The dust has settled on a whirlwind run to the trade deadline for the Reds. Five major league players went. 10 prospects came.
So, what's next for the Reds?
On one hand, there's reason for fans to be cautiously optimistic, if not full blown excited about the haul of talent harvested by Nick Krall.
On the other hand, the default position for many fans when reacting to news of new prospects has become, "when's he going to be traded?"
That makes it tough for fans to fully commit and invest emotionally and financially in the Reds.
The Reds task is building the foundation for sustainable success. A big part of that is identifying core players.
That begins with former 1st round picks Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson.
Both players are under team control for four more seasons, meaning they would reach free agency until after the 2026 season.
Imagine the reaction to a news conference next week with Bob Castellini and Nick Krall bookended at the table by India and Stephenson for the announcement that both players have been locked up to extension.
Think of the statement made, if India, who turns 26 in December, and Stephenson, who turns 26 next week, agreed to contract extensions, let's say six year.
That would mean the Reds would lock up both players through their three years of arbitration (2024-2026) and first two years of free agency, through 2028.
Would there be risk? Sure. But consider what it could mean for both sides.....plus the clubhouse and the fan base.
Reds: Get cost certainty on two core players that locks them up through 2028, buying up their three arbitration years and first two years of free agency.
Reds accept the small sample size of less than two ML season for each player. They accept risk of injury/under performance. They hope both players match/exceed expectations over the next six seasons and potentially save the organization money on the back end.
India/Stephenson: Get six years of financial security, even if they struggle/fail to live up to expectations. They cap their earning potential if they exceed expectations. They pass up first two cracks at free agency and getting on open market after 2026.
Clubhouse: Extensions would be a strong signal to the rest of the clubhouse. Players that have seen teammates/friends continually leave would be shown that young/productive players are valued and will be taken care of.
Fans: The organization would be making a powerful statement to the fan base that ownership will pay to retain players they identify as core pieces...the players they scout, draft and develop that help the Reds win.
Of course an organization can't operate simply out of the feel good of throwing fans bones. Moves like these also have to make sound baseball sense.
This approach was the model executed by the mid 1990's Cleveland Indians with GM John Hart shrewdly locking up young players early like Sandy Alomar,
Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga and Manny Ramirez. That group was part of a run of five consecutive playoff appearances and two World Series appearances (1995-1999).
It doesn't always work.
In 2014, the Houston Astros signed Top 100 prospect Jon Singleton to a 5-year/$10.5M deal before he ever saw a ML pitch. He bombed, hitting .171 in 114 ML games over two seasons, and was released after 2015.
The Philadelphia Phillies rolled the dice on a 6-year/$24M extension for prospect Scott Kingery prior to his ML debut in 2018. He's hit .229 over parts of five ML seasons.
In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays locked up Evan Longoria to a 6-year/$17M contract just six games into his major league career. He'd win Rookie of the Year, become a three time All-Star with the Rays and win two Gold Gloves.
Last year, the Rays gave 20-year old Wander Franco an 11 year/$182M extension before he'd played a full season in the majors. The shortstop flashed as a rookie last year, but has struggled and is currently on the IL with a wrist injury.
In a perfect world the Reds are winning and chasing division titles and postseason success in 2025, if not 2024.
Imagine knowing right now that both India and Stephenson are locked up through at least 2028 and not worrying about both reaching free agency after 2026.
What would extensions look like for India and Stephenson?
Earlier this season the Pirates locked up 25-year old 3B Ke' Bryan Hayes to an 8-year/$70M deal. That followed seeing him play 120 games between parts of 2020 and 2021 (.280-11-49). Like India and Stephenson, he was also scheduled to be a free agent after 2026.
“It’s time for us as an organization to put a stake in the ground,” said Pittsburgh owner Bob Nutting at the news conference. GM Ben Cherington added: “A lot of building a winning team is filling that team with players that we trust, that we can trust on the field [and] off the field. In Ke’Bryan’s case, he does so many things well on the field. We trust him as a player. We also trust him as a person. We need lots of players like that. I believe there are other players who fit that description, too.”
The Braves have been big on extensions. In April of 2019, they signed 21-year old Ozzie Albies to a 7-year/$35M contract. At the time, he was under control for four seasons and coming off an All-Star season in 2018 (.261-24-72). They also inked 21-year old Ronald Acuna to an 8-year/$100M deal in April of 2019, following his 2018 Rookie of the Year season (.293-26-64). They recently locked up 25-year old Austin Riley to a 10-year/$212M deal when they had three more years of team control.
Here are a couple of previous Reds extensions to young players:
26-year old Devin Mesoraco: 4-years/$28M in January 2015. Followed his 2014 All-Star season, .273-25-80. It bought his three arbitration years and first year of free agency.
26-year old Eugenio Suarez: 7-years/$66M in March 2018. It followed back-to-back seasons of 21 HR/70 RBI and 26 HR/80 RBI. It bought his three arbitration years and up to five years of free agency, with an option year.
25-year old Johnny Cueto: 4 years/$27M in January 2011. Followed 12-7 3.64 season. It bought his three arbitration years and one year of free agency.
26-year old Tucker Barnhart: 4-years/$16M in September 2017....during his Gold Glove season. It bought his three years of arbitration and one year of free agency.
Can the Reds find a price point that satisfies both? Are both ready to commit to the organization long term?
I don't know.
But isn't it worth finding out the answers?