3 bold moves to turn the Reds into a title contender

Reds players Kyle Farmer and Nick Castellanos celebrate.
Reds players Kyle Farmer and Nick Castellanos celebrate. / Jamie Sabau/GettyImages
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The Cincinnati Reds had a winning record in 2021 but fell short of their ultimate goal; making it to the postseason. But, is merely making it to the playoffs enough or should Reds Country expect their team to contend for a World Championship?

Cincinnati's front office has a lot of questions heading into the offseason, but it appears that the groundwork has been laid for next year's team to be, at the very least, competitive in a winnable NL Central Division.

The Reds need to be bold this offseason.

If Wade Miley's club-option is picked up, the Reds have the ability to retain all five starting pitchers. Some young, exciting prospects seem poised to make their major league debut in 2022, and we saw in 2021 that Joey Votto still bangs.

While one could argue that the Milwaukee Brewers are the class of the National League Central, that core of young players are about to get more expensive. MLB Trade Rumors predicts the Brew Crew will owe their arbitration-eligible players nearly $46M next season.

Christian Yelich, who was about as bad as Eugenio Suárez this season, will also receive a $12M bump in salary. So the Brewers' payroll is about to go way up, meaning their front office will also have some difficult decisions as well.

The St. Louis Cardinals made a mad dash at the end of last season to secure the final NL playoff spot only to lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Wild Card Game. The Cardinals have a lot of questions heading into the offseason as well.

If the Cincinnati Reds front office and ownership are serious about being contenders in 2022, this is no time to sit on their hands. The Reds have to be aggressive this offseason and here are three bold moves that would turn Cincinnati into contenders next season.

Cincinnati Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos (2) watches his home run.
Cincinnati Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos (2) watches his home run. / David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Reds must retain Nick Castellanos at all costs.

We'll know very soon what Nick Castellanos' intentions are. The Cincinnati Reds right fielder has the ability to opt out of his contract shortly after the World Series concludes. Castellanos still has two years and $34M remaining on his current deal.

Being represented by Scott Boras, I don't see any way that Castellanos does not exercise his right to opt out and enter the free agent market. The Reds will assuredly extend Castellanos a qualifying offer of $18.4M which he will most likely decline.

Doing so gives the Reds draft compensation in the event that Castellanos finds a new home. But Cincinnati should not let it get that far. If the Reds intend to remain competitive, they must find a way to keep Castellanos in the Queen City.

From the outside looking in, it appears that Castellanos enjoys being part of the Reds organization. He's been embraced by the fanbase and has said on many occasions that the 2021 season was the happiest year of baseball that he's had.

Happiness is a part of the equation, and the Reds seem to have that on their side. But money talks. In order to keep Nick Castellanos in Cincinnati, the Reds front office is going to have to pony up. We're probably talking about an eight-figure contract.

Would a four-year/$80M deal be enough? Maybe a five-year/$100M contract? Will other teams offer Castellanos more? Who might the Reds have to let go or trade in order to bring Castellanos back to Cincinnati?

The bottomline is, if the Cincinnati Reds are serious about contending next season, they have to re-sign Nick Castellanos. Period! While I wouldn't consider it a rebuild if Castellanos left via free agency, it's certainly a step backward.

Cincinnati Reds shortstop Jose Barrero (38) reacts after an RBI.
Cincinnati Reds shortstop Jose Barrero (38) reacts after an RBI. / Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

2. The Reds make Jose Barrero the everyday centerfielder.

This is sure to ruffle some feathers, but there's a reason the Cincinnati Reds gave Jose Barrero the opportunity to showcase his talents in the outfield toward the end of last season.

The Reds cannot rely on Nick Senzel to be the team's everyday centerfielder in 2022. Senzel, while brimming with talent, has proven one thing since his major league debut; he cannot stay healthy.

There is not single prospect in Cincinnati's farm system who looks the part of an everyday centerfielder. Michael Siani is the closest thing, and to this point, he's shown that he's merely an elite defender. Until Siani shows he can hit, the Reds will keep him on the farm.

Kyle Farmer showed that he can be the Reds everyday shortstop. While a wRC+ of 91 and a .732 OPS are not outstanding by any means, you can make the argument that Farmer's defense more than makes up for his lack of hitting.

Barrero has the athleticism to play center field. We saw the Reds convert Senzel from an infielder to an outfielder, and while that experiment has gone awry, there are plenty of examples (Kris Bryant, Chris Taylor, and Whit Merrifield) of a successful transition from the infield dirt to the outfield grass.

Jose Barrero must be on the Opening Day roster next season and has to be in the lineup on a regular basis. The question then becomes, would you rather have Kyle Farmer on the bench or Nick Senzel?

Senzel's track record does not offer a lot of confidence, so I'm suggesting he be the first bat off the bench and Barrero start in center field with Farmer remaining the team's everyday shortstop. Hey, I told you these were bold moves.

Cincinnati Reds non-roster invitee pitcher Nick Lodolo (86) delivers in the bullpen.
Cincinnati Reds non-roster invitee pitcher Nick Lodolo (86) delivers in the bullpen. / Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content

3. The Reds should roll with their rookie pitchers.

If the Cincinnati Reds retain Nick Castellanos, they'll have to trim payroll somehow. I can't see the Redlegs heading into 2022 with a payroll much larger than what was on the books in 2021.

The Reds payroll was sitting at about $122M last season and if Cincinnati brings back Wade Miley, allows Tucker Barnhart to walk, and pays an estimated $33M to those players who are arbitration eligible, they'll be sitting at about $122M once again.

Now, that figure assumes that Nick Castellanos opts out of his contract and is not retained. If Castellanos and the Reds can come to some sort of agreement, you'd have to guess that his 2022 salary would be at least in the ballpark of the $16M he's owed if he were to stay.

That takes the Reds estimated payroll from $122M to about $138M. That would shatter the team's all-time highest payroll by about $13M according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. I can assure you, after the team's lowest attendance (1,505,000) since 1984, Bob Castellini is not going to increase payroll.

That means the Reds must get creative and find a way to trade away some of their more lucrative contracts; namely Mike Moustakas ($16M), Sonny Gray ($10.8), and/ or Wade Miley ($10M).

Cincinnati should not have any trouble finding a trade partner for Gray or Miley. Both are under reasonable contracts that would only be guaranteed through next season.

Trading Moose is another story. The Reds would have to take on a bad contract and/ or include some high-value prospects in order to offload the third baseman and his two-year/$36M contract. I don't see that happening.

Cincinnati's best bet would be to trade Gray and possibly Miley as well. This would shed a little more than $20M off the team's payroll for next season and allow the Reds to retain Nick Castellanos. But what about those two spots in the rotation?

That's where the Reds top two prospects come in. There's little more that Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo have to prove in the minor leagues. It's time for those two to be elevated to the big league roster and find a home in the starting rotation.

The Cincinnati Reds 2022 rotation would then consist of Greene, Lodolo, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Vladimir Gutierrez. Reiver Sanmartin could be in the mix, and Graham Ashcraft is a name to keep an eye on as well.

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So there you have it. Three bold moves to turn the Cincinnati Reds into contenders next season. If the Reds hope to contend next season, it's going to take some bold maneuvering on the part of Nick Krall and the front office.