With the Atlanta Braves bringing the 2021 season to a close with a World Series victory, the clock began to tick on player and team option decisions. This year, the Cincinnati Reds had two players with each type of option. Nick Castellanos and Justin Wilson were the holders of the player options, while the Reds had team options for both Tucker Barnhart and Wade Miley.
The Reds made the first move regarding these four players by trading Tucker Barnhart to the Detroit Tigers for 24-year-old INF prospect Nick Quintana. Quintana spent the majority of his 2021 season in Single-A where he slashed .196/.329/.346, showing some ability to get on base, but not much else. Quintana is nothing more than a lottery ticket at best, signifying this trade as a salary dump. If the Reds were to have brought back Barnhart, he would’ve been owed $7.5M, a price tag the Reds considered too steep for the backup catcher position. In the Reds press release announcing the trade, Nick Krall was quoted saying “going into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.”
Despite being a fan favorite, Tucker Barnhart has long been discussed as potentially needing to be replaced. In fact, my first article for this website discussed that very thing. Since I published that article, Tyler Stephenson has emerged as a quality big league backstop after a strong rookie campaign and has the potential to become an all-star caliber player. Stephenson’s arrival makes the loss of Barnhart easier to swallow, but Barnhart will be missed on and off the field. While he’s never been much of a threat at the plate, Barnhart was a two-time Gold Glove winner, handled the pitching staff very well, and was well respected as a leader in the clubhouse.
The next morning, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman broke the news that OF Nick Castellanos decided to opt out of the final two years of his deal in order to test free agency. This decision did not come as a surprise to Reds fans following a season where Castellanos put up 4.2 fWAR and slashed .309/.362/.576. Castellanos opting out doesn’t necessarily spell the end of his time in Cincinnati, as the team extended him a qualifying offer. In most years, it would be easy to assume Castellanos would decline the offer in order to cash in on his recent success, and there’s a good chance he does, but with the impending Collective Bargaining Agreement coming to an end and things potentially leading to a lockout, a guaranteed deal becomes much more attractive. If Castellanos were to accept the offer, he would receive a modest pay increase and re-enter the free agent market in 2022 at age 30 in what is likely to be a more favorable market. Given GM Nick Krall’s recent quotes about payroll, it is unlikely the Reds will seriously pursue Castellanos if he declines the qualifying offer.
On Friday, November 5th, the Reds made announcements regarding both Justin Wilson and Wade Miley. Justin Wilson accepted his player option and will return to the Reds for the 2022 season, but in much more notable news, the Chicago Cubs claimed Wade Miley off waivers. Wade Miley was one of the Reds’ best pitchers in 2021 finishing the season 12-7 with a 3.37 ERA, 6 bWAR, and 2.9 fWAR. His 6 bWAR was good enough to finish 10th in the NL and 1st on the Reds. Miley had a team option for 2022 at $10M with a $1M buyout. In an effort to save the $1M, the Reds waived Miley ahead of the deadline. As expected, most of Reds Country was enraged by the news as Miley had grown to be a fan favorite, having his own official fan club. Perhaps Miley’s most notable achievement in a Reds uniform came this season on May 7th when Miley tossed a No-Hitter against the Cleveland Guardians.
Nick Krall was quoted saying, “We tried to trade him the last couple of weeks and didn’t have a buyer.” Krall also stated that the Reds didn’t want to attach a prospect in order to move money. While it is probably true that the Reds tried to trade Miley, they likely didn’t find any buyers because the rest of the league was calling the Reds bluff. It was clear the Reds were trying to shed money from the payroll, so teams likely figured they could wait until the Reds declined Miley’s option. Alternatively, the Reds could’ve accepted Miley’s option and then had the rest of the offseason to trade him, achieving the same goal of saving money while getting something in return.
While losing players like Tucker Barnhart and Wade Miley doesn’t mean the Reds won’t be competitive, it does mean that expectations should be tempered for the Reds this offseason. Reading into the statements made by Krall over the last few days tells us a few things. The Reds aren’t likely to break the bank on a free agent this year, meaning Nick Castellanos is probably gone and the Reds won’t spend big to replace him. His statements also tell us that the Reds likely aren’t done making trades. “Aligning payroll to our resources” likely means trying to move some of the large contracts still on the payroll. It’s highly unlikely the Reds would try to move Votto and someone like Moustakas would require attaching a prospect, something the Reds are unwilling to do. So, don’t be surprised if someone like Sonny Gray is moved to lower payroll.
Nick Krall has already stated that these moves aren’t the start of a rebuild and there is a clear lack of commitment to winning by ownership which likely means the Reds are headed to another year of mediocrity. Buckle up Reds fans, it’s going to be a long offseason.
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