5 difficult roster decisions the Reds front office must make before the end of June

Cincinnati Reds General Manager Nick Krall
Cincinnati Reds General Manager Nick Krall / Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY
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The Cincinnati Reds are in it to win it. At least that's the way manager David Bell views it. When asked about the team's direction during the Reds last homestand, Bell felt as though the front office had made enough moves to signify that his ball club was looking to contend this season.

That has to be welcome news for Reds fans who've seen nine different players make their major league debuts in 2023, including top prospect Elly De La Cruz, as well as pitchers Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson.

But, we're barely a week into the month of June, and despite a bunch of roster shakeups already, Reds GM Nick Krall still has a few more moves to make before the end of the month, What are five difficult decisions the Reds front office will make before the month is up?

1. Reds activate TJ Friedl from the IL and option Jose Barrero to Triple-A.

This will be the first domino to fall, and it could happen as early as today. TJ Friedl has suffered through two minor injuries this season, but both have required that the 27-year-old endure a trip to the IL.

Friedl is able to come off the injured list as soon as this afternoon before the Reds play Game 2 of a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Friedl is exactly the type of player that manager David Bell wants hitting atop his lineup against right-handed pitchers.

Poor Jose Barrero. Ever since his base-clearing grand slam over the Green Monster against the Boston Red Sox a week ago, it's been like pulling hens teeth in order to see Barrero's name on the lineup card.

If that's not sign, I don't know what is. Barrero's time at shortstop is all but over after the Cincinnati Reds have now added both Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz to the active roster. Barrero's future with the club, if he has one, will be in the outfield.

Jose Barrero has become little more than a bench bat at this point in time, and that's doing nothing for his development. Barrero still has a minor league option remaining and is just 24 years old. The Reds should option Barrero to Triple-A and play him exclusively in center field to get him regular ABs and consistent reps at his new position.

2. Reds activate Wil Myers from the IL and option Stuart Fairchild to Triple-A.

Next up is Wil Myers. I know, I know, the Reds fanbase has been out on Myers since about the second week of the season. After signing as a free agent during the offseason, Myers was supposed to be a key cog in the middle of the Cincinnati Reds batting order.

His lack of production is likely to land Myers in the bottom-third of the lineup upon his return. Myers has the ability to play both first base and right field, though with the impending return of Joey Votto and Spencer Steer's play at first base, Myers will almost exclusively find his playing time on the outfield grass.

Myers landed on the IL with a kidney stone. Ouch! But he was also battling a shoulder injury as well. Could that be what was holding the former San Diego Padres outfielder back during the early-going? Perhaps. Myers won't have a long leash, but his $7.5-million salary won't allow the Reds to just designate him for assignment.

On the losing end of this transaction will be Stuart Fairchild. Look, just like everyone else throughout Reds Country, I like Fairchild. I think he offers quality depth in the outfield, but it's time for the 27-year-old to head back to the minors.

Fairchild has laid into a few taters this season and has the versatility to play all three outfield spots, but his time is almost up. Stuart Fairchild is hitting just .224 on the season and his an OPS below .700.

3. Reds activate Nick Senzel from the IL and option T.J. Hopkins to Triple-A.

Nick Senzel's stop on the IL this go-around isn't expected to be very long. The former first-round pick could return as soon as next week after suffering some inflammation in his knee. The question is, where does Senzel play upon his return?

One would guess that the majority of his playing time will be found in the outfield, but there is a scenario in which the Redlegs also give Senzel time at his natural position over at the hot corner.

In games when Jonathan India is acting as the team's designated hitter, Spencer Steer could suit up at first base, Matt McLain can man the keystone, Elly De La Cruz could occupy shortstop, and Nick Senzel would then fill in at third base. Anytime there's a southpaw on the bump, Senzel should be in the Reds lineup.

Now, Senzel's activation is going to be bad news for someone, and that someone will be outfield T.J. Hopkins. The 27-year-old was mashing down at Triple-A this season, and made his major league debut a week ago.

With Nick Senzel, who's a right-handed hitter just like Hopkins, set to return any day now, it makes the most sense in terms of roster construction to send the South Carolina product back to Triple-A. Hopkins deserves a longer look, but it may not be in the cards right now.

4. Reds activate Joey Votto from the IL and option Will Benson to Triple-A.

Joey Votto began another rehab assignment late last week. That means the former NL MVP has 20 days o get back into game shape before the Cincinnati Reds activate the 39-year-old from the 60-day IL.

Votto has been sidelined since last August due to shoulder and biceps surgery. The six-time All-Star tried to come back this spring, which we all know now was a mistake. But after his inability to get things right during his first rehab assignment, Votto returned to Cincinnati and joined Triple-A Louisville about a week ago.

Votto has seen time at DH and first base, and Reds fans should expect to see more of the same when the veteran returns to the Cincinnati lineup. Where Votto fits in the batting order will be an interesting item to keep an eye on, but a good bet is No. 6 or No. 7. That felt really weird to type.

Unfortunately, Votto's activation from the injured list will likely cost Will Benson his spot on the Cincinnati Reds active roster. Benson, like Votto, swings the bat left-handed, and while the outfielder has made strides during this second time up in the bigs, he'll likely head back to Louisville once No. 19 in back in the clubhouse.

The Reds wouldn't designate Benson for assignment, but with Votto back to the roster, Cincinnati would be required to create an opening on the 40-man roster. Cincinnati could easily DFA a struggling reliever like Joel Kuhnel or Alan Busenitz in order to clear a spot.

5. Reds select the contract of Christian Encarnacion-Strand and release or trade Luke Maile.

Oh boy! Here we go! Christian Encarnacion-Strand is hitting too well to remain at Triple-A Louisville for much longer. The Cincinnati Reds have already shown a commitment to get their young players up to the big leagues, and by the end of June, Encarnacion-Strand should be no exception.

Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz were mashing down in the Derby City earlier this season, and it's time for the trio to become one again. Encarnacion-Strand should get the call to make his major league debut by the end of the month.

Now, the tricky part isn't calling up Encarnacion-Strand, it's deciding how to reorganize the roster. One way to do that without having to release anyone would be to option Kevin Newman to Triple-A. The former Pittsburgh Pirates infielder still has a minor league option remaining.

The issue with is that it clogs the roster with too many redundant pieces due to the fact that the Reds are still carrying three catchers. Until Cincinnati is ready to part ways with one of their three backstops, Encarnacion-Strand should not make his major league debut.

The Reds signed Curt Casali to a one-year deal with a mutual option, while the Kentucky-born Luke Maile is inked just for the remainder of the 2023 season. One would think that the Reds could actually get something of value in a trade for one of the two catchers.

I'm going to go with Luke Maile here just because of the relationship that Curt Casali has with the pitching staff. No, Casali can't hit his weight this season, but Maile is hitting just .214 in his last 15 games.

Neither one of these catchers is known for their bat, but if the plan is to call up Christian Encarnacion-Strand, the 23-year-old slugger will more than make up for the lack of pop from the No. 9 hole in David Bell's lineup.

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