Small-market showdown: Reds and Royals compete in free agency amid reckless spending

There are many similarities between the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals.
Cincinnati Reds second baseman Matt McLain (9) beats the throw
Cincinnati Reds second baseman Matt McLain (9) beats the throw / Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Reds were one of the more active teams at the outset of the Major League Baseball offseason.

Cincinnati added pitchers Emilio Pagán and Nick Martinez before the MLB Winter Meetings began and then inked Jeimer Candelario to a three-year deal shortly after the executives left Nashville a few weeks ago.

The Reds are said to be involved in trade discussions with the Cleveland Guardians and are attempting to trade for Shane Bieber. Cincinanti also has its eye on the free agent market, but one of their apparent targets is now off the board.

Reds and Royals competing for the same free agents this offseason

Michael Wacha has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Kansas City Royals. The right-hander, who spent last season with the San Diego Padres was said to be on the Cincinnati Reds' radar earlier this week.

This is the latest in a flurry of signing by the Royals. In addition to Wacha, Kansas City has also signed starter Seth Lugo and relief pitchers Will Smith and Chris Stratton.

If I didn't know any better, I'd say that both Reds President of Baseball Operations Nick Krall and Royals GM J.J. Picollo have been sharing notes this offseason. The two executives both see an avenue to upgrade their clubs with short-term free agent deals while allowing their yougn talent to mature.

The Reds and Royals operate their clubs in a very similar manner

The similarities are quite glaring. Both the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals operate on a shoestring budget when compared to big-market clubs like the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers,

According to Spotrac, the Reds' 2023 payroll ranked 23rd ($96.5 million) and the Royals ($96 million) came in just behind, ranking 24th. The Reds highest-paid player last season as Joey Votto ($25 million), while KC's Salavador Perez was the Royals' top earner ($20 million).

Both Cincinnati and Kansas City are anchored by a strong farm system that is beginning to produce top talent. Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, and Andrew Abbott are looking to lead the way for the Reds, while the Royals are relying on Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino.

It now appears, however, that both the Reds and Royals see a window of opportunity. The Reds added some depth to their pitching staff while adding an extra bat. The Royals addressed their biggest need this offseason by inking two mid-tier starters to achor the rotation.

The Reds and Royals will never match the reckless spending of the big-market teams

The Los Angeles Dodgers just signed Shohei Ohtani to a $700-million deal, then added Tyler Glasnow via trade and inked him to a four-year/$110-million extension.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto may sign for over $300 million depsite never pitching in the major leagues. Cody Bellinger, who had a resurgent season in Chicago following an abysmal stretch in LA, may sign for over $200 million this offseason.

Teams are doling out massive contracts to unproven and injury-prone players without a thought about the franchise's long-term direction. Teams like the Dodgers and Yankees can do that. But teams like the Reds and the Royals cannot afford to miss on those types of deals.

After dropping $87 million on free agents so far this winter, the Reds aren't done yet. The Royals have spent $105 million in free agency this month alone. While the big market teams are jockeying for Yamamoto and Cy Young Award-winner Blake Snell, Cincy and KC are taking a different approach.

Will it pay off? We'll have to wait and see. Spring training is quickly approaching, and the fanbases for both the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals have to be encouraged by what they're seeing.