Despite an active winter, the Cincinnati Reds went 75-87 this season, and finished 14 games out of a postseason spot. They haven't been to the postseason since losing the NL Wild Card Game in 2013. It was a disappointing season despite some big individual successes (Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Eugenio Suarez, etc.).
Scale back and rebuild after a disappointing season? It's a path many teams have taken in recent years, but not the Reds. President of baseball operations Dick Williams told Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer that payroll will increase next season, and reaching the postseason remains the goal.
"I believe we can have that kind of offseason again this year, maybe even more impactful, because I believe we'll have more financial resources at our disposal," Williams said. "We'll be looking high and low for the right mix of additions to make to the team to get us where we need to go."
"We don't comment on the specifics of payroll," Williams said, "but directionally, we are going to continue to build and invest in this team and have more financial resources available for us. Our payroll will be bigger this year. There will be good opportunities to invest that payroll."
Williams added the team's goal is "not taking incremental steps in a rebuild. It's about the postseason."
The Reds ran a $128.4 million payroll this season, the highest in team history, yet they only have about $58 million on the books for 2020, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. The team is shedding several significant commitments this offseason:
- Matt Kemp: $14.75 million (Dodgers paid the remainder of his $21.75 million salary)
- Alex Wood: $9.65 million
- Scooter Gennett: $6.5 million before being traded away
- Yasiel Puig: $6.5 million before being traded away
- Kevin Gausman: $2.8 million after being claimed on waivers (assuming he is non-tendered)
- Jose Iglesias: $2.5 million
That is roughly $43 million coming off the books this winter and, frankly, several of those players (Gausman, Gennett, Kemp, Wood) were non-factors (or even negatives) in 2019. Slugger Aristides Aquino stepped in to replace Puig and swatted 19 homers in 56 games. Iglesias had a fine season with Cincinnati, though replacing a utility infielder on the cheap is always possible.
The Reds will owe a significant arbitration raise to Trevor Bauer ($20 million or so), plus others like Michael Lorenzen and Jose Peraza will get smaller arbitration raises, otherwise the Reds have a decent chunk of change to spend this winter. Will they swim in the deep end of the free agent pool (Gerrit Cole, etc.)? Almost certainly not. But there is money to spend.
The NL Central is the most winnable division in baseball. The Cardinals won the division with 91 wins this season, six fewer than any other division champ and 10th most in MLB. There is no powerhouse team in the NL Central. Granted, there is still an entire offseason to play out and things can change, but, right now, that division looks very winnable in 2020.
Bauer, Castillo, and Gray give the Reds a formidable rotation front three, and a lineup built around Aquino, Suarez, Joey Votto, and a healthy Nick Senzel (shoulder surgery) and Jesse Winker (back) is capable of putting up runs. Although closer Raisel Iglesias struggled this year, he forms a solid late-inning relief crew with Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, and Robert Stephenson.
Senzel's ability to play second base or center field gives the Reds flexibility when looking for upgrades this offseason, though it's probably time to pick one position and commit to him there. If that's second base, great, go get a center fielder. If it's center field, that works too. Get an infielder instead. Another bat, a back-end starter upgrade, and pitching depth are the offseason priorities.
They might've fallen short of expectations this year, but give the Reds credit, they tried this season and not enough teams are doing that. Cincinnati could easily say it's time to tear it down and rebuild. Instead, they plan to go for it next year, and that's really all you can ask as a fan. Make an effort to win a winnable division by spending money and adding to a talented roster.