The Pittsburgh Pirates, even before trading Joe Musgrove, were not going to contend for the National League Central Division title in 2021. However, it’s not as if any of their division rivals have cemented themselves as the favorites either. If the Cincinnati Reds added a starting shortstop, they could easily be the best team on paper in the NL Central.
The NL Central was up for grabs in 2020, and in the pandemic-shortened 60-game sprint to an expanded playoff, the Chicago Cubs won the division by three games over the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. The Milwaukee Brewers, who finished below .500 (29-31), also made the postseason.
It looks as though we’ll see more of the same in 2021. Not a single NL Central team has said, “we’re going for it.” Instead, we’ve seen nearly every team try to shed payroll in one way or another. While the offseason has been littered with trade rumors surrounding some of Cincinnati’s top talent, one move could put the Redlegs in the driver’s seat.
Adding a shortstop would make the Reds the favorite in the NL Central.
It almost sounds too simple, but if the Cincinnati Reds added a starting-caliber shortstop in the coming days or weeks, the team would likely be the odds-on favorite to win the National League Central Division. The good news for Cincinnati is, there are a few free agents still available.
It’s not as if the Reds are picking through a scrap pile of discarded veterans with little hope of making a major league roster. Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, and Marcus Semien all represent viable options and Cincinnati has been rumored to be in contact with at least two of the three players mentioned.
Both Gregorius and Semien have received some attention from the Cincinnati Reds front office this season. Just last week it was said that Cincy was in negotiations with Semien and earlier this offseason Gregorius said during an interview that his representation had contact with the Reds executives.
The rest of the division is clearing the way for the Reds.
Joe Musgrove was traded last night to the San Diego Padres. The Padres are flat-out winning the offseason. But, as we saw with the Reds last year, just because you win the offseason doesn’t mean you’re going to win the regular season, or, more importantly, the postseason. Cincy was bounced in the Wild Card Round without scoring a single run.
However, no one in the NL Central seems as though they want to compete with the big boys. Sure, the Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and Atlanta Braves are the cream of the crop in the National League heading into 2021, but somebody’s got to win the NL Central. It might as well be the Cincinnati Reds.
MLB Insider Jon Heyman, who was all over the news of a potential trade between the Reds and New York Yankees, makes a compelling case for Cincinnati after the trade discussions for Luis Castillo fell through. With the front office, according to Heyman, now telling teams they intend to hold onto Castillo, the Redlegs have an excellent shot to win their division.
While the St. Louis Cardinals have dismissed second baseman Kolten Wong and allowed Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright to enter free agency, the Reds non-tendered Archie Bradley and Curt Casali. While the Chicago Cubs dealt Cy Young hopeful You Darvish to the Padres, Cincinnati traded Raisel Iglesias (one season removed from 12 losses) to the Los Angeles Angels.
The Cubs also dealt Victor Caritini to the Padres and may be on the cusp of trading third baseman and former MVP Kris Bryant. There’s still rumors swirling about that the Cubbies could deal Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber was non-tendered earlier this offseason as well.
This offseason may be about the move the Reds didn’t make.
I have complete confidence that the Cincinnati Reds will not go into the 2021 season with Kyle Farmer or José García as the team’s starting shortstop. While I wouldn’t be opposed to the latter, last year’s rookie needs some more time in the minor leagues.
Will the Reds land Gregorius or Semien? I don’t know, but I think once one of the top shortstops on the open market signs a contract and sets the market, we’ll see Cincinnati’s front office intensify their efforts to land one of the top three free agent infielders.
However, for the Reds to compete for the division in 2021, they’ll need to hold onto those players who’ve been rumored to be on the move. That includes the likes of Eugenio Suárez, Mike Moustakas, Sonny Gray, and Nick Castellanos.
Cincinnati spent big last offseason, and for thee first time in a long time, it looked as though this franchise was going to compete for the NL Central crown. Were it a normal 162-game season, who knows how things would’ve shaken out. As it is, the season was reduced to 60 games and the Reds fell short of expectations.
I don’t expect the core of Suárez, Moustakas, Castellanos, and Jesse Winker to struggle as much as we saw in 2020. Can Joey Votto be average? Can Nick Senzel stay healthy? Has Shogo Akiyama adjusted to big league pitching?
If the answer to those questions is yes, and the Cincinnati Reds add a shortstop via free agency, the starting rotation is still good enough, sans Trevor Bauer, to compete for the National League Central Division crown.