3/10/21: Placed 1B Joey Votto on the COVID-19 Related IL. 40-man at 39.
3/12/21: Traded cash considerations to the Cleveland Indians for IF Mike Freeman and invited him to spring training. Invited RHP Brandon Finnegan and IF Jonathan India to major league camp. Re-assigned RHP R.J. Alaniz, RHP Matt Ball, RHP Shane Carle, RHP Bo Takahashi and OF Dwight Smith, Jr. to minor league camp. Optioned RHP Edgar Garcia, RHP Vladimir Gutierrez, RHP Ryan Hendrix, RHP Riley O’Brien, RHP Tony Santillan and RHP Jared Solomon to AAA Louisville. 46 players left in major league camp (34 40-man roster players + 12 NRIs).
Freeman is a 33-year old journeyman that was drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2010 and made his major league debut in 2016. Although he has played in the majors in parts of the past 5 years, he still has less than 3 years of major league service, and this is his 5th organization since his debut. He spent last season on the Indians’ bench before being outrighted and electing free agency in lieu of the assignment, and was a NRI in Cleveland’s camp at the time of this trade. He’s played everywhere but catcher and center his in his career.
The one mechanically confusing thing about the rest of the transactions is the option of Vladimir Gutierrez. Last June, at a time when there was no minor league season, and Gutierrez was a player assigned to AA Chattanooga and not on the 40-man roster, it was announced that he would be suspended for 80 games for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance named Stanozolol. Because Gutierrez was not on the 40-man roster, he was placed on the minor league restricted list for a violation of the minor league drug policy. If he had been on the 40-man roster at the time, the suspension levied under the major league drug policy would have been the same.
Under an agreement with the union, 40-man roster players that were issued an 80-game suspension last season under the major league policy were allowed to satisfy the suspension in full by sitting out the entire 2020 major league season, which lasted only 60 games. Because the union only represents 40-man roster players, I am aware of no such similar agreement that applied to the suspensions for those players like Gutierrez who were suspended under the minor league policy.
Meanwhile, the Reds purchased Gutierrez’s contract this past November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. The question is, what happens with his suspension? Under the minor league policy, the suspension applies to regular season and postseason games in which the player was eligible to play, but there were no minor league games in 2020. Even if he were to somehow get credit in some way for 2020, the minor league policy says that players are supposed to be reinstated from the restricted list in the offseason if a suspension would span multiple seasons, and I have seen no indication that that was done.
There are even more complications. The minor league policy says that if a player is assigned to the parent club’s 40-man roster before the suspension is over, the player will serve the rest of the suspension at the major league level. The major league policy is in accord. Gutierrez has now been optioned, so what games count under the suspension? The major league policy provides that for players whose contract is assigned to the minor leagues, the games that count are minor league games in which the player would have been eligible to play. The minor league season has been delayed by at least 30 days from the normal time, and there are rumblings that it might be longer. If that rule applies to players on option, Gutierrez wouldn’t get any credit towards his suspension while the major league season is going on because there would be no minor league games. And if that’s true, what possible benefit could it possibly have served the club to option him? Wouldn’t they want the suspension over as fast as possible? Players don’t get any salary or major league service time while on the restricted list due to a drug suspension, so optioning him doesn’t clear any space on the major league roster.
It seems like there would be a lot of uncertainty. But Adam Shelton, the MLB.com beat reporter for the Reds, said in this article that Gutierrez only has 18 days of his suspension left to serve. If that’s true, it would mean that he got full credit for last year’s major league season, plus the 2 playoff games the Reds played in last year’s wild card round. And this despite the fact that Gutierrez was on the reserve list of a minor league club when he was suspended and there were no minor league games to miss. Perhaps the reasoning is that the various 60-man Club Player Pools of last year were designed to represent players that were eligible to play in major league games, and maybe Gutierrez couldn’t be considered for inclusion in the CPP because of that. And for that reason, MLB is going to give him credit for that because he was denied the development he otherwise would have receeved and denied the theoretical opportunity to be called up to the major league roster. That still seems like a stretch. What if the player that was suspended was in the Gulf Coast League or other complex league who absolutely had no chance to get called up? They’d give him credit for the entire MLB season plus playoffs?
One clue that Shelton is right is that the major league policy says that players who are not eligible for reinstatement from a suspension within the first 40 days of the upcoming season are barred from appearing in official spring training games. Gutierrez pitched in 5 official spring games before being optioned. Although it seems weird to me, I have no reason to dispute Shelton’s factual reporting. If that is right, that will mean that Gutierrez will be available for this year’s playoffs, because a player is only barred from postseason play in the season that the suspension commences.
All I can say is that Gutierrez was probably transferred from the minor league restricted list to the major league restricted list when the Reds purchased his contract last November. He is not on the 40-man roster because players on the restricted list don’t count against the 40-man, and Gutierrez is still listed on the restricted list. And he has been optioned, even though he is not on the 40-man, I think, because it will allow him to participate in extended spring training. I’m still fuzzy on which games will count towards his suspension.
3/14/21: Claimed RHP Carson Fulmer on outright assignment waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates. 40-man roster full. 47 players left in camp (35 40-man roster players + 12 NRIs).
I briefly covered Fulmer here, when the Pirates claimed him on waivers from the Tigers last season. He supposedly has tantalizing stuff with a high 90s fastball and power curve, but his inability to develop a consistent third pitch prevented him from securing a rotation job. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats and has serious control problems, but keeps getting chances, as evidenced last season by his starting off in camp with the White Sox, then being claimed on outright assignment waivers by the Tigers, Pirates, Orioles, Pirates again, and now the Reds. He was claimed by the Pirates twice last year and never actually pitched for the club. Fulmer is out of options, and it looks like the Reds were interested because the pitching coach, answer could be that Derek Johnson, the club’s pitching coach was the pitching coach that recruited Fulmer to Vanderbilt. He pitched 3 spring games for the Pirates.
3/21/21: Optioned RHP Hector Perez, RHP Art Warren, C Deivy Grullon, IF Jose Garcia and OF Scott Heineman to AAA Louisville. Re-assigned IF Cheslor Cuthbert to minor league camp. 41 players left in camp (30 40-man roster players + 11 NRIs).
3/22/21: Signed RHP Heath Hembree to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training. 42 players left in camp (30 40-man roster players + 12 NRIs).
Hembree has parts of 8 seasons of major league experience, 7 of which he spent in the Red Sox organization as a reliever. After being traded to the Phillies last season and outrighted in the offseason, he signed a minor league deal with the Indians with a spring training invite. The Indians released him after he pitched 7 games in which he allowed 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned run, 6 walks and 1 homer in 6.1 IP with 8 strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched in a game since March 16th, and wouldn’t report to Reds camp until March 24th due to a mandatory quarantine upon switching clubs. He won’t have much time to make an impression. He wasn’t an Article XX-B free agent, so he won’t get a retention bonus and automatic June opt-out if he isn’t added to the roster.
3/26/21: Released LHP Jesse Biddle and IF Dee Strange-Gordon from their minor league deals. Re-assigned LHP Brandon Finnegan and C Rocky Gale to minor league camp. 38 players left in camp (30 40-man roster players + 8 NRIs).
3/27/21: Placed RHP Noe Ramirez on unconditional release waivers. 40-man roster at 39. Re-assigned LHP Josh Osich and OF Nicky Delmonico to minor league camp. 35 players left in camp (29 40-man roster players + 6 NRIs).
Well, 23-year old shortstop Leonardo Rivas is the only thing left from the Raisel Iglesias trade, and he hasn’t played above High-A. This wasn’t a DFA and attempted trade or outright assignment of Ramirez, it was “Hit the Road, Jack.” In 6 IP over 6 games, Ramirez gave up 3 homers out of his 6 hits allowed and walked 4 batters to only 4 strikeouts. He also gave up 11 runs, only 6 of which were earned.
After acquiring Ramirez in trade from the Angels, the club agreed with him on a 1-year, $1.175 million deal to avoid arbitration. If it had been an arbitration award, the deal would not have been guaranteed. Many times deals to avoid arbitration are, which is often one of the carrots that players get to induce them to not have the hearing. If it is guaranteed, the Reds will owe the whole thing, and could get a setoff of the major league minimum if another club signs him after he clears release waivers. If it’s not guaranteed, Ramirez will be entitled to 45 days’ termination pay, which amounts to $284,274.
40-MAN ROSTER (39)
Tejay Antone (R, 3), Brandon Bailey (R, 2), Luis Castillo (R, 2), Jose De Leon (R, 1), Sean Doolittle (L, N/A), Carson Fulmer (R), Edgar Garcia (R, 1), Amir Garrett (L), Sonny Gray (R, N/A), Ryan Hendrix (R, 2), Jeff Hoffman (R), Michael Lorenzen (R, N/A), Tyler Mahle (R, 2), Wade Miley (L, N/A), Riley O’Brien (R, 3), Cionel Perez (L, 1), Hector Perez (R, 1), Sal Romano (R), Tony Santillan (R, 2), Lucas Sims (R), Jared Solomon (R, 3), Art Warren (R, 2)
Tucker Barnhart (N/A), Deivy Grullon (2), Tyler Stephenson (2)
Alex Blandino (1), Kyle Farmer (1), Jose Garcia (3), Kyle Holder (N/A, Rule 5), Mike Moustakas (N/A), Max Schrock (2), Eugenio Suarez (N/A)
Shogo Akiyama (N/A), Aristides Aquino, Nick Castellanos (N/A), Scott Heineman (2), Mark Payton (2), Nick Senzel (3), Jesse Winker (2)
RESTRICTED LIST (1)
Vladimir Gutierrez (R, 3)
COVID-19 RELATED IL (1)
Joey Votto (N/A)
*Note that RHP Jose De Leon and LHP Cionel Perez are listed as having an option because they are eligible for fourth minor league options.
NON-ROSTER INVITEES (6)
Cam Bedrosian (R), Heath Hembree (R), Braden Shipley (R)
Mike Freeman, Jonathan India
SPRING TRAINING NOTE
Out of all the other NL Central clubs, the Reds proved to be the most difficult to analyze for spring training purposes. Unless it appeared in a local Cincinnati paper, the club never did release a complete NRI list on either its Twitter page or its official website. The players I listed as NRIs have been confirmed on one or both of those sources as being officially invited to spring training. The Reds also initially invited a separate group of 18 players to what the club called an “early minor league camp,” but the total including those extra players still put the club under the limit of 75 players that were allowed in the complexes. Out of that second group, LHP Brandon Finnegan and IF Jonathan India were later promoted to the major league camp.
OPENING DAY OUTLOOK AND JOBS
*Rotation: Going into camp, the rotation was projected to be Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Wade Miley for the first four spots. The 5th spot was expected to be a competition between Michael Lorenzen, Tejay Antone, Jeff Hoffman and Jose De Leon. As it has turned out, the rotation has experienced a series of injuries and delays of one kind or another. Sonny Gray was scratched from his March 9th start, and was ultimately shut down with mid-back spasms. He only pitched one spring game, and will open the season on the injured list, although he has recovered nicely and doesn’t figure to miss much time. Wade Miley left the March 11th game with a hamstring injury, but came back quicker than expected. Luis Castillo will be the opening day starter, despite arriving late to camp because of travel issues with the Dominican Republic, and didn’t debut in a spring game until March 12th. Antone had to leave the March 14th game with a groin injury, and as he was trying to get back into action, he had to stop a side session on March 20th because of irritation in his hip flexor. Lorenzen left an appearance in a “B” game early on the same day with a shoulder strain, and is not scheduled to pitch in any more spring games. He also might open the season on the injured list, but if so, it will likely be for the minimum time.
Now the rotation looks like it will be Castillo, Mahle, Miley, Hoffman, and Lorenzen if he’s ready. If he can’t go right away, I’d expect either a start by De Leon or a bullpen game.
*Bullpen: Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims are battling for the closer’s job, but both pitchers have been nursing injuries. Sims was behind the 8-ball because his offseason throwing program got shut down for a while in January due to right elbow soreness. Garrett has been battling left forearm tightness. Neither pitcher threw in live game action until March 20th. Lefty Sean Doolittle, who may also be in the mix for closer, struggled mightily at first, carrying an ERA of almost 25 after his first four spring appearances, but appears to have settled down and his velocity is up a few ticks from where it was last season. While originally in the mix for a rotation job, Antone’s lack of innings probably shifts him to the bullpen, assuming he’s healthy. The club is high on him and liked the job he did last season as a starter and multi-inning reliever.
Based on the moves the club has already made and who is available, it actually shakes out pretty easily. Brandon Bailey is on the 40-man roster, but he will be placed on the injured list because he will miss the entire season after February Tommy John surgery. Assuming the club carries 13 pitchers and Lorenzen can start the season in the rotation, the only people they’ve got left on the 40-man in addition to Garrett, Doolittle, Sims and Antone, are Jose De Leon, Carson Fulmer, Cionel Perez, and Sal Romano. If Lorenzen can’t go or if they want 14 pitchers, they’d have to recall someone, and I don’t know who they would choose. Fulmer and Romano are out of options, while Cionel Perez and De Leon have a fourth option available.
*Backup catcher: This one is easy. Tucker Barnhart is the starter, and prospect Tyler Stephenson will back him up. Deivy Grullon is AAA depth.
*Infield: The major story going into spring was that the Reds really didn’t have a shortstop. Prospect Jose Garcia was pressed into service into the majors last season in just his third professional season, despite never having played above High-A. He looked completely overmatched at the plate. Garcia, Kyle Farmer, Alex Blandino, Rule 5 pick Kyle Holder, and veteran NRI Dee Strange-Gordon were all going to compete for the job in camp. Instead, the Reds chose “F. None of the Above” on their answer sheet. They’ve decided to put Eugenio Suarez at short, move Mike Moustakas from second back to his natural position at third base and put prospect Jonathan India at second base. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see how it pays off for ‘em.
Suarez was actually drafted as a shortstop and played the position almost exclusively in the minors and in his first two seasons in the majors in 2014 and 2015. He ended up tying for the lead in starts at short for the 2014 Tigers and was the primary shortstop for the 2015 Reds. This was all because he was filling in at the position for other injured players. Suarez didn’t become a third baseman until the Reds traded Todd Frazier to the White Sox following the 2015 season. His defense at short was always considered subpar, and he was rated at the time as one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game by Defensive Runs Saved. But he has shown more agility and mobility in camp after dropping 15 pounds in the offseason. And for what it’s worth, Suarez seems to want to play there, and Moustakas feels more comfortable at third. And as Mike Petriello broke down in this nice piece, the club hasn’t exactly had elite fielding at short even with Jose Garcia, but Suarez has actually had several fielding chances at the shortstop position in recent years due to the shift and has performed fine.
India was drafted #5 overall in the 2018 draft and split 2019 between High-A and AA, slashing .259/.365/.402 with 11 homers in 121 games. He was primarily a third baseman in college and the minor leagues, with only a smattering of appearances at short and second. He was blocked at third and second by Suarez and Moustakas, who are signed for the next four and three years, respectively. This will give him a shot to lock down a job in a timely manner.
Votto returned to camp on March 21st, and started a game for the 26th for the first time since March 7th, but is still on the COVID 19-Related IL. I guess it’s within the rules to play in spring training games after you clear the protocol but before the club decides to officially reinstate you. He still might not be ready for opening day. In his absence, a cavalcade of different players have been slotted at the position. Of the players still left in camp, Kyle Farmer, Alex Blandino, and even Max Schrock have all logged time.
The super-sub Farmer is a lock to make the roster because he can play just about anywhere, including catcher. Schrock left the March 10th game with a calf injury which cost him a week, and was then scratched from a planned start on March 25th with a hamstring strain. He was hitting well in camp, but his missed time may cost him a job. I’m not sure how high the club is on Rule 5 pick Kyle Holder, but he hasn’t hit in camp. If there’s another infield job available due to Votto’s unavailability for opening day, the lefty-swinging Holder might get a reprieve from a DFA if Schrock is unavailable. Blandino will probably be on the roster to start, and he has an option left if the club needs to make a roster move. NRI Mike Freeman has played a bunch of positions, and his flexibility makes him a dark horse candidate.
*Outfield. Shogo Akiyama had a rough spring. He was gone from camp from February 26th until March 4th because his wife was hospitalized after being hit by a large falling tree while walking on a park trail in Cincinnati. He then had to leave the March 13th game with a strained left hamstring, and has been out of action ever since. He will open the season on the injured list. From left to right, you’re looking at Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and Nick Castellanos on most days. I also expect Aristides Aquino to make the roster because he has been ruled not to have a fourth minor league option, and he would probably be the only power source the clubs have off the bench. There will probably be another outfield job available, and that one will come down to Mark Payton and NRI Tyler Naquin. Payton can serve as a lefty bat and play all over the outfield, but he only has 6 games of major league experience. Naquin, non-tendered by the Indians in the offseason, is actually a little younger than Payton, and has played in the majors for parts of the last 5 seasons. He has hit well in camp, also bats lefty, and has played a good amount in center.
*If Votto is not available for opening day, I would expect Farmer to get the majority of starts at first base. In that case I figure Stephenson, Blandino, Aquino would have a hold on three bench jobs. That would leave either Payton or Naquin for the backup center field job. A final infield job would go to Holder or Schrock, if he is healthy.