Cincinnati Reds: Arbitration eligible players hold the key to cutting costs

Several Reds players may have to wait to know their fate heading into the offseason.

While baseball fans are watching some wild transactions this week, the Cincinnati Reds have been strangely quiet. We’ve seen teams decline the options of Corey Kluber, Brad Hand, Edwin Encarnacion and Jon Lester. The Reds do not hold a team option over any player, but Nick Castellanos has a player option. Cincinnati’s cost cutting may come in a few weeks.

The non-tender deadline this offseason is December 2nd at 7 PM. By then, Reds Country will have a better idea of which players will remain on next year’s roster and the front office will have a better idea of what next year’s payroll will look like.

We should know very soon whether or not Nick Castellanos will be wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform next season. Based on all the transactions we’ve seen across Major League Baseball, I’d be shocked if Castellanos does not pick up his $14M option.

If Castellanos does remain in the Queen City for the 2021 season, the team’s payroll heading into the winter will likely be sitting around $102M. However, that number doesn’t include those players who are entering arbitration. That’s where the Cincinnati front office will have some difficult decisions.

First-time arbitration eligible players like Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Amir Garrett are virtual locks to be tendered and given a raise next season. MLB Trade Rumors expects those three pitchers to add between $6M-$10M to next year’s payroll. For a potential ace, middle-of-the-rotation starter, and dominant left-handed reliever, that’s a pretty inexpensive place tag.

However, it’s the other six players that may be sitting on pins and needles as the December 2nd deadline approaches. Michael Lorenzen seems likely to be tendered a contract, especially if David Bell and Derek Johnson are looking to add him to the rotation. His estimated $3.8M-$4.4M salary seems a bit steep for a reliever, but we should expect Mikey Biceps back next season.

Jesse Winker, who’s value was felt at the plate this past season, may have to rely more on his glove in 2021. The universal designated hitter is currently not part of the 2021 landscape, meaning Winker will have to play the outfield.

Winker’s projected salary of $2M-$3.4M ins’t too exorbitant, but the Reds outfield is crowded. I expect the Reds to tender Winker before the deadline, but I wouldn’t count him out as being part of a trade later this winter if Cincinnati finds a buyer.

The remaining four players are in real danger of not returning to the Cincinnati Reds in 2021. Robert Stephenson won’t cost much (estimated $600K), but his performance was horrendous last season and the team may have more arms they’d prefer in the bullpen.

I think you can go ahead and cross Brian Goodwin off the list. The left-handed hitting outfielder was brought in to help an anemic offense and fill in the injured Nick Senzel. In exchange, the Reds sent left-hander Packy Naughton to Los Angeles. That trade may come back to bite Cincinnati, as Goodwin’s $2.7M-$3.6M estimated price tag seems steep for a rotational outfielder.

The two biggest question marks are Archie Bradley and Curt Casali. For Casali, it’s a numbers game. The Reds have top catching prospect ready for the majors, and both players are right-handed. Given David Bell’s propensity to play the pitching matchups, it’s easy to see the Reds going with a catching platoon of Stephenson and Tucker Barnhart in 2021.

Whether or not the Cincinnati Reds tender Bradley is the most intriguing interesting story to watch before the December 2nd deadline. Bradley joined the Reds as part of a trade that sent Josh VanMeter and Stuart Fairchild to Arizona. That’s a steep price if Bradley only pitched in six games.

In the end, I expect Cincinnati to keep Bradley on the roster heading into 2021, but his estimated $4.3M-$5.7M salary seems a bit pricey if the Reds also have Raisel Iglesias under contract next season. That will be another story to follow this offseason.