McCoy: Reds Infield Remains Overpopulated

By Hal McCoy

A checklist on what the Cincinnati Reds have done so far this off-season to improve the team can be scribbled on a 2 1/2 by 3 1/2-inch pocket notepad, with a lot of empty pages.

They’ve made one noteworthy move, but it is only noteworthy in that it is something that requires fans to take off their caps and scratch their scalps.

Why Jeimer Candelario? Why Candelario, a 30-year-old infielder? Why slip him a three-year $45 million contract?

With all the young and highly talented infielders already on the roster with plenty of playing time already logged, where is Candelario going to play? How often and where?

Vice President/General Manager Nick Krall answered that. . .sort of.

“He’s going to be an every day player on our club.,” said Krall. “Switch-hitter. First and third base. He Has a great chance to make a big impact.”

But that makes no sense, not with Noel Marte at third, Ely De La Cruz at shortstp, Matt McLain at second and Christian Encarnacion-Strand at first.

And even before they brought Candelario through the front door there were questions about where Jonathan India would play and how much he would play.

So Candelario is going to play every day? Not unless MLB comes up with another whacky rules change and adds a fourth base to the infield.

The only answer is that something’s gotta give and somebody’a gotta go. India is the logical choice for a trade, but even if that happens there are still too many infielders and not enough bases to cover.

And in another scalp-scratcher, Krall keeps saying India is not on the trade market, even though there is great demand for him by other teams.

Asked if he is motivated to trade India, who is arbitration-eligible that leads to a big salary, Krall said, “No , that’s what I’m saying. I wouldn’t say we are motivated to trade India.

“ If a deal comes around, we have to be open to anything. But just motivated to move players off your roster just because that guy might not fit, that doesn’t make any sense.”

So a player who doesn’t fit does fit? Strange logic, there.

It was thought that 2024 would be used to see who fits where and who doesn’t fit. How would they align all those infielders? De La Cruz played short and third last year. McLain played second and short. So where do Marte and Encarnacion-Strand fit?

So now they are going to wedge Candelario into the mix? It just makes zero sense to have so many infielders, most of them young and talented.

Although there are no rumors afloat at the moment involving a Reds trade, perhaps the club is entertaining thoughts of trading Marte or Encarnacion-Strand or De La Cruz to add veteran presence in the young pitching rotation.

They’ve already signed one 33-year-old pitcher who is a swingman. Nick Martinez can start or pitch out of the bullplen. He has done both and could be a No. 5 starter. But for the most part he has worked out of the bullpen.

He made 63 appearances for San Diego last season, nine of them starts and was 6-4 with a 3.67earned run average. He made 10 starts in 2022 and was 4-4 with a 3.72 ERA.

The other free agent signee is relief pitcher Emilio Pagan, a 32-year-old journeyman who cost the Reds $16 million for two years. He already has made stops with Minnesota, Seattle, Oakland, San Diego and Tampa Bay. In five of the past six seasons, wherever he might be, he has appeared in 50 or more games.

Regardless of what Krall says, he has to have both ears absorbing everything he hears, especially talk about India. Several teams are interested but Krall says the demand is too high and the return too low. Clubs want and India and prospects for a veteran starting pitcher the Reds could use.

There are two road blocks to the Reds signing a high-profile free agent pitcher. Most teams can outbid the Reds and money is always an object for players these days There is so much of it available.

And most pitchers shy away from the Reds because of the cozy dimensions of Great American Ball Park, where baseballs fly out of the park like fleeing pigeons that inflate earned run averages and lead to losses.

Just when one wonders how many infielders will not only fit on the field, but in the dugout, Krall does it again.

He has re-signed infielder Alex Blandino, the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2014, a guy who never lived up to a No. 1 pick. And he didn’t even play last season, other than early in the year with the Nicaraugan World Baseball Classic team.

He last played in the majors in 2021, 82 plate appearances for the Reds with a slash line of .200/.317/.257 and no homers and five RBI.

He was in the minor league systems with the San Francisco Giants in 2021 and the Seattle Mariners in 2022, but the Mariners released him in May of 2022. Now he resurfaces with the Reds on a minor-league contract with an invite to the major league camp for spring training.

And the Reds have re-signed pitcher Reiver Sanmartin, who spent most of last season on the injured list. He appeared in relief 14 times last season to a 7.07 ERA. In May, he was placed on the injured list with elbow soreness and in early July he underwent elbow surgery. And now he is back, on a minor league deal with an invite to bifg league camp.

And that’s it. There is still time for an impact move. In fairness to Krall and the Reds front office, everything is a two-way street. Both sides have to agree on a trade and both a free agent and the Reds have to agree on a deal.

That isn’t as easy as it sounds.


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