Less than 16 hours after the last out of the World Series, the Reds and Tigers got a quick start to their offseason by swinging a trade that sent catcher Tucker Barnhart to Detroit for infield prospect Nick Quintana. It was “a very difficult decision” for Reds GM Nick Krall, yet Barnhart’s $7.5MM club option for 2022 proved to be a major factor in determining the end of Barnhart’s long tenure in Cincinnati.
“Having been drafted and developed by the Reds, our entire organization has a connection to [Barnhart], and our fans love him,” Krall told reporters, including Bobby Nightengale of The Cincinnati Enquirer. “But going into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.”
These words surely won’t be welcomed by Reds fans, and yet Krall’s statement merely vocalizes what has been pretty apparent for the last year-plus — the Reds are cutting back on their spending. Last winter’s trade of Raisel Iglesias and non-tender of Archie Bradley were the early signs that the Reds’ payroll increases in 2018 and 2019 hit their peak with the 2020 season, as the team made the postseason but quickly bowed out in the wild card round.
There was some baseball logic to the Barnhart trade, however, as the Reds do have a ready-made catching replacement in Tyler Stephenson, who has hit well in 422 MLB plate appearances and looks deserving of a larger role. With a quality younger (and cheaper) player waiting in the wings, retaining Barnhart may have been less crucial than committing his $7.5MM to other roster needs. “I think it’s something that this move did not make sense from where we were with payroll. We had to make sure we made the adjustment,” Krall said.
This doesn’t mean that the Reds will be going into fire sale mode, the GM noted. “It’s going to be more of a wait-and-see, but I don’t think we’re not going to sign players on the free-agent market,” Krall said. What isn’t yet clear is just what Cincinnati’s payroll will look like in 2022. As per Roster Resource, the Reds have just under $128MM on the books for next season, a notable step down from the record $149MM they were prepared to spend in 2020 before the pandemic led to prorated salaries.
It doesn’t seem as though the Reds will spend much beyond that $128MM mark, which is a concern given the number of areas that have to be addressed. Standing pat isn’t really an option for team with this many needs, and it could be that the Reds might try to unload another of their current higher-priced players in order to either free up more money, or perhaps to take on another pricier player that better fits what Cincinnati needs on the roster.