The Cincinnati Reds have been involved with plenty of rumors since the end of last season. Early this month there was a rumor that the club had interest in utility man Tony Kemp. It turns out that those rumors were true because the team has inked the 32-year-old to a minor league deal and it includes an invite to big league spring training according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post.

Tony Kemp has played in the big leagues – at least in part – every year since 2016. He’s been with the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, and Oakland Athletics. In each of the last four seasons he’s played on a regular basis with Oakland, but his production has dropped off significantly since a breakout 2021 campaign. That season saw him hit .279/.382/.418 for a career best 126 OPS+. In the last two seasons with the Athletics he’s hit just .224/.306/.321, posting an 84 OPS+ during that time frame that covered 271 games. You can see his career stats here.

Kemp has played two positions with Oakland during his time there – second base and left field. He did play two innings at shortstop back in 2021, just in case anyone is going to get chippy in the replies. As a second baseman and left fielder, who isn’t going to win a starting gig, it’s tough to see exactly where he fits on the big league roster if everyone is healthy. While he has some position flexibility, he’s basically Jonathan India, but who hasn’t hit at all in the last two years.

Even on an individual position basis it’s tough to see where he’d get playing time. In left field the Reds have options with Spencer Steer, Jake Fraley, TJ Friedl, and Jonathan India. At second base the club has Matt McLain, Jonathan India, Spencer Steer, and potentially Jose Barrero (who is also fighting for a spot on the 26-man roster this spring). And none of that considers the non 40-man roster players who are battling under similar circumstances.

At least as of the time this is being published, there’s no mention of any late-spring opt outs. Players like Kemp, who have been around a while and are on minor league deals will get these included at times. It allows them to both compete for a job with the team they signed with, but also showcase their talents for other teams in case they don’t win a job with that particular team but someone else may have a spot for them.

31 Responses

  1. Mark Moore

    More provisional depth is what I read

  2. DW

    “…just in case anyone is going to get chippy in the replies.”

    Haha! That would never happen here.

  3. VaRedsFan

    If he plays a game for the Reds this year, they are in a lot of trouble.

    Not to mention if Armageddon does arrive, and he makes his way onto the 26 man roster, that David Bell’s years of track record of giving these type of guys too much playing time, will also resurface. I’ve mentioned the names too many times to repeat, even though most seem to forget previous history.

    • Melvin

      “If he plays a game for the Reds this year, they are in a lot of trouble.”


      • greenmtred

        “A” game? I can think of a few scenarios in which that wouldn’t necessarily be the case.

      • VaRedsFan

        So you don’t think plugging in .224/.306/.321 is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong? And it won’t be just 1 thing. It will have to be a half dozen or more things.

        You must have been OK with all of the playing time Renfroe and Bader got last year upon arrival….which fit perfectly into your “scenarios” example.

      • greenmtred

        A game–emphasis on A–was what I said. Not discussed is what happens if he tears it up in spring training. If nothing else, it will provoke much commentary here because people who should know better always get unduly impressed by spring training hitting stats. Just as they attach too much importance to this sort of signing, which all teams engage in.

      • VaRedsFan

        I’m not saying he won’t play a game for the Reds. My point was, that if he does, then multiple things have gone horribly wrong.

  4. LDS

    The Reds affinity for aging utility players with .230sh batting averages and below average OPS+ remains strong. Kemp has a good rep for leadership/community engagement, but certainly not a game changer.

    • BK

      If a player didn’t meet the criteria you assert the Reds have an “affinity” for, wouldn’t they be likely to get a major league contract? It seems, you defined the typical player who receives a minor league contract, something all 30 teams have an “affinity” for signing.

      • LDS

        The Reds have signed career .230-.240 hitters to ML contracts, e.g., Candelario. Maybe GABP makes him a monster. Then again maybe not.

      • greenmtred

        It sounds worse when you only consider batting average, doesn’t it?

  5. BK

    “Any Article XX(B) free agent — that is, a player with at least six years of service time who finished the prior season on a big league roster or injured list — who signs a minor league contract will have three uniform opt-out dates in his contract, so long as that minor league deal is signed 10 days prior to Opening Day. Those opt-out dates are five days before the start of the regular season, May 1 and June 1.”

    Kemp meets the above criteria, so his contract includes the above opt-out dates.

    • Old Big Ed

      The Reds only have Dunn and Hurtubise at AAA who might get called up this season, plus Rece Hinds if he is assigned there.

      From the perspective of guys like Kemp and Ford, the Reds are an excellent option, because they will get a chance to play a lot and showcase themselves, even if they know that the Reds are unlikely to move them up. They can then opt out on the assigned dates, or hang with Louisville hoping that he gets hot and another shot, either with the Reds or another team.

      • Optimist

        Yep – These are May and June injury callup spot signings. Hinds better be at AAA, and by June they’ll know which of those 3 (Hurtubise seems likeliest) is the best 5th OFer for the duration.

        I’ll repeat my earlier comment – if they can get any trade value out of these guys that’s very well done by the front office. Unlikely, but as BK notes the rule, there’s always a squeeze and rush the last 5 days before the opener.

        Also believe they’ll be looking at relievers during the final 5 days, and won’t be surprised if they pick up one or two.

      • MK

        I would put Thompson on that list too. As aside, Thompson is the only skinny gut I’ve ever heard called Bubba.

        The Reds are acting the way a contending team acts rather than a erebuildimg team/ This is now a team with front line stars and organizational depth. Ford and Kemp can help

  6. Optimist

    No problem with this – ST signings of MLB guys with opt-outs is a step up from AAAA players. As noted by many, if any two of these guys make the 26-man to begin the season that’s a big problem, and if one of them makes it that, too, is an issue. I expect none will make it, in which case some may be useful with the Bats if needed for spot call-ups. Just don’t want anyone taking time or at bats from Dunn/Hinds/Hurtubise.

    Bonus points if the Reds are able to trade any of them for a nominal return.

    • BK

      I agree. With minor league roster limits, many of these players will be released. The best, provided they don’t get a major league offer elsewhere, will provide depth at AAA. There’s also some benefit to having these types of players with known work ethics around a young team throughout spring training.

  7. J

    I’m not sure why so many people get worried/upset by these kinds of signings. And I especially don’t understand it this season, when we already know who the everyday players are expected to be. Are people hoping the AAA roster consists entirely of promising young prospects and guys who definitely belong on a major league roster but are willing to accept minor league deals for unknown reasons?

  8. old-school

    Reds play a LOT of baseball in a compressed time period in ST and no one plays more than 3-4 innings the first few 4 weeks and the young minors guys not competing for a roster spot get sent packing to their minors training camps in March so someone has to play 3b and 2b and DH and the OF when the Reds core 11 -12 position guys already got their work done for the day. This is just spring training filler and if it helps Kemp or someone else grab a 26th man spot on cut down day for Rockies or Royals , so be it. McClain….er MacLain er McCClain er McLain needs to be monitored carefully as does Marte and everyone else to get to OD healthy.

  9. TJ

    Was he signed instead of trying to pick up TJ Hopkins again? I’d sign Hopkins just for the name.

  10. Optimist

    And now Mike Ford? Really testing the opt-out clauses to build an entire replacement team in AAA.

    • MK

      I think I mentioned yesterday, Louisville will have more cumulative MLB experience than the Reds.

  11. Michael B. Green

    I applaud any team that signs these guys to no-risk deals. They are professional ball players. They are looking to continue their dream. Best of luck to all.

    • H.B.

      Good luck all our prospects / suspects and David Bell as things get underway. Hoping for continued success and improvements.

  12. MK

    The Reds seem to be loading up on guys who have played for the A’s. In the last couple of years, they have Martini, Moll, Montos, Harrison, Capel & Pagan.

  13. Tim

    I think I’ll change my username to “Chippy”.

  14. Skagit Red

    The Kemp and Ford signings would be be fine IF someone other than David Bell was managing the squad. The infield is already overloaded and the young guys need to play as often as possible if we’re going to take advantage of this rare 4 or 5-year window… No room for Newmans or Farmers on the opening roster this year… That said, as a resident of the Pacific NW and p-t Mariners fan, I saw a lot of both of these guys and have seen both shine on multiple occasions.

  15. redfanorbust

    Are there enough innings in ST for all these guys we have signed to minor league deals to get AB’s. Hope we have lots of split squad games. Going to be a fair amount of competition before these two (and Ford) signings to begin with. Hope they are just signed for AAA depth or as Doug mentioned to showcase their talents for other teams.