For a stretch in 2023, the best story in baseball was the oldest professional team: The Cincinnati Reds. The Reds were actually one of baseball's youngest teams in 2023. Riding a wave of successful rookie seasons -- such as those from Matt McLain, Andrew Abbott and Elly De La Cruz -- the upstart Reds contended for a playoff spot just one year after losing 100 games.
Faltering down the stretch and missing the playoffs after leading the NL Central as late as Aug. 2 had to be disappointing, but they won exactly 20 more games in 2023 than in 2022. There's a strong foundation for the future, too, so the Reds need to have a big offseason to supplement the talent and make their first full-season playoffs since 2013.
There's good news for Reds fans hoping for a splash this offseason: Money shouldn't be a concern. The only significant salary on the books past 2024 is Hunter Greene and it's not a huge contract (six years and $53 million). Right now, the Reds are looking at an estimated $67.4 million in player salary heading toward 2024, per baseball-reference.com. For reference, they've been over $135 million before. This doesn't necessarily mean they can spend all the way up to $135 million -- which would give them more $65 million to play with this offseason -- but there's certainly room to add.
The position-player group appears to be in pretty good shape. De La Cruz only played in 98 games, McLain 89 and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who flashed nice upside, only played in 63. Another highly-touted prospect, Noelvi Marté, saw action in just 35 games during which he hit .316/.366/.456.
The Reds were fifth in the NL in runs and OPS last season and it seems like -- even if they don't upgrade from outside the organization -- they already have a good offense in place.
There should still be movement, though. The infield is full of players heading to their second year: Encarnacion-Strand at first, McLain at second, De La Cruz at shortstop and Marté at third. That enables the Reds to use Spencer Steer along with TJ Friedl, Will Benson and Jake Fraley in the outfield. Jonathan India doesn't hit well enough to DH, so he's trade bait and that's been the word there for a while, to the point that he's unlikely to hit Opening Day in a Cincinnati jersey.
The pitching end is where much of the discussion for offseason moves should take place. The Reds were 13th in the NL in ERA, ahead of only the Rockies and Nationals. Young Hunter Greene isn't going anywhere and still has lots of unrealized promise. Abbott had an excellent rookie year and Graham Ashcraft had a 2.58 ERA in his last 12 starts. They could round out the rotation right now with Brandon Williamson and Nick Lodolo and hope everything works out.
That's not how a contender operates, though. Abbott and Ashcraft are more mid-rotation starters on a contender and Greene is still a bit of a wild card. Williamson could be a fine fifth starter and Lodolo is probably more of a wild card than Greene now after 2023. A veteran stud atop the rotation would sure be nice. The Reds already missed out on Sonny Gray, though reports indicated they were in on the bidding and that's a good sign.
Let's start there.
1. A veteran ace
At present, the Reds have a collection of interesting arms but none come close to being a frontline starter at this point. Maybe Greene or Lodolo or Abbott get there someday, but the Reds are trying to win the NL Central, not just hope something clicks. They were recently rumored to be talking with the Rays about a possible trade for Tyler Glasnow and now we're talking.
Glasnow returned from Tommy John surgery late in 2022 and then had a spring training injury delay his 2023 season. Eventually, he made 21 starts and pitched to a 3.53 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with 162 strikeouts in 120 innings. Another season removed from the surgery and now heading to his age-30 season, he might be ready to finally bust out into All-Star form for a full season after showing glimpses of it in 2019, 2021 and some last season. I'd call it a good bet.
If not Glasnow, Dylan Cease is known to be on the trading block and would be a nice fit.
Or perhaps the Reds turn to free agency. I already mentioned that they were reportedly in on Gray. Lefty Jordan Montgomery might've pitched himself out of the Reds' price range in the playoffs, but maybe there's a chance they can land him. He'd be a nice get.
What about Eduardo Rodríguez? Like Montgomery, he's not attached to a qualifying offer. The lefty exercised his no-trade clause last July because he didn't want to uproot his family to move to Los Angeles, but Cincinnati is close enough to Detroit that he should be fine with the destination.
Rodríguez had a 3.30 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 152 2/3 innings last year.
I'm also intrigued by Lucas Giolito. He had a miserable 2023 season after the White Sox traded him. He had a 6.89 ERA in six starts for the Angels and 7.04 ERA in six starts for the Guardians. It's possible he'll look for a one-year deal to re-establish his value (such as Cody Bellinger did last season). If that's the case, the Reds should dive right in and take a shot. He could end up pitching like the guy who has gotten Cy Young votes in three different seasons.
2. Another starting pitcher
If the Reds could somehow swing deals for two of the pitchers mentioned above, that would be amazing. Signing Rodríguez and trading for Glasnow would make the rotation look something like this:
- RHP Tyler Glasnow
- LHP Eduardo Rodríguez
- RHP Hunter Greene
- LHP Andrew Abbott
- RHP Graham Ashcraft
That also leaves Lodolo and Williamson as the sixth and seventh starters and we know in this day and age you need to have plenty of capable arms. The rotation would still have plenty of question marks, but also a lot of chances to settle on a very good fivesome.
Beyond Glasnow, Cease, Montgomery, Giolito and Rodríguez, the Reds could go deeper into the bargain bin for someone like Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, the Luis Severino lottery ticket or even a Tyler Mahle reunion.
The Reds need a lot of pitching this offseason. They'll need to add bullpen depth, but it has to begin with one pitcher who resembles a frontline starter and another who can serve as at least a mid-rotation man.
3. Power-hitting DH
As noted above, India is either a backup or a DH. They might as well just trade him for something like a bullpen arm.
I wonder if the White Sox would trade Eloy Jiménez. The club on the South Side seems to be starting over and he's only signed through 2024 with team options for 2025 and 2026. That's the sort of contract that could be enticing to unload from the White Sox's perspective while also enticing for the Reds to add. Jiménez has trouble staying healthy, but he's still plenty capable of being a force and would make a nice fit in the middle of this lineup.
In free agency, it couldn't hurt to kick the tires on Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Soler, J.D. Martinez or Mitch Garver. Any of these power hitters would thrive in Great American Ball Park and would provide veteran -- and playoff battle-tested -- experience in the middle of a young batting order. If they prefer someone from the left side of the plate, Michael Brantley or Joc Pederson could work.
If you were asking me for the Reds' ideal offseason within the parameters of being at least somewhat realistic, I'll go with trading for Tyler Glasnow, signing Eduardo Rodríguez and signing one of the possible DHs mentioned here. They can pull all of this off with prospect currency and by spending money that they can absolutely afford to spend.