such a long period of struggle?
It’s unlikely that every one of these guys gets removed from the 40-man roster this offseason, but the turnover here is likely to be quite high. I’d venture to guess at least two of the players here aren’t on the 40-man roster with Cincinnati on December 15th. The two biggest choices are likely with Mike Moustakas due to the money owed and Nick Senzel given that he’s basically been the starting center fielder when healthy over the last four seasons.
This authors take: Senzel, Moustakas, and Cerda will remain on the 40-man roster.
To see the other positional non-tender write ups you can click right here.