Coming off a season where the Reds far exceeded expectations, one of the biggest questions in Cincinnati is: can they compete for a playoff spot? With a strong returning core of young talent including the likes of Hunter Greene, Spencer Steer, Matt McLain, and Elly de la Cruz, many fans expect big things from the team moving forward. So what can they do to continue to elevate their talent on the field? And how do they stack up compared to the rest of the NL Central?
Biggest offseason needs
Going into this offseason, there were three glaring needs for the Reds:
For the Reds to be a legit postseason contender, a big need is the emergence or acquisition of a true #1 in the rotation. Out of players who started at least four games, Andrew Abbott led all Reds pitchers with an ERA of 3.87 and 2.2 fWAR over 21 starts. The next closest was Brandon Williamson, who had an ERA of 4.46 and 1.8 fWAR over 23 starts. Although ERA doesn’t truly capture a pitcher’s effectiveness on the mound, it’s clear that an ace on the staff would go a long way towards developing a playoff-caliber roster. Additionally, a veteran presence in a move like this would make a significant difference. Both Abbott and Williamson were rookies last year, and no returning starting pitcher has more than three years of experience under their belt.
One of the ways Cincinnati was most effective last season was the positional flexibility that came with the addition of young talent as players were promoted to the MLB roster. Going into 2024, the Reds could benefit from the addition of another right-handed outfielder. With lefty outfielders like Will Benson, TJ Friedl, and Jake Fraley, the Reds should excel against righty pitchers. However, an additional bat to platoon with these lefties should really improve the outlook of the team’s lineup. Last year, Steer began to play in the outfield, but a second bat could elevate the team’s approach against left-handed pitching.
Last year, Cincinnati heavily relied on its bullpen to get through close games. Overall, seven different relievers ended up making at least 50 appearances across the course of the season. The Reds were 37-32 in games that were decided by one run or went into extra innings. Although a win rate like this can produce playoff teams, it’s extremely taxing on the bullpen. With the uncertainty of health in the young rotation, proven bullpen arms could provide some certainty for expectations in 2024.
Moves they’ve made
The Reds kicked off free agency signing veteran reliever Emilio Pagan to a two-year, $16 million deal. Pagan posted a 2.99 ERA with 65 strikeouts last year over 69 1/3 innings. The BTV model projects 2 years for Pagan at $8.5 million. This overpay suggests the Reds are betting he will be able to repeat his 2023 season rather than reverting in the direction of his 4.43 ERA in 2022. Despite the price, this move should help anchor some stability in the bullpen.
Close following the Emilio Pagan signing, the Reds added Nick Martinez to a two-year, $26 million deal. Martinez had a 3.43 ERA with 106 strikeouts over 110 1/3 innings. Our model projects 2 years for Martinez at $17.9 million. Although this is a strong overpay, Martinez provides Cincinnati with great flexibility, as he can spot-start to help the rotation when injuries occur or provide extended relief innings to alleviate pressure on the pen.
Arguably the biggest move for the Reds so far this offseason was signing Jeimer Candelario to a three-year, $45 million contract. Based on our modeling, Candelario’s services are worth $44.4 million, which is right on point with this deal. The contract also includes a $15 million club option for the 2027 season which would take the deal to four years, $60 million.
Candelario provides a reliable switch-hitting bat with infield versatility to play first, second, and third base. He slashed .251/.336/.471 between the Nationals and Cubs last year, with 22 home runs. The big question with this signing is overall fit. The Reds have a plethora of young infielders who need at-bats, and this only furthers the confusion on who will start opening day. Reds President of Baseball Operations Nick Krall has suggested Jonathan India will be taking reps in the outfield, which should address the need for a right-handed outfield bat.
The biggest gamble for the Reds this offseason came with the addition of righty Frankie Montas. Although there are outstanding questions about health and ability to return to former status, Montas provides the team with the upside of a front of the rotation starter. Montas was signed to a one-year, $14 million deal with a $20 million mutual option for 2025 ($2 million buyout). Our model projects one year of Frankie Montas at $16.4 million, which is right in line with the contract that was signed. Despite his upside, it may have made more sense to get a more reliable arm given the Reds injury history with their current starting rotation.
Signing Brent Suter rounds out the Reds bullpen and most likely signals the end of their offseason barring any trades that may happen. Suter adds another lefty to combo with Sam Moll, with a different arm angle than anyone else in Cincinnati’s pen. Suter signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with a $3.5 million club option for 2025. Our model values one-year for Suter at $3.2 million. Suter sneakily could be the best addition overall for the team. With how reliable he was in Coors, Cincinnati could have an excellent steal here.
Potential moves to come
Although free agent signings seem to be finished in Cincinnati, there are still some trades that could make sense for the Red before the season begins.
Veteran rotation help
One of the moves Cincinnati may still make is to trade for a front-line starter. One trade that would make sense for both teams would be a move for Shane Bieber (provided he passes his physical, as there is concern about his health). The Guardians could move Bieber for prospects to bring back value before Bieber’s contract expires. Here is a mock where the Reds move prospects Julian Aguilar and Ariel Almonte to get the deal done:
India to Boston?
The most likely trade candidate for the Reds this offseason is former Rookie of the Year Jonathan India, who does not seem to be in the Reds’ long-term plans. In this deal, the Red Sox send over three prospects to help replenish the Reds’ system after the recent graduations of many of Cincinnati’s young stars:
|Red Sox get
The last area where the Reds may look to improve is in the catching department. Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh would be an immediate upgrade for Cincinnati, albeit a longshot to be moved, as he’s a key piece of Seattle’s current core. The price tag would be a bit higher given Cal’s team control, but this would signal a win-now emphasis for the Reds:
How they stack up against the Central
Last year, the Reds finished with an 82-80 record -- good for third in the NL central. Many projection models predict they’ll finish fourth, but with the moves the Reds have made this offseason, it is hard to imagine they will regress much, if at all, in 2024. The Cardinals have had an active offseason, but the Brewers appear to be exiting their window for contention, and the Pirates might still be a couple years away. The big question remaining in the division is whether the Cubs will make a splash in free agency.
As it stands now, the Reds are primed to at least make a push for a Wild Card spot, and potentially the division if everything comes together perfectly. A lot of 2024 will come down to how second-year players perform for the Reds and if the starting rotation can stay healthy, but during this offseason, Cincinnati did a good job preparing for a push.