Cincinnati Reds Have Some Tough Rebuild Roster Decisions

Mar 9, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price (38) looks on during the national anthem prior to the game against the Texas Rangers at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price (38) looks on during the national anthem prior to the game against the Texas Rangers at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cincinnati Reds are in the middle of a rebuild which leads to some tough roster decisions. 

When the Reds traded away top players at the trade deadline and offseason last year, many fans were upset that their favorite players would no longer be on the team. The Reds’ leadership and local media tried to sell it as an opportunity to watch young top prospects develop at the major league level. Now that we are getting closer to Opening Day, the Reds have some tough decisions to make on how many of those young prospects will be in Cincinnati on April 4.

For the top Reds prospects in the system, it was a very good Spring Training. Jesse Winker had some very excellent at-bats before being sidelined by an injury. Robert Stephenson showed a lot of promise in the few innings he pitched. Cody Reed was simply dominant in all of his appearances. And top prospect Jose Peraza, who was part of the Todd Frazier deal, is looking like one of the best pure hitters the Reds have had in a very long time.

All of that said, it is very possible that none of those four top prospects will be in Cincinnati on Opening Day. The reason has nothing to do with their performance or even the performance of others, and everything to do with baseball’s very complex collective bargaining agreement regarding service time and arbitration.

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Under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, a player has to reach 172 days of service to complete a year of service. Usually this means if you hold off calling up a prospect with no service time for a couple of weeks you can effectively add a seventh season of team control before free agency. However, doing so does put the player at risk of being eligible for “Super Two” arbitration, which takes a degree in physics and law to completely understand.  Typically, you would need to keep a player in the minors for about 60 days to avoid Super Two. So how should the Reds apply these considerations for the four top prospects?

For Winker, the injury that limited his at-bats early in spring training makes the decision a little bit easier. The lost time this spring most likely means that Winker will need more time in Triple-A.  From the few at-bats I watched this Spring Training, he is very close to being ready and could completely change the dynamic of the Reds’ offense.  Potentially, Winker could be a perennial all-star. That said, the Reds probably need to wait until after Memorial Day before calling up the rookie hitter.

Reed and Stephenson are two very good arms that pitch with the confidence of top of the rotation pitchers. For that very reason, both were cut fairly early this spring. Saving them from early arbitration is a key looking at the finances of the team in the future, especially since the Reds are once again setting themselves up to having a large number of players reaching arbitration and free agency at the same time.

Finally, Peraza presents an even more difficult decision. First, he already has some MLB service time with the Dodgers last season. That makes keeping him out of the top 22 percent of players with service time in 2 years much more difficult. It also means that to protect him from reaching free agency after six seasons, the Reds would need to keep him in Triple-A even longer.

However, not having any of the top prospects on the Reds’ Opening Day roster will create some public relation issues. Some fans will wrongly blame Brandon Phillips as blocking Peraza. While that is partially true, both in spring training and his history with the Dodgers and Braves organizations, Peraza has shown great ability to play multiple positions, so even with Phillips being a regular there is plenty of playing time potential available for Peraza. Also, while Peraza could possibly have two seasons of very high batting averages and on-base percentages his first two seasons with the Reds, it is likely he will have relatively low numbers in some of the money stats (HR, RBI, OPS) meaning that even if he does achieve Super Two status, it won’t be as costly as the other potential rookie stars of the Reds. This presents a very tough choice for the Reds. I would be apt to keep him in Triple-A only until the date that will keep him a Red for a seventh season.

The final wildcard in all of this is the CBA expires at the end of 2016. So all the rules regarding free agency and arbitration could change. However, at this point the Reds have to go with what they know. I would love to see baseball move towards a system like the NBA has with increasing minimums versus arbitration, but the likelihood of that happening is very low. The Reds should do what they can in protecting these potential stars long enough to maximize control, but not so long that the rebuild’s credibility with fans is diminished and apathy sets in. The longer the wait for these young players to appear the less likely it is the Reds record will improve from 2015.