2 contract extensions the Reds should pursue and 2 they should avoid (for now)

The Reds won't be able to sign every one of their young stars over the long haul.

Cincinnati Reds players Alexis Diaz, Elly De La Cruz
Cincinnati Reds players Alexis Diaz, Elly De La Cruz / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages
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It's that time of year, Reds fans. Every spring several teams approach some of their studs in an effort to sign them to a long-term deal. The Cincinnati Reds most recent example is the six-year, $66 million deal Eugenio Suárez signed several years ago.

It took a little longer to work out a long-term deal with Hunter Greene last spring, but the club inked their starting pitcher to a six-year, $53 million extension last April. Greene will now be in the Queen City through at least 2028. Jonathan India just signed a two-year contract, but the Reds second baseman will still be arbitration eligible in 2026.

The Reds have so much young talent that Greene's contract extension won't be the only one you'll see in the near future. With the exception of Jeimer Candelario, all of the free agents that Cincinnati signed this winter are on the books for two years or less. If the Reds were looking to hand out contract extensions this spring, which two players should be atop their list, and who should be further down?

2 contract extensions the Reds should pursue and 2 they should avoid (for now)

The Reds should sign Noelvi Marte to a contract extension right now

If there's one player, outside of Matt McLain, who feels like a sure thing, it's Noelvi Marte. Though he only had a cup of coffee in the big leagues last season, Marte proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has what it takes to hit at the big league level.

Marte ended his first taste of The Show with a 16-game hitting streak. Marte can hit for average and hit for power while also displaying tremendous speed and a good enough glove. If the Reds are looking for a cornerstone of the franchise for the next decade, Marte is that guy.

And the Detroit Tigers have already done all the heavy lifting. After Colt Keith agreed to terms on a six-year/$28 million contract with the Tigers, the Reds now have the blueprint of what a deal for Marte should look like. Keith's contract contains several options as well that would allow it to reach up to $82 million over nine years.

After securing Noelvi Marte in a midsummer deal with the Seattle Mariners in 2022, the Cincinnati Reds now have the opportunity to do what they should've done with the player he was traded for. Rather than keep Luis Castillo in Cincinnati, the Reds traded him to Seattle. Now is the time for the Reds to strike a deal with Marte before be becomes too expensive to retain.

The Reds should wait a little longer before extending Elly De La Cruz

While the production that a team is going to receive from a player like Noelvi Marte feels relatively stable, the same cannot be said for Elly De La Cruz. Last year's rookie sensation may well be the best player in baseball within the next three years. He could also fizzle out and find himself in a bench role.

While the former seems much more likely than the latter, all Reds fans have to go on at the moment are the numbers that De La Cruz put up in 2023. De La Cruz, who has some of the best raw talent in the game, struck out over 33% of the time during his rookie season. Yikes!

Now, it's important not to overreact to that number. Some Reds fans think it's funny to toss out comparisons to the likes of former Cincinnati outfielder Aristides Aquino, and that's just factually inaccurate. Too many fans forget that Aquino was nearly 26 years old when he went on that month-long tear in August of 2019. De La Cruz just turned 22 last month.

De La Cruz has fewer than 400 big league at-bats. And with such volatility in his stats, it would very difficult to commit to the type of contract extension it would likely take in order to sign De La Cruz long-term. While the Reds might be able to use the Colt Keith contract as a good barometer, De La Cruz is probably looking for something in the Bobby Witt Jr. range.

But having only been in the league since last June, it's hard to commit that type of money. Scott Boras is also De La Cruz's agent, so the idea of a contract extension might be off the table altogether. Boras prefers to take his clients onto the open market rather than just negotiating with one team. For now, the Reds should probably avoid signing De La Cruz to a long-term deal.

The Reds should jump at the chance to sign Alexis Diaz to a contract extension

No, this is not a joke. While the starting pitching market has skyrocketed in recent years, the reliever market is becoming increasingly expensive as well. The Cincinnati Reds have a bona fide closer in Alexis Diaz, and if this team wants to contend for championships, they're going to need a guy who can lock it down in the ninth inning.

There was a stretch last season where Diaz was arguably the best reliever in the game. Last season, Diaz was riding a 27-game save streak until the San Diego Padres finally put a stop to it. If half of your team's games are going to be played at the bandbox that is Great American Ball Park, you need a closer who's going to get strikeouts when it matters most.

Diaz was given a bit of a trial run as the Reds closer in 2022. Hunter Strickland handled closing duties to begin the season, but the veteran was eventually replaced by Diaz over the last few months. The right-hander was anointed as the Reds closer in 2023 and made eight multi-inning appearances last season while recording 37 save and striking out 86 batters over 67.1 innings of work.

If you look at Diaz's stats from the beginning of the season through July 31st, the reliever posted a 2.09 ERA, 2.58 FIP while 68 punch outs in 50 appearances and converted 32 of 33 save opportunities. That is elite.

Unfortunately, the bullpen as a whole was overworked down the stretch, which caused Diaz's numbers to look a bit skewed. Diaz slogged through the final two months with a 5.40 ERA and nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (18).

Alexis Diaz's performance to this point in his career does not warrant the same type of contract that his brother Edwin received (five-year, $102 million), but buying out the 27-year-old's arbitration years and tacking on a couple of team-options beyond the 2027 season would be a wise move on the Reds' part.

The Reds shouldn't offer a contract extension to Christian Encarnacion-Strand just yet

There's a growing section of the Cincinnati Reds fanbase that would love to see the front office lock up Christian Encarnacion-Strand. And while that's not the worse idea, there are some reasons that Cincinnati should hit the pause button for the time being.

First, Encarnacion-Strand has fewer than 100 games played in the big leagues. The slugger has massiver pop, but struck out nearly 30% of his at-bats last season. If those numbers come back down to the 20.7% K-rate Encarnacion-Strand posted in the minors, then that changes things completely. But he needs a little more time to prove that he can adjust to big league pitching.

There's also the position he plays. While earlier it was suggested that the Reds should extend Noelvi Marte, the fact that he plays a premium position plays into that idea. Marte came up as a shortstop, and it's only due to the presence of Elly De La Cruz that he's been moved to third base. Encarnacion-Strand is more athletic than some think, but he profiles as more of a first baseman or DH.

There's also the Reds' prospect depth at the position. Both Cam Collier and Sal Stewarts, two players the Reds are very high on, likely slide into the same type of role that Encarnacion-Strand currently occupies. Allowing this to play out a little more would be a wise decision.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand certainly has the makeup to rake at the big league level. No one throughout Reds Country would be shocked to see Encarnacion-Strand blast 40 homers in 2024. Bt before the Reds drop the bag on Encarnacion-Strand, it would be smart to be sure that he can match those lofty expectations that everyone has for the 24-year-old.