When Luke Maile was in negotiations with the Cincinnati Reds on his eventual one-year, $1.175 million contract, he chose to keep it to himself knowing how much his family would love to see him play for his hometown team.
Once the Covington Catholic product agreed to the deal before Thanksgiving, he finally let his family know where he will be playing next season.
“They were pretty ecstatic,” Maile said Tuesday, “and I think that’s kind of an understatement.”
Maile, 31, is joining his sixth organization since he was drafted out of the University of Kentucky in 2012, but there were some more emotions with this opportunity. He grew up watching Reds games. He went to games at Riverfront Stadium as a little kid. He already posted pictures on social media of himself in a Reds uniform as a kid, including a No. 16 Reggie Sanders jersey.
"That was my team," Maile said. "That was my whole life, really, since the time I can remember."
The Reds immediately expressed interest in Maile when he was released by Cleveland on Nov. 18 because of his rising salary as an arbitration-eligible player, and they were one of the first teams to send him a contract offer.
“I always knew I wanted to play for the Reds at some point,” Maile said. “We had a very quick negotiation. It was something I could tell that they wanted me and that was good enough for me. We were ready to make a deal happen at this point.”
Maile lives in Palm Harbor, Florida, in the offseason, but his entire family still lives in the Greater Cincinnati area and his phone was buzzing after the signing was announced.
He was asked if he’s heard from anyone at Covington Catholic and he responded, “I think the whole school has reached out to me,” adding that he received a congratulatory text from principal Bob Rowe.
“It's been a really, really cool 24 hours here,” Maile said. “It's really difficult to put into words. I think, as you guys know, Cincinnati and that area is the type of city where it's big enough to have its sports teams and it's small enough where everyone kind of knows everybody. Kind of circling back and experiencing that has been really amazing.”
Backup catcher was a top priority for the Reds. Tyler Stephenson was previously the only catcher on the 40-man roster. Austin Romine, Aramis Garcia, Chuckie Robinson and Michael Papierski are free agents. Mark Kolozsvary was claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles.
Maile carries a solid reputation for his work with pitching staffs and controlling the running game with his arm. As the Cleveland Guardians’ backup catcher last season, he hit .221 with three homers, 10 doubles and 17 RBI in a career-high 76 games while posting a .310 on-base percentage.
“We've heard a lot of good things about him,” Reds General Manager Nick Krall said. “Being a local guy, we've got a lot of background on him. He takes a lot of pride in his catching. The last two years, as a backup, he's been league-average offensively as a catcher. Catcher OPS has been around .660 OPS and he's been right around the same.”
The Reds have been in discussions with catchers all offseason, including former catcher Tucker Barnhart. Krall didn’t rule out adding a third catcher to the roster through free agency.
“There is a chance,” Krall said. “We've got a DH spot and you can mix and match. You can always, with that extra roster spot over the last year, it is something that's a little bit different. You could work with three catchers, especially with the DH.”
At a minimum, Maile provides a good amount of experience behind Stephenson to work with a young pitching staff. Maile has been on playoff teams over the last two seasons with Cleveland in 2022 and Milwaukee in 2021.
“The expectations weren’t very high from the outside going into Cleveland last year,” Maile said. “For me personally, as good of a year as the pitchers had – I’m not going to say it’s a feather in my cap, I’m just trying to help us win games, but at the same time, to do it in close games all year and be behind the plate for some really tense moments was a growth spurt for my career personally. I’m excited to transition that into another young team with probably pretty low expectations from what I hear. I don’t see why we can’t repeat the process in Cincinnati.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Reds roster: Catcher Luke Maile signs one-year contract