Cincinnati Reds: Go all in with Nick Senzel on the Opening Day roster

MIAMI, FL - JULY 09: Nick Senzel #13 of the Cincinnati Reds and the U.S. Team hits an RBI double in the first inning against the World Team during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 09: Nick Senzel #13 of the Cincinnati Reds and the U.S. Team hits an RBI double in the first inning against the World Team during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /
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There are lots of polarizing opinions about Nick Senzel and whether he should be on the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster. If the Reds are serious and want to win, he should be on the team when camp breaks.

Nick Senzel and what to do with him to start the 2019 season may be the most polarizing question of the spring. There’s a lot of varying opinions on this topic, but allow me to add one more. If the Cincinnati Reds are serious about being “all in” and contending for a division title this season, then there’s no question that Nick Senzel should start Opening Day.

Dick Williams, the Cincinnati Reds President of Baseball Operations, has said from the jump that Senzel will get every opportunity to win the starting center field job out of camp. There’s also been talk of taking the best 25 guys into the season. If both those ideas are true, then why are we even having this debate?

We’re having this debate because of Major League Baseball’s agreed upon rule with the Player’s Union regarding service time. The Cincinnati Reds can gain an addition year of team control if they sit Nick Senzel for the first two weeks of the season. If the Reds are going to contend this season, and by all accounts they’ve shown throughout the offseason that they are, then getting off to a fast start is essential.

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We all watched the debacle that ensued after a 3-18 start to the 2018 season. The Reds were out of the division race in April. After five straight losing seasons that coincided with declining attendance at Great American Ball Park, the Reds cannot afford to sit on their hands out of the gate.

Take a look at the fist month of the season. The Reds have two series to start the year with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won 82 games a year ago. Cincinnati also has a pair of matchups with the improved St. Louis Cardinals. Then, to top it off, the Reds go head to head against all three division winners (Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Atlanta Braves) from last season before the month of April is over.

Now, if the Cincinnati Reds sit Senzel to start the 2019 season, that means Scott Schebler is most likely the Opening Day starter in center field. While Schebler is a fine player, the Reds would be best served with his left-handed bat coming off the bench.

Furthermore, who would the Reds take on the Opening Day roster over Senzel? Tucker Barnhart and the starting infield are set, so that’s five spots. Schebler, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Jesse Winker will take four of the outfield spots. If the Reds take 13 position players into the season, which they likely will, that leaves four spots available.

José Iglesias and Derek Dietrich seem likely to be part of the Cincinnati Reds bench and Curt Casali, if healthy, is likely to back up Barnhart. So, who are you taking over Nick Senzel? Phillip Ervin? I don’t think so. Connor Joe? Doubtful. Come on folks, it’s Nick Senzel.

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Who cares about the additional year of team control? Mo Egger of The Athletic addressed this in an article he wrote last week. Egger ponders as to why fans are so worried about the 2025 season. His assertion is that by then Senzel would’ve been locked up to long-term deal or no longer part of the team because the Reds will have decided to move on.

Egger is spot on in his opinion. If Nick Senzel is as good as the Reds brass thinks he is, then by 2025 he’ll have been signed to a long-term extension. If he falls short of the lofty expectations, then Cincinnati will let him walk or trade him.

Kris Bryant, the Cubs third baseman, had his free agency pushed back by a year when Chicago delayed his major league debut in April 2015. Bryant has made his frustration with the manipulation of service time very clear. Here’s a quote from The Athletic:

"“They’re finding a loophole in the system. It doesn’t make it right. It kind of seems like the easy way out rather than showing someone that we’re going to reward what you’ve done in spring and what you’ve done in the offseason. ‘Here you go, you get Opening Day.’ That’d be pretty cool.”"

To be fair to the Reds, had Senzel been healthy at the tail end of last season, it’s very likely he would’ve received a September call-up. Had that been the case, the concept of manipulating service time to gain an additional year of team control would not be an issue.

Nick Senzel isn’t the only top prospect involved in the service time discussion. The Toronto Blue Jays may keep top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the minor leagues for the first couple of weeks in order to gain an additional year of team control. The same could be said for Eloy Jiménez of the Chicago White Sox.

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If the Cincinnati Reds are serious about winning, then Nick Senzel will be part of the Opening Day roster. If not, he’ll be headed down to Triple-A Louisville only to be called up the big leagues a few weeks later. However, in a tightly contested division, like the NL Central appears to be, a few weeks could be the difference between making or missing the postseason.