On Monday, the Cincinnati Reds reportedly agreed on a multi-year deal with former Seibu Lions outfielder Shogo Akiyama, whose skill set has been compared to that of longtime Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner's by our Mike Axisa. By adding Akiyama (who figures to play center field most days) and Mike Moustakas (ditto at second base), general manager Nick Krall has seemingly improved his lineup -- and has raised questions about Nick Senzel's future.
Senzel, for those unaware, entered last season as one of the top prospects in baseball. Here's what we wrote last May, right before he was promoted to the majors:
Senzel would likely already be in the majors were it not for injury. Instead, he made his season debut last week, having missed the start of the year due to a sprained ankle. Factor in how he was limited to 44 games last season, and how he's changed primary positions multiple times along the way, and his promotion to the majors feels like it has been a long time coming (and may indeed come in the next few days, per reports). Every tool of his grades as above-average or better, and he should contend for a batting title someday thanks to his mature approach and feel for the barrel.
For as ready as Senzel appeared, he had an underwhelming rookie season that was marred by a slump and a season-ending injury. He hit .256/.315/.427 (89 OPS+) overall, but saw his OPS dip by 38 points after the All-Star Game. Senzel didn't start after Sept. 3, and soon thereafter underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. In a sense, then, he experienced the worst possible combination of outcomes: he didn't perform well when he was able, and he didn't stay healthy all year -- the latter thus far serving as the overarching theme of his career.
Senzel's lackluster debut paired with the additions of Akiyama and Moustakas make it natural to wonder: does he still have a future with the Reds?
After all, the Reds have Eugenio Suarez embedded at third base -- Senzel's original position -- and have shown zero inclination toward playing Senzel at shortstop, where he could displace Freddy Galvis. That leaves him in a corner-outfield spot, likely left field given Aristides Aquino's emergence last year. Seeing as how the Reds have Jesse Winker (and Scott Schebler, who has shown some promise in the past), Krall could consider moving Senzel in a trade.
Multiple league sources have speculated to CBS Sports that the Reds could include Senzel as part of a package to land Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor. Lindor would represent a sizable upgrade over the aforementioned Galvis, and would give the Reds an impressive-looking lineup as they attempt to end their playoff drought. It wouldn't be the first time the two Ohio teams swapped parts, either -- they came together on a different blockbuster in July, with Trevor Bauer and Yasiel Puig changing hands as part of a three-team deal.
At a time when most teams are prone to hugging their prospects, the Reds have shown a willingness -- and, perhaps in some cases, an eagerness -- to trade from the top of their farm system. Be it Taylor Trammell, Shed Long, Jeter Downs, or Josiah Gray, the Reds have prioritized winning in the present. It hasn't quite worked out -- the Reds haven't enjoyed a winning season since 2013 -- but their moves this winter suggest the goal remains the same.
Whether or not the Reds can land Lindor, that mindset will at least have positioned them where they don't have to rely on Senzel staying healthy and producing in order to have a chance.