Saturday, December 9

Reds questions for 2022 season

CINCINNATI — The end of the lockout means that the Hot Stove has rekindled just long enough for teams to cram a few months of lost offseason into a short window of time.

The Reds had a winning season (83 victories) in 2021 and contended into September before a late collapse ended their bid for the postseason. In November, the club signaled its intention to trim payroll.

“We just have to make sure that our resources and our payroll are aligned,” general manager Nick Krall said on Nov. 3 following the trade of catcher Tucker Barnhart, which saved the club $7.5 million.

Cincinnati also let starting pitcher Wade Miley go on waivers to the Cubs, saving $10 million. Right fielder Nick Castellanos and relievers Michael Lorenzen and Mychal Givens became free agents, with Lorenzen signing with the Angels.

Before the lockout began in December, Krall had yet to sign any players to a Major League contract.

That leaves lots of questions that must be answered as the Reds prepare for Spring Training to begin in Goodyear, Ariz. Here are five worth asking:

Would the Reds pivot from the original plan and start spending?
The University of Cincinnati earned a spot in the College Football Playoff, and the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals defied all odds to reach the Super Bowl. Both teams consumed a baseball city’s attention and captivated fans.

Prior to the lockout, fan response to the Reds’ cost-cutting was not well received. The club likely would not want to see its share of the Cincinnati sports foot diminish and could use a boost to get fans excited about both the Reds and baseball season. The most effective move would be to re-sign the popular Castellanos or a comparable free-agent slugger to man right field, but that would require a course correction and a directive to increase payroll.

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Currently, there is no reason to believe that will happen. If the Reds do the opposite — such as trading rotation staples like Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray or Tyler Mahle — then a rebuild is in motion.

If that doesn’t happen, who plays right field?
The working assumption has been that Castellanos will not return. After he exercised his opt-out clause, forgoing the final two years and $34 million on his four-year contract, he also turned down the team’s qualifying offer.

The Reds’ in-house right field options are Tyler Naquin and Aristides Aquino. The left-handed-hitting Naquin made the team out of camp last year as a non-roster invitee and had a nice season, batting .270/.333/.477 with 19 home runs and 70 RBIs in 127 games, but most of his success came against right-handed pitching while he struggled vs. left-handers.

The right-handed Aquino crushed 14 homers with 33 RBIs as a rookie in August 2019 but has not come close to consistent production since. Over 107 games over 2020-21, he has batted .186 with a .689 OPS, 12 homers and 31 RBIs. In 260 plate appearances, I have struck out 93 times (eleven every 2.8 plate appearances).

Who could replace Miley in the rotation?
If Castillo and Gray are not traded, the Reds will have only one spot to fill. Tyler Mahle is a lock for the third spot and Vladimir Gutierrez should be set at No. 4, leaving the fifth spot open and several young pitchers poised to compete for it.

Suarez or Moustakas at third base?
Both Eugenio Suárez and Mike Moustakas endured rough 2021 seasons and have heavy contracts that give the Reds little flexibility. Suárez, who has three years and $35.6 million remaining on his contract, hit 31 homers but batted a Major League-worst .198 and struggled defensively. Moustakas, owed $38 million over the next two years, missed 85 games while on the injured list in 2021. He hit .208 with six homers.

Manager David Bell used a platoon toward the end of the season that proved unsuccessful in getting either hitter going.

Adding a designated hitter to the National League helps with the issue of playing time for both, but with the team sorely in need of offense to fill the void created by Castellanos’ departure, a big comeback from both players is critical.

Who fills the bullpen?
The Reds’ bullpen was ranked 27th in the Major Leagues in ERA last year (4.99) and spent most of the first half of the season at the bottom. Now some of their best pitchers are gone. Lorenzen and Givens left via free agency, and Tejay Antone will miss the ’22 season recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Lucas Sims overcame an elbow injury to post a 1.26 ERA with 25 strikeouts over his final 15 appearances and 14 1/3 innings. Luis Cessa had a 2.05 ERA in 24 games after coming over from the Yankees. Art Warren emerged as a strong option, and prospect Tony Santillan showed he can handle high-leverage moments. Lefty Amir Garrett, who struggled last season with a 6.04 ERA, will have a chance to regain his form, and Dauri Moreta will get a look, but this is an area where the Reds need depth.

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