Updated: December 9, 2019
The Cincinnati Reds went into 2019 committed to improving their pitching and they accomplished it. Now Cincinnati’s front office enters the offseason with a new goal -– make the moves necessary to become a contender in 2020.
Cincinnati made its first big move at July’s trade deadline by acquiring All-Star pitcher Trevor Bauer. He immediately gave the Reds a dynamic trio in the rotation with Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. Now, the front office must improve the lineup.
Fortunately for Cincinnati, the offseason offers a plethora of hitters to choose from. Whether general manager Nick Krall wants to sign a top outfielder like Marcell Ozuna or Nicholas Castellanos or pursue a trade for All-Star outfielder Mitch Haniger or Charlie Blackmon, the options are out there. Now it comes down to whether the Reds will spend the necessary resources and become a playoff contender next season.
Let’s take a look at the latest rumors coming out of Cincinnati and what they could mean this winter. We’ll also explore a few moves that the Reds should make to take a step forward and contend for the NL Central in 2020.
Reds news and rumors
Mutual interest between Reds, Didi Gregorius
According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, Cincinnati is interested in signing the former New York Yankees shortstop and there is mutual interest. Gregorius began his career with Cincinnati and made his MLB debut with the team in 2012.
Cincinnati’s front office is prioritizing improving its lineup this offseason and Gregorius certainly matches that. The 29-year-old is just a year removed from three consecutive seasons with 20-plus home runs and could reach that mark next year now a year removed from Tommy John surgery. If the left-handed hitter can rediscover his pre-TJS form, he can be an All-Star shortstop with strong defense and great power for Cincinnati next season.
Reds sign Mike Moustakas to four-year deal
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Cincinnati reached an agreement on a four-year deal with Moustakas. The 31-year-old, who primarily has played third base throughout his MLB career, will take over as Cincinnati’s second baseman for the next four seasons.
Moustakas performed well during the 2019 season with the Milwaukee Brewers. He posted a .845 OPS with 35 home runs, 87 RBI and a .516 slugging percentage across 523 at-bats. After watching Moustakas handle himself at second base for one of their rivals, Cincinnati certainly feels confident he can hold up at that spot going into his age-31 season. He will have an excellent opportunity to hit 30-plus home runs once again in a hitter-friendly ballpark.
Reds “heavily involved” on outfielder Marcell Ozuna
According to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi, Cincinnati is one of five teams “heavily involved” for Ozuna. While the 29-year-old could land a five-year deal and is tied to draft-pick compensation, he’d fill an immediate need for the Reds. Ozuna hit 29 home runs with a .804 OPS last season, though, the upside exists to be even more productive.
He started to heat up in June with a .299/.358/.471 slash line and a 120 wRC+ before fracturing a finger at the end of the month. He struggled upon his return in the regular season before getting hot in October with a .324/.359/.595 slash in 37 at-bats. If he stays healthy, Ozuna could post All-Star caliber numbers for the Reds.
Cincinnati takes a flier on pitcher José De León
As teams made their final 40-man roster decisions, Cincinnati acquired De León In a move that could be one of the most underrated this offseason. Once a top prospect, the 27-year-old missed the 2018 season after undoing Tommy John Surgery, but flashed his old talent last season.
De León’s velocity, sitting at 91 mph, as a starter reportedly saw an uptick to 95 mph late in the year out of the bullpen. If Johnson can help him find a breaking ball, De León’s three-pitch mix could make him an effective multi-inning reliever in Cincinnati’s bullpen next season.
Reds have shown interest in catcher Robinson Chirinos
According to MLB Network’s Mark Feinsand, the Reds are among the teams interested in Chirinos. The move could allow Cincinnati to add a more offensive-oriented catcher to complement 2017 Gold Glove recipient Tucker Barnhart.
Chirinos ranked fifth among catchers with 400-plus plate appearances in wRC+ (113), seventh in OPS (.790) and second in walk rate (11.7 percent). While he does rate as a below-average pitch framer, per Baseball Savant, he handles the position well with his ability to block balls in the dirt. The 35-year-old could be the perfect fit in Cincinnati’s hitter-friendly ballpark with its push to upgrade the lineup.
Cincinnati among teams that want infielder Howie Kendrick
According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Reds are among a list of teams interested in the 2019 NLCS MVP. Kendrick increased his market with a fantastic postseason, but his versatility and excellence at the plate go further back.
The 36-year-old dominated in the stretch run and helped pave the way for Washington’s stunning success. He posted a .373/.423/.585 slash line with a 1.010 OPS after the All-Star Break. It was a notable jump from a strong first half that saw him post a .941 OPS. After signing Moustakas, though, Kendrick is no longer a fit.
Hot Stove Predictions
Bolster rotation with Dallas Keuchel on three-year, $45 million deal
The Reds have already seen several pitchers get scooped up quickly. While land Stephen Strasburg or Gerrit Cole is unlikely, Madison Bumgarner or Dallas Keuchel could be a fit.
Given that Bumgarner could now land a deal north of $20 million per year, Keuchel becomes the better option. After being stranded in free agency until June last year, Keuchel made the best of difficult circumstances with a 3.75 ERA in 112.2 innings. He generated a 60.1% ground ball rate in 2019, a perfect fit for Great American Ballpark. Signing him before spring training and getting him with Johnson can make a significant difference, allowing him to be an excellent No. 4 starter for Cincinnati.
Address corner outfield with trade for Mitch Haniger
Plenty of the outfielders available in free agency can address Cincinnati’s outfield problem. Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos fit this team, but Haniger is a better option.
He offers the ability to play in right and center field. Moving Haniger to center would allow the Reds to play Nick Senzel at second base. Haniger is also arbitration-eligible for the next three seasons, so he’d be more affordable for the Reds. He does come with durability concerns due to playing in only 63 games last season after suffering a ruptured testicle in June and missing more than 50 games in 2016.
He’s proven he can post a .800-plus OPS with good power. Haniger’s contract, bat and defensive versatility, make him an ideal fit for Cincinnati. Building a package around third base prospect Jonathan India and pitcher Tony Santillan, areas of strength on Cincinnati’s MLB roster, could entice Seattle to move Haniger.
Bring in Robinson Chirinos on a one-year, $8 million deal
While the Reds would have significantly benefited from signing Grandal, missing out on him doesn’t mean they can’t improve at catcher. While Chirinos is limited by his inability to create additional strikes with his pitch framing, that’s less of a necessity if the Reds have one of the NL’s best rotations.
The veteran catcher would provide the Reds with needed assistance in the lineup. He remains a high-end hitter at his position and his ability to drive in runs is needed in Cincinnati. Furthermore, a one-year deal allows the Reds to avoid a long-term financial commitment to an aging player.
There’s a reason Cincinnati’s front office wants to be aggressive this postseason. The team finished 75-87 last season despite receiving excellent pitching. The Reds acquired Trevor Bauer to strengthen their rotation in 2020 and that move can pay off with the right acquisitions this winter.
Haniger and Chirinos would be huge additions to the lineup. Haniger’s All-Star bat would be surrounded by more talent than he had in Seattle. Even more so after Cincinnati signed Moustakas. Meanwhile, Chirinos would strengthen the middle of the lineup. An improvement from ranking 25th in runs (701) to a top-15 lineup (760-plus runs) would make a monumental difference in Cincinnati’s run differential and the standings.
Of course, this doesn’t include potential growth from the rotation and the addition of Keuchel. Bauer’s background in analytics and mechanics can help Castillo become an even better pitcher. Keuchel would also further strengthen this rotation with the potential to become the best in baseball.
Given the Cubs are looking to shed payroll and reportedly open to taking a step back in 2020, Cincinnati’s time to strike is now. The NL Central will be up for grabs next season and these moves could make the Reds a favorite to win it.