Breaking the cycle of rookie letdowns: Why the Reds signed Jeimer Candelario

The Reds have seen several rookies shine during their first year in the big leagues, only flat during their sophomore season.
Chicago Cubs third baseman Jeimer Candelario (9)
Chicago Cubs third baseman Jeimer Candelario (9) / David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Reds signed Jeimer Candelario to a three-year/$45-million contract this past week. On the surface, the deal seems rather odd given the Reds' supposed depth across the infield.

But maybe president of baseball operations Nick Krall wanted to avoid a problem that haunted the Reds last season.

After the sparkling rookie performances from Graham Ashcraft, Hunter Greene, and Nick Lodolo in 2022, the Reds went in to their 2023 campaign with those three pitchers penciled in atop the starting rotation. As it turns out, that wasn't a very wise move.

Graham Ashcraft, Hunter Greene, and Nick Lodolo all experienced the sophomore jinx

While Reds fans were certain that the trio of Graham Ashcraft, Hunter Greene, and Nick Lodolo were going occupy the top three spots in the starting rotation and lockdown the opposition in 2023, nothing could have been further from the truth.

Ashcraft's second major league season was the definition of a roller coaster ride that ended with a trip to the IL. Greene was sidelined for over two months with a hip issue, and never found consistency in 2023. As for Lodolo, the lefty looked awful to begin the season, and only appeared in seven games.

The Reds rolled the dice and expected to see Ashcraft, Greene, and Lodolo build on their fantastic rookie seasons. Instead, the trio combined to be worth 3.3 WAR according to Baseball Reference, and all three spent significant time on the injured list.

Will that same fate await the Reds' 2023 rookie class?

With that in mind, perhaps the Reds did not want to go into the 2024 season with the same mindset as it relates to the young core of position players. While the fanbase believes that the quintet of rookies from last season have the ability to push this team to the postseason, that may not be the reality.

Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Noelvi Marte, and Spencer Steer would all seem to be poised to build on last year's success. But that was the same notion every fan had with the aforementioned Ashcraft, Greene, and Lodolo.

Go back another year and look at Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson, and Vladimir Gutierrez. Didn't those three all look the part?

The expectation, following their success as rookies in 2021, was that India and Stephenson would be All-Stars during their second season in the bigs and Gutierrez would be a serviceable backend starter.

All three fell woefully short of expectations in 2022 and 2023. India has been ostracized by half of the Reds fanbase and is now viewed as trade chip. Stephenson has struggled since a barrge of injuries befell him two years ago. And Gutierrez was outirghted off the roster and is now a free agent.

Why did the Reds sign Jeimer Candelario?

So while the decision to sign Jeimer Candelario may have some Reds fans scratching their heads, you needn't look too far back in order to see why Nick Krall may have decided to ink the veteran infielder to a three-year contract.

Candelario was one of the better free agent position players available this season, and his ability to hit from both sides of the plate will be of great benefit to Reds manager David Bell. Candelario also offers positional versatility, as he can play first and third base.

Injuries are part of the game. At least one of last year's rookies is bound to regress. Maybe one of the infielders will change positions. There are so many unknowns in baseball, and it's never a bad thing to have too much talent. Signing Jeimer Candelario may turn out to be a very wise move on the part of Nick Krall.