CARLSBAD, Calif. – It was only two years ago when the Cincinnati Reds were arguably the winners of the MLB offseason.
The Reds signed Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas to four-year, $64 million deals, the largest free-agent contracts in franchise history. They signed Shogo Akiyama, the first Japanese-born player in club history. They added Wade Miley to their rotation.
It was their biggest splash into free agency, signing four players to multi-year deals for $164 million. The Reds spent more money in free agency that offseason than they did in the previous 10 years combined. After missing the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, it was a public declaration the rebuilding phase was over.
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What do they have to show for it? Two seasons, one postseason appearance and zero playoff wins.
“We made the playoffs in 2020, I wouldn’t say it didn’t go as expected there,” Reds General Manager Nick Krall said. “Obviously, you would’ve liked to keep going in the postseason, but we made the playoffs in 2020. This year, we had a good run. Would you have liked to make the playoffs this year and made a run? Of course you would have, but it just didn’t work itself out and we ended up the first team outside of the bubble.”
Three years after the Reds traded and spent their way out of a rebuild, they’re trying to avoid entering another one.
Aligning payroll to resources is the new theme of the offseason, signaling a drop for next year’s payroll. The Reds are emphasizing the development of homegrown players instead of more cannonballs into the waters of free agency.
Two of their signings from their big free-agent class are no longer in the organization. Castellanos opted out of the final two years of his contract after the best statistical season of his career and should command a larger salary on the free-agent market. The Reds were set to decline Miley’s $10 million club option for next year when they placed him on waivers and watched the Chicago Cubs pick up the final year of his contract.
Moustakas and Akiyama don’t possess much trade value and Krall said the Reds will not trade prospects to move contracts. Moustakas has missed 116 games over the last two seasons because of injuries and he doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in the infield. He’s likely the lead candidate for designated hitter if that comes to the National League next season. Akiyama started only 32 games this year.
The 2020 season will likely be remembered as a big what-if in Reds history. They built a deep roster, but the season turned into a 60-game sprint because of the pandemic. They surged into the playoffs with a strong run at the end of the year, but a stellar rotation and bullpen were spoiled by a poor offense.
The push into free agency lasted one year. The Reds made cuts to their payroll last winter, following a season without fans, dumping closer Raisel Iglesias’ salary in a trade with the Los Angles Angels and releasing setup man Archie Bradley. Iglesias is now considered the top reliever on the free-agent market.
Another cost of that 2020 playoff run was prospect depth. They traded infielder Josh VanMeter, outfielder Stuart Fairchild and pitcher Packy Naughton for one month of Archie Bradley and Brian Goodwin. Outfielder Taylor Trammell, starter Josiah Gray and infielders Jeter Downs and Shed Long Jr. were traded in the previous year.
Depth became an issue at the end of the 2021 season when the Reds struggled in September. Jesse Winker missed all but one game in the final six weeks of the season. Tyler Naquin was sidelined for the last few weeks after an outfield collision. Nick Senzel didn’t return from a knee injury. If the Reds were in contention in the final week of the season, they likely would’ve been without Miley (neck strain) and Vladimir Gutierrez (fatigue) in their rotation.
“It was tough because this year we got the trade deadline and bullpen was our biggest need,” Krall said. “We filled those needs and then once we got to August, Winker got hurt, Naquin got hurt, Castellanos was hurt for a portion into August. We ran out of depth and when you lose middle-of-the-order bats like that, that’s really hard to replace whether it’s at the trade deadline or from your own system. That’s where we were. We just didn’t have enough depth to combat where we were at the end of the season.”
The Reds won’t win the offseason this year after their subtractions. The question is how quickly they can win from building from their own farm system.