Assessing 2023 MLB front offices: Nick Krall and the Cincinnati Reds made things interesting

Nick Krall and his front office used a strong rookie class to bring the Reds to the brink of postseason play in 2023.
Cincinnati Reds game planning/outfield coach Jeff Pickler (61) and General Manager Nick Krall talk
Cincinnati Reds game planning/outfield coach Jeff Pickler (61) and General Manager Nick Krall talk / Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY

Nick Krall front office WAA impact for Cincinnati Reds: -1.2 games. Rank in MLB: 15. Rank in division: 2.

Well into August, Krall’s Reds were one of the sensations of baseball due largely to their attention-getting rookie crop.

Then Elly De La Cruz faded, Matt McLain got hurt and the Reds finished third in the NL Central, just two games above .500. It was progress, but not the kind Reds fans dreamed of when the club was holding a playoff position deep into the summer.

That vaunted rookie crop (De La Cruz, McLain, Andrew Abbott, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Teejay Antone and Will Benson) still looks imposing as 2023 fades to 2024. It generated +2.7 Wins Above Average (WAA) worth of impact toward the Reds’ improvement, the fourth-strongest rookie crop in the game. The only three teams ahead of Krall’s rookie Reds (the Orioles, Phillies and Twins) all qualified for postseason play.

WAA is used in this series of front office evaluations because it is a zero-based version of WAR, therefore enabling valid approximations of impact against wins and losses.

Perhaps sensing that he had something developing in 2023, Krall’s front office went after it hard. From the conclusion of the 2022 postseason through the trade deadline, the Reds acquired 10 major leaguers in deals with other teams, and they signed or extended another 17 on the open market.

Unfortunately for Krall, each succeeding player decision seemed to essentially offset the one before it. Based on the net WAA, the net impact only amounted to -1.2 games in the standings. Still, the improvement earned Krall a new title if nothing else; in September, he was promoted to team president.

Although De La Cruz was the attention-getter among the rookies, McLain and Abbott were the statistical stars. In 89 games playing middle infield utility, McLain batted .290 with 16 home runs and an .864 OPS, good for +2.4 WAA.

Abbott made 21 starts with an 8-6 record and 3.87 ERA. That was good for a +1.8 WAA.

T.J. Friedl, a 2022 rookie, supplemented that with a .279/.352/.467 slash line and +2.0 WAA.

Krall had mixed success in his dealings either with other GMs or on the open market. He did wrestle Sam Moll away from Oakland at the trade deadline, and Moll was worth a 0.73 ERA in 25 appearances, good for a +1.1 WAA. But that only offset the damage done by Krall’s winter pursuit of infielder Kevin Newman from Pittsburgh.

At a cost of Dauri Moreta, who became a regular contributor for the Pirates, Newman produced a .675 OPS until Krall decided he could do better with De La Cruz and/or McLain. At season’s end, Newman and his -1.3 WAA were released.

The free agent signing of journeyman pitcher Luke Weaver netted 21 rocky starts leading to a 6.87 ERA and -1.7 WAA before the Reds released Weaver in mid-August.

Here’s the full short-term and long-term statistical profile on the 2023 performance of Krall’s front office. Again, all figures reflect group Wins Above Average.

Acquired by trade, waiver claim or purchase:

  • Since October 2022: 10 players, -1.5 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022: 7 players, +1.1 net impact

Signed as a free agent or extended for multiple seasons:

  • Since October 2022, 17 players, -2.5 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 3 players, -0.2 net impact

System products:

  • Since October 2022, 13 players, +2.7 net impact.
  • Prior to October 2022, 14 players, -0.2 net impact

Traded away, waived, sold, released or lost to free agency:

  • Since October 2022, 11 players, +0.1 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022, 24 players, -7.5 net impact

The Reds’ 2023 starting nine included not a single player older than 28, and that doesn’t include McLain, 23. The five most commonly used starters averaged age 25. It’s no wonder there’s a lot of holdover enthusiasm for Krall’s Reds as this season merges with next season.

To the extent there's a knock on Krall, it's his willingness to trade away talent in the search for a great come-and-get it future. There were 15 major leaguers in 2023 who had been traded by Krall in previous seasons, and some of departures were significant. They included Sonny Gray (+3.7 for Texas), Luis Castillo (+1.6 for Seattle), and Wade Miley (+1.2 in Milwaukee). The net contribution of those former Reds to their new teams amounted to +7.5 games.

Much will depend on the further development of the farm system bonanza. For all his flare and attention, De La Cruz wound up at .235 with a .710 OPS and subpar fielding numbers. McLain didn’t play a game down the stretch, sidelined in late August by an oblique injury.

Beyond that, the Reds will need Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft (two young pitchers with more potential than performance) to step up consistently. They were a combined 11-16 with a 4.79 ERA in 2023.  

If that happens, however, look out. Krall’s Reds improved by 20 games in the standings in 2023. History says teams who make that kind of jump tend to regress in subsequent years, but Cincinnati’s rookie crop argues otherwise.