CINCINNATI -- The Reds roster was set. They were breaking camp in Goodyear, Arizona in three days.
Then Scooter Gennett’s name showed up on the waiver wire.
Right now, claiming Gennett looks like the easiest decision a general manager could make. And I’d be saying that even if Gennett had not made history Tuesday night with four home runs and 10 RBI. Gennett filled a huge void for the Reds. The bench went from questionable to unquestionably good with the claim.
But the decision was far from a slam dunk for Reds General Manager Dick Williams.
First, the Reds were not expecting the Milwaukee Brewers to make Gennett available.
“We had no idea he’d be out there on waivers until he hit them,” Williams said.
The way waivers work is teams have 48 hours to claim a player. The Reds knew they’d likely get Gennett if they claimed him. But even then, it wasn’t a lock they’d make the claim.
“It definitely was a relatively frantic 48 hours of internal discussions,” Williams said. “There was a salary to take on and a new player. It was a credit to the scouting department. Those guys work their tails off to have conviction on players. We had some very good reports on him and high confidence level that he could perform.”
Williams also got input from Walt Jocketty, now an executive advisor to the CEO; and assistant GMs Nick Krall and Sam Grossman.
“My team in the front office thought it was a fit strategically for us: A left-handed bat with power, a guy who could play some positions we needed,” Williams said. “They felt very strongly that it was a good fit. But it did take us a couple of days to talk about it, and what it meant from a salary perspective. We didn’t take it lightly.”
Gennett was signed for $2.52 million as a first-time arbitration-eligible player. That seems like petty cash in today’s baseball. The Reds payroll was right at $92 million at that point. That’s about a 3.7 percent increase. No GM in baseball can make that move without approval from upstairs.
Owner Bob Castellini signed off on the pickup.
“Look at what we spent the entire offseason. It was really (Scott) Feldman and (Drew) Storen. We had a $5 million commitment the whole offseason,” Williams said. “Then here you are two days before breaking camp, a guy comes up like that.”
Gennett, 27, is under Reds’ control for two more years, although he’ll get rapidly more expensive through arbitration.
The other part of the equation was the Reds were looking for Gennett as a utility player. Of the 456 games he played for the Brewers, 454 were at second base. He played one game in right field, one game as the designated hitter.
Gennett had also been a starter for Milwaukee.
“I didn’t know Scooter at all before we got him,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “So I didn’t know how he’d take to that. I didn’t know if he’d be ornery about being a part-time player, if he’d be able to embrace the role, what type of guy he was to fit into this clubhouse culture that’s really grown.”
There’s no way to be certain that a player on waivers will accept his new role.
“You really aren’t able to call over and say, ‘Hey, we might claim you if this happens,’” Williams said. “You’re taking it on faith. We had good intel that he was a competitive guy who likes to play. If we got him over here and made him feel wanted, things would work themselves out. But it was a little bit of risk.
“But it really gave us a lot of comfort in that we’d seen him play every day. During the course of 162-game season, you like having bench players who can go in there for weeks at a time.”
Gennett, meanwhile, was dealing with the shock of being put on waivers by the team that drafted him. He was ready to accept a diminished role. He had volunteered to play other positions with the Brewers.
“It’s baseball, man. It’s a humbling sport,” Gennett said. “I think we all learn at times in our careers that you’re not always going to perform well. It’s how you respond, and the attitude you have to bounce back from that. That’s what keeps you in the game. That’s what gives you opportunities.
“That was my mindset: Get to another team, just be available whenever they call my name. Keeping that mindset and that attitude is important. If you do that, if you take advantage of your opportunity, more will come.”
Gennett fit in from Day 1.
“He’s been above and beyond my wildest expectations as far as a teammate,” Price said. “Beyond the performance, he’s been a great teammate.”
The day after the claim Gennett played his first game as a Red in spring finale against Cleveland.
“We claimed him and then he hit a home run off Andrew Miller the next day,” Williams said. “I said, ‘This guy made us look pretty smart.’ It did look like strategically a pretty good fit. I could not have made that call without the Everyone feels a little better about him now.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org