Reds should target overlooked top prospect as extension candidate after Colt Keith deal

The Reds need to follow the Tigers lead on this one.

Cincinnati Reds third baseman Noelvi Marte (16) hits a base hit.
Cincinnati Reds third baseman Noelvi Marte (16) hits a base hit. / Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY

The Detroit Tigers spent a considerable amount of money over the weekend as they locked up their top infield prospect Colt Keith to massive contract extension. Keith, who's yet to make his major league debut, signed a six-year, $28.6 million deal that could turn into a nine-year, $82 million contract.

The Cincinnati Reds should not hesitate, and begin contract talks with their top infield prospect Noelvi Marte. Though the 22-year-old made his big league debut last season, he's still considered a prospect.

In fact, MLB Pipeline just came out with their Top 100 prospects ahead of the 2024 season. Marte ranked 21st and Keith is just one spot behind. After agreeing to terms with one of the their top talents, Hunter Greene, last spring, Marte should be the next player the Reds sign to a long-term deal.

The Reds have several players who could be in line for a long-term extension

While the Reds are in the enviable position of having about half a dozen young players they could sign to long-term extensions, that's not going to happen. Nor should it. When looking at which players Cincinnati should look to sign over the long haul, there are several factors at play. The age of the player, the position he plays, and who his representation is all play a role in these negotiations.

Most Reds fans would probably suggest Matt McLain as the one player who's most worthy of a contract extension. And while McLain posted terrific numbers in 2023, plays a premium position, and is only 23 years old, his agent is Scott Boras. That doesn't bode well for the Reds, as Boras typically likes to take his clients all the way to free agency before agreeing to a long-term deal.

The same holds true for Elly De La Cruz. The rookie phenom is also represented by the Boras Corporation. While it's not out of the realm of possibilities, don't look for either McLain or De La Cruz to be in the conversation for a long-term extension.

Spencer Steer is another player who performed well a year ago, and could be in the conversation to receive a long term deal. But Steer is 26 years old and won't reach free agency until after the 2028 season. Buying up Steer's arbitration years would take him past his age 31 season. There's no need to go all-in on Steer at this point of his career.

Reds should target Noelvi Marte as extension candidate after Colt Keith deal

But Noelvi Marte is a different story. A former prospect within the Seattle Mariners organization, Marte proved himself in the minors last year and received a late-season call-up. Marte finished the 2023 season on a 16-game hitting streak and will likely be installed as the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day third baseman in 2024.

Marte is just 22 years old, can play both shortstop and third base, and has shown a knack to hit for both average and power. Though he doesn't possess the elite speed of De La Cruz, Marte's sprint speed still ranked in the 91st percentile according to Baseball Savant.

The way the Tigers structured Colt Keith's contract essentially buys up his arbitration years to the tune of about $4.5 million per season. After that, Detroit has a $10 million, $13 million, and $15 million club-option for the 2030, 2031, and 2032 seasons respectively. Each club-option also contains a buyout.

This is the perfect blueprint for Cincinnati Reds President of Baseball Operations Nick Krall. The Tigers, much like the Reds, are trying to return to relevance. Detroit took the first step in doing so, and while there's always risk with these types of moves, it's what's good organizations do. Just look at the Atlanta Braves.