With the signing of corner outfielder Nick Castellanos, the Cincinnati Reds have spent $164 million on free-agent contacts this winter:
1-Castellanos, 4 years for $64 million. With an opt out after 2020 or 2021.
2-Second baseman Mike Moustakas, 4 years for $64 million.
3-Outfielder Shogo Akiyama, 3 years for $21 million.
4-Left-handed starting pitcher Wade Miley, two years for $15 million.
With the $164 million infusion, Cincinnati has spent more money on new players this offseason than the other NL Central teams combined ($67 million.)
And the Reds’ aggressiveness offers an especially intriguing contrast to the passive approach taken by the Cardinals and Cubs this winter.
The Reds got busy after a lethargic 2019 showing by the team’s offense, which ranked 12th among 15 NL teams in runs per game (4.33) and 10th in slugging percentage.
The Reds were also 12th in the NL in park adjusted runs created, coming ing at 13 percent below league average offensively.
Enter Moustakas, 31, who clubbed 35 homers and 30 doubles for the Brewers last season. And Castellanos, soon to be 28, who banged 27 homers and 58 doubles in a ‘19 season split between the Tigers and Cubs. And Akiyama, 31, who posted a slash line of .316 / .397 / .514 over his past three seasons for the Seibu Lions in Japan.
The trio join a cast that includes third baseman Eugenio Suarez (49 homers in ‘19) first baseman Joey Votto, and a collection of promising outfielders such as Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino and Phil Ervin.
“We really went into this offseason challenging ourselves internally to get the hitting — to balance the team,” president of baseball operations Dick Williams said Tuesday while introducing Castellanos at a news conference. “With the deals we’ve completed with Shogo, Moose (Moustakas) and now Nick, I think we’ve put this team in a position where they’ve got a very balanced approach, both sides of the ball, and the chance to be very dangerous in our division.”
The Reds already had arms in place to form a strong rotation: Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani. Last season Cincinnati finished a surprising ninth in MLB in rotation ERA (4.12) and seventh in overall run prevention.
Miley should make the group stronger after reviving his career with the Brewers (2018) and Astros (2019.) And Cincinnati has a nasty elite closer in Raisel Iglesias.
Skeptics abound. Moustakas can’t play second base, right? Well, maybe he can. Last season Moustakas performed at exactly the league-average level in 360 innings at 2B. His percentage of turning double plays was respectable.
Castellanos was a horrendous right fielder for the Tigers in 2018 and part of 2019 but has improved through experience. Castellanos had never played the outfield before 2018; he struggled to track the ball in the vast spaces at Comerica Park in Detroit. He got a little better when manning right field for the Cubs at Wrigley Field … but more than anything, this is about experience.
Castellanos figures to become more comfortable as he logs more innings in right field. And the smaller dimensions Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park should help. But the Reds don’t need Castellanos to be a Gold Glove dude in right. In 51 games as a Cub last season, he mashed for 16 homers, 21 doubles and a .646 slug in only 51 games. He leads the majors with 104 doubles over the last two seasons.
The Reds have a glut of outfielders. Is this a problem or an asset? It can be a negative — just ask the Cardinals — but on the other hand, manager David Bell will have plenty of options depending on matchups.
Akiyama and Winker bat from the left side.
Castellanos, Senzel, Aquino and Ervin bat right.
Akiyama and Senzel are the primary options in center field, with Akiyama able to shift to a corner spot as needed.
Castellanos is set for right.
Winker will be part of the LF mix but is a platoon bat. Winker can’t hit lefties (.543 career OPS) but crushes RH pitching (.907 OPS.)
Aquino is the wild-card here. After his promotion from the minors Aquino slugged .767 with 14 homers in August but went off the cliff with a .382 slug and five homers in September. Ervin is much better against LH pitching but can serve as a reliable backup.
The Reds could also move Senzel for, say, a shortstop. The second overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft is talented and can play third base, second base, and in the outfield. But his present value is low because of a torn rotator cuff suffered in 2019.
The Reds aren’t fully sold on Freddy Galvis at shortstop.
Votto, 36, had the worst OPS+ of his career (98) last season.
The Reds’ overall defense was very good last season but could slip in 2019. Their base-running was absolutely terrible in ‘19. Can Bell and his coaches clean it up?
Many additions, yes.
And also many questions — still — about a team that went 75-87 last season despite making a lot of noise with moves after 2018.
As MLB.com analyst Mike Petriello said on Twitter: “I think Reds are going to be a very strong test for ‘win the winter’ vs. ‘win the season.’ Kudos to them for trying where the rest of their division isn’t, obviously. It’s just a very odd-fitting roster … like last year, the Reds did a lot, and I thought they’d be a 4th place team, which they were. They’re better this time around. I’m not sure if I’ll pick them to win the NLC, but I’ll think pretty hard about it.”
For now can can agree on this much: In contrast to their division rivals, the Cincinnati front office is taking some vigorous swings.
And while the Reds are taking their rips; the Cardinals are getting ripped by dissidents ticked off by the low-activity offseason.
Thanks for reading …