Jed Hoyer has been given the difficult task of keeping the Cubs competitive while also lowering the baseball payroll, something the front office has referred to as “threading the needle.” The good news is that the rest of the NL Central may only be trying to get cheaper, or so it seems at this point.
The Brewers, who’ve magicked their way into contention on the strength of strategic lighting and a lights-out bullpen, could be looking to trade Josh Hader. The Cardinals might be losing veteran leadership and the embodiment of playing the right way — not to mention getting butthurt over nothing — if Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright don’t come back. The Pirates, well, they’re the Pirates.
But of all the teams in the Central, the Reds appear to be most actively engaged in the race to rebuild. After winning the NL Cy Young following what all indications say was a choice to load up on grip-enhancing substances, Trevor Bauer declined the qualifying offer and will sign elsewhere. Resurgent No. 2 starter Sonny Gray is heavily rumored to be on the trade block, so they could be looking at a severely depleted rotation.
They also shipped closer Raisel Iglesias out to Anaheim and non-tendered righty reliever Archie Bradley after acquiring him in a deadline trade during the shortened season. Backup catcher Curt Casali was also non-tendered, though that’s just a pitching-adjacent move. But if you really want a sign that Cincy is actively looking to get younger and cheaper with an eye to the future, look no further than the Eugenio Suárez rumors.
Nats have talked to the Reds about 3B Eugenio Suarez. Nothing imminent or believed anywhere close. Kieboom would make sense in a package. Prospects the Nats don’t want to deal: Rutledge, Cavalli, Garcia.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 18, 2020
Jon Heyman was quick to point out that nothing is imminent and he added later that the Gray talks have been at the forefront of the Reds’ winter business so far, but still. The Nats make a ton of sense as a destination because they’d really like to replace the production they lost when Anthony Rendon signed with the Angels. That has fueled several rumors about trading for Kris Bryant, though GM Mike Rizzo recently poured a little water on those flames.
Trading for Suárez would cost the Nats a good deal more because his contract runs for four more years at a mere $9.4 AAV for luxury tax purposes and less than $11.3 million in actual payroll. His 2025 club option is a very reasonable $15 million and carries a $2 million buyout, so it’s not as if he’ll suddenly become an albatross. And though it seems like he’s been killing the Cubs for decades, Suárez is only heading into his age-29 season and will be just 33 during that option year.
All of which is to say that he’s actually the exact type of player you’d think the Reds would want to keep, unless they don’t plan to be competitive again for at least four years. Trading Suárez would signal a full-on rebuild in the Queen City — Sorry Nick Castellanos, you should have known better — and would mean one less hurdle for Hoyer to clear in the division as he conducts whatever degree of reset he feels is necessary.
In 100 career games against the Cubs, Suárez has slashed .287/.375/.555 with 25 homers, 70 RBI, and 201 total bases. Those counting stats are easily his highest totals against any team, and you could even throw his five stolen bases against the Cubs into that mix. His .388 wOBA and 140 wRC+ are both significantly better than his career marks of .347 and 114 as well.
It feels kind of icky to be sitting here and cheering for quasi-moral victories, but it’s entirely possible that the Reds trading Suárez and Gray will have a greater positive impact on the Cubs’ chances than any acquisitions on the North Side this offseason. Think I’m exaggerating? Daniel Descalso has been their most expensive free agent of the last two winters and counting, and he actually cost more ($5M) than the other four guaranteed deals — Tony Barnette ($750K), Brad Brach ($1.65M after restructure), Steven Souza Jr. ($1M), Jeremy Jeffress ($850K) — the Cubs have agreed to in that time.
But hey, maybe something changes and the expedited coronavirus vaccine timeline has ownership optimistic enough about getting fans in the stands to change their tune. Maybe having a full season will entice television providers to pick Marquee Sports Network back up, thereby transforming it from a loss leader into the broadcast juggernaut that was supposed to deliver wheelbarrows of cash to the front office.
There are some other potential revenue-generating projects we’ll discuss later, so I’ll just end here by saying a competitive product is still possible even without a premium payroll. However, it’s going to require a little help from the outside to make it happen.
Update: Per Jon Heyman’s report, the Reds are also shopping Luis Castillo. Should they end up moving Castillo and Gray after losing Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani to free agency, they’d have Tyler Mahle as their only regular returning starter. Yikes.
Luis Castillo as well as Sonny Gray is being discussed in trades. Asks are appropriately high for young frontline starters. The #Reds went for it last winter (and were rewarded with a playoff spot) but the belt tightening this winter is clear.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 20, 2020