For all the optimism about the Cincinnati Reds’ off-season moves to actually win some baseball games, a former Nashville Sound and a former University of Tennessee star wound up being subjects of discontent at opposite ends of the Reds’ training camp.
On the front end, second baseman Scooter Gennett went public right at the start of camp about the Reds’ failure to extend his contract. On the back end, Nick Senzel, who by every expert’s account is ready for the big leagues, won’t be in the big leagues. He’s headed to Louisville to play for the Reds’ AAA affiliate in the International League.
And then, as if to underscore the absurdity of dissing Senzel, Gennett’s right groin strain suffered in an exhibition game Friday will sideline him for eight to 12 weeks, but that didn’t change any minds in the Reds’ front office about demoting Senzel.
Senzel happens to be more suited to play second base than center field, where the Reds had tried to find a spot for his major-league-ready bat. Gennett’s injury, if common sense ruled, would dictate that Senzel would stay in Cincinnati and play second base. That way, the Reds wouldn’t lose offensive punch at that position, which Gennett provided.
Senzel, to his credit, said all the right things. But his agent did the real talking. In a report by ESPN, agent Joel Wolfe said the decision on Senzel “feels like a simply egregious case of service-time manipulation.” And, of course, Wolfe is simply correct.
Demoting Senzel is, just matter-of-fact, a way for the Reds to control the young prospect for an additional year than what the club would get if they put him on the major-league roster to start the season.
This has become the norm for major league clubs. By holding back a top prospect a few weeks in the minor leagues at the start of what would be his rookie season, they don’t break the threshold of losing him a year sooner to free agency.
In other words, by holding Senzel back now for a short period, they get to keep him a year longer. The most well-known case was when the Cubs held back Kris Bryant just so they could have him an extra year before free agency. It has become common practice, and players have a right to be frustrated by it. To the club, it’s strictly business. In reality, it’s simply a way to control the hired help. This could be a point of friction between the players and the owners when they discuss a new collective bargaining agreement not far down the road.
Senzel, who was drafted No. 1 by the Reds in the first round in 2016, played at Farragut High School and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Gennett played 79 games at AAA Nashville in 2013 when the Sounds were an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Reds claimed Gennett off waivers from the Brewers in 2017. Gennett is from Cincinnati, and he has blossomed late in his career as an offensive threat. The Reds have decided to replace Gennett by moving shortstop Jose Peraza to second and replacing Peraza with veteran infielder Jose Iglesias.
Neither Peraza nor Iglesias is viewed as the kind of offensive threat that Senzel is expected to be.
If the Reds were straightforward about their roster decision and openly admitted they’re just doing what other clubs are doing and protecting their business interests, that might be language everyone could understand. But the entire tone set by the Reds is that they’re tired of losing. That’s why they made deals to bring in Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Sonny Gray. It’s supposed to be a new day in Cincinnati. The decision on Senzel, especially in light of Gennett’s injury, flies in the face of every message the front office has been sending in the off-season.
Again, Senzel’s agent is the voice of reason.
“The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later,” Wolfe told ESPN.
Senzel, for his part, was magnanimous and said he got beat out of the center field job by Scott Schebler, who has, in fact, had a good spring, batting .364 with a couple of home runs. But Senzel has had a good spring. batting .308. Senzel is ranked the No. 6 best prospect in all of baseball by mlb.com.
Reds’ manager David Bell’s comments have been weak.
“In the end, we had to remember that [Senzel] has never played in a regular-season game,” Bell said in the ESPN report. “The good news is when he does come up, he’s going to be that much more prepared to [play center field], and he’s close.”
But in a report by mlb.com, Dick Williams, the Reds’ president of baseball operations, was downright baffling.
Williams said of Senzel, “He’s going to continue on the great trajectory that he’s on.”
The trajectory he is on is that of a losing team, suddenly in need of a second baseman who can hit, sending its best prospect to fill that position to the minor leagues.