I had relatively reasonable expectations for the 2019 Reds season. I predicted and still expect them to finish 81-81. I felt like the ceiling for this team was getting a Wild Card spot with near 87 wins. The floor being at least fourth place in the NL Central. Since 2015 I have not expected much from this Reds team in the way of wins but more so in player development. That narrative no longer fits this organization, or even die hard Reds fans expectations, even though the team hasn’t posted a competitive season since 2013.
The front office appears to be taking this team in the right direction with it’s aggressive offseason. I believe the coming month, as well as the upcoming offseason, will see how serious they are about creating a winning culture. I use this term loosely as the definition of a winning season is posting a record .500 or better. For die hards, band wagon, and new fans this has been a difficult team to follow for the most part for the last generation.
What would I define as a winning culture organization? The St. Louis Cardinals. Many of us, including myself, have despised them ever since the big brawl in 2010. I think that resentment has passed now especially with the Pirates and Cubs antics of recent memory. The Cardinals are THE definition of “Winning Culture”. Since 2000 they have had 18 winning seasons, four pennants, nine division titles, three wild card appearances, and most importantly two World Series titles. The Reds since 2000 have had only four winning seasons, two division titles, one wild card appearance, and ZERO playoff series wins. By no means am I expecting the Reds to live up to the Cardinals resume of winning. However, I do expect this organization to no longer accept losing, like it has in the past 20 years. The Reds can do this by investing in player development, knowing when to trade, opening up the payroll, and being aggressive in the trade and free agent markets.
For the past decade the Reds player development has been some of the worst in the league. According to Driveline Baseball, the Cincinnati Reds were 28th in player development from 2012-2019 for value generated from prospects signed and acquired in that time. Generating a whopping -$182 million.
Again that’s NEGATIVE 182 million dollars.
The Reds picks have either been total busts, slow to develop, or are still struggling in the minors. Outside of Winker and Senzel, not really a whole lot has been proven in the majors from this group. Until this offseason the Reds minor league organizations did not seemed to be synchronized with the front office into developing there best prospects. The Reds organization, as a whole, now appears to be striving towards the same goals of development. That couldnt’ have been made more apparent with all the new hires within the front office as well as new jobs created specifically for player development. The Reds farm system is still rated as one of the better systems in baseball with Trammell, Greene, India, and Lodolo on the horizon. The future looks promising. Hopefully now with the Reds investing more in player development we can see more success with the draft picks in coming years.
When it comes to trading, I’m gonna start with some of the good news. They did acquire Gray, Roark, Puig, and Farmer while giving away nothing (by nothing I mean Homer Bailey and some lesser known prospects). They were able to trade for Castillo, Disco, and Suarez all for players who’s best days were behind them. However, when the rebuild started this team held out way too long to have a fire sale. One that should have begun during the 2014 trade deadline but instead start until after the 2015 All-Star game, hosted by Cincinnati. The Reds would ultimately trade Cueto, Chapman, Leake, Fraizer, Bruce and Phillips. The only players that are even still some what relevant from these trades are Peraza, Schebler, and Reed. Most of those acquired have flunked out of the majors by now. None of which are making a substantial production for this team right now. They were also kind enough to hold onto Cozart long enough to make the All-Star team but failed to trade at the deadline. Hamilton and Harvey were also, at one point last year, announced traded through waivers until that deal fell through. However, that apathy towards the trade market changed this offseason. The front office proved to be one of, if not the most aggressive this offseason. I hope to see that near the trade deadline. That goes for both if they are buyers or sellers. I really hope any one of the players in contract years that they decide to hold past the break is at least offered a contract for next season or beyond. They can no longer afford to sit on there hands while the rest of the NL Central continues to build competitive teams. I hope this past offseason of aggressiveness is a sign of things to come before the deadline.
This year was the Reds highest payroll in the teams history. Dick Williams has even said they are entering a period where they expect to win and that the payroll will at least be as much as it was this year. What makes this offseason an incredible opportunity for the Reds going into the free agent market is they’ll have lots of dough to spend. As of now the Reds are only committed to $60 million for the 2020 season. Puig, Roark, Wood, Scooter, Iglesias, and Hernandez are all free agents who walk at the end of this year.
Some of the current players on the roster are eligible for arbitration. I doubt the Reds are interested in keeping all of those eligible. If Dick Williams and Nick Krall have proven anything over these past few seasons it’s that they are some of the best at getting the biggest bang for your buck through free agency. I fully expect them to blow us away with some of there acquisitions this offseason.
Finally something that is probably the most common complaint among many Reds fans is that they are small market team with a small market budget. I don’t really buy into that. For example, the Astros had a payroll of just $54 million in 2012. Their payroll now is $162 million with the 8th highest payroll in baseball. Even more important, they still have one of the most loaded minor league systems in baseball. How’d they do it? Check out the book The MVP Machine. It’s the new Moneyball.
I won’t delve into a whole lot of detail about it. Essentially they did by pouring money into there enhancing player development. Using the analytics to not just build better teams but develop better players. They used slow motion cameras to allow batters to adjust there swing better and pitchers to develop pitches or fix mechanics. Developing their youth while acquiring big name talent as well like Verlander and Cole. They have given themselves a 10 year window to be competitive while reinventing the game. The Reds have already shown they know how to work the free agency and trade markets. Now if they can open up there pocket books for a big free agency or contract extention they could finally make a serious leap forward next year. As well as all of the new front office people they have added to developing young talent they could be setting themselves up for a good window for the future to develop a winning culture in Cincinnati. Fans will welcome it with open arms.
Cincinnati Reds Bounce Back & Break Out: Infield
Who will bounce back in the Cincinnati Reds infield, and who will break out?
As it stands today, 1/11/2021, the Reds infield situation looks very similar to their 2020 situation. Galvis and Casali are gone, but most everyone else is back. Votto is a year older while Stephenson and Garcia headline the youth movement. Veterans Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakas look to rebound after average seasons. Although I think another MLB caliber middle infielder will be added, we will work with what is currently on the roster.
Bounce Back: Eugenio Suarez (.202/.312/.470 15 HR 102 OPS+)
The Alfredo Simon trade (lol), the HR record, the team friendly deal, the huge smile and big bubble gum bubbles are a few of the many reasons we all love Suarez. With HR numbers increasing year after year big things were in store for Geno in 2020. Sadly, I think the offseason shoulder injury played into his slow 2020.
The batting average and on base % took a dive. Around .270 avg and .360 OBP was the standard in previous years but an absolutely terrible start to the season really set things back. However, he improved his average and OBP and Slugging every month of the season.
An entire offseason to get healthy and get right should lead to more of what we expect from the star third baseman. Getting his shoulder back to where it needs to be is crucial. He’s still only 29 years old and is in his prime. Strikeout numbers are something we’ll probably just have to live with (the case for many HR hitters). A bounce back year would help this Reds team add to what was a lackluster offense at times.
Honorable Mention: Every other starter
Just look at the stats
Breakout: Tyler Stephenson (.294/.400/.647 2 HR 17 AB 170 OPS+)
We all know the Tyler Stephenson story. His big homerun on his debut was a moment we will not forget. A 2015 first round selection, the fans have been waiting patiently for Stephenson to contribute. It always takes catchers longer and his injuries did not help. The glimpse that we saw in 2020 has us excited for what the future holds.
The Reds moving on from Curt Casali leaves the door open for Stephenson to be on the roster. Tucker is back after adding his second gold glove to the collection, but I don’t think that holds Stephenson to a reserve role. Tyler will get plenty of chances to start. His bat is something that Tucker simply cannot match and this Reds team needs more offense from the catching position. Prepare yourself for some growing pains. Not necessarily like what we saw from Jose Garcia, but Stephenson has very little experience and will take some time to adjust. We haven’t seen enough of his defense to make too strong of judgement but working with Tucker daily should help immensely.
Honorable Mention: Jose Garcia
The talent is there, but his youth and lack of experience showed. Hopefully, another offseason under his belt will help. The Reds likely will add a veteran to help ease him along.
Several Reds infielders had a down 2020. Hell, most of us had a down 2020. This team is better than what they showed in the shortened season. If a few of them can get back to the numbers on the back of their baseball cards, I think the Reds will be fine.
Cincinnati Reds Bounce Back and Break Out: Starters
Who will impress us on the mound this year for the Reds that we don’t necessarily expect?
I started this series, “A Bounce Back and a Breakout”, last season. It will be a four part series including outfielders, infielders (with catchers), starters, and bullpen. It is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I will pick a player to break out and a player who had a down year to bounce back.
Let’s get things started with, well, the starters.
Bounce Back: Wade Miley ( 0-3 5.65 EERA 14.1 innings 86 ERA+ )
For most of his career, Miley was a *fine* pitcher. About league average. Then in 2018, at 31, he had a breakout year with Milwaukee and pitching coach Derek Johnson. This caught the eyes of many and landed him a deal with Houston in 2019 where he pitched pretty well, but nowhere near is 2018 form. Last season (his first with the Reds) was injury plagued but even when he did pitch it wasn’t very pretty. A veteran lefty could really help the rotation. His fastball velocity in 2020 was atrocious, while his fastball spin and curve spin where around average.
The hope is being reunited with Derek Johnson could help him get back to his 2018 numbers. While that didn’t happen in 2020, a healthy 2021 still leaves a glimmer of hope. At 34 years old and more mediocre baseball than good baseball shown in his career, I am not expecting Miley to fill a hole Bauer left or anything close to it. I expect him to battle for the fifth starter spot, or even a bullpen spot. Regardless of his role, he is a better pitcher than 2020 showed.
Honorable Mention: Jose De Leon (0-0 18.00 ERA 6 innings)
Once a top prospect, De Leon has struggled with injuries and consistency leading to a lackluster career so far. He wasn’t given much of an opportunity last season, but his winter ball performances this year are showing promise. 3.18 ERA in 17 innings 31 K’s and 10 BB. Walk numbers are still high, but De Leon is a long shot but someone who qualifies as a bounce back due to his poor numbers in the past.
Break Out: Tyler Mahle (2-2 3.59 ERA 47.2 innings 60 K’s 133 ERA+)
I know Mahle might not be thought of as a candidate for a breakout considering his success. However, I think there is an even higher level for Tyler to reach. Bauer most likely being gone hurts. Anytime you have a Cy Young walk out the door there will be big shoes to fill. Mahle has all of the talent and finally will have a chance to be a top 3 guy.
Some good numbers, and some elite numbers. I think so many people, myself included, wrote Mahle off at times. He was still so young when he was brought up and then his usage was kind of funky. He is 26 now and ready to take over a bigger role and I cannot wait to see what 2021 has in store for him.
Honorable Mention: Tejay Antone
To be honest, I would have had Antone has the breakout player for 2021, but I am not 100% sure what his role would be. I want him to be in the rotion, but we will wait and see. Either way, what we all saw in 2020 left our jaws on the floor. Antone’s spin rates are off the charts. The former 5th round pick from 2014 will have a big role with the Reds team, but what exactly that role will be is unknown.
In conclusion, the Reds are still looking like they will have a good rotation even without Bauer. If they keep Gray and Castillo that leaves Mahle, Miley, Antone, De Leon, Hoffman, Greene, Lodolo, Lorenzen (?) and others to fill out the 5 spots. These things always work their way out, but I like the options this team has.
Jose Garcia and the 2021 Cincinnati Reds SS Plan
What is going on at shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds?
Take us back to March. You know, before the world ended. An aggressive offseason of adding in free agency, the excitement of spring training with legit playoff hopes, and the breakout of the big-time prospect Jose Garcia. Oh man did he come on the scene with a BOOM. He contributed four spring training bombs, 7 hits, a double, and sky-high Barry Larkin like expectations.
Many were high on the Cuban shortstop, but they understood where his development was. He needed more time. He needed AA and AAA adjustments. Without minor league baseball, the small glimpse of spring training excellence was used by many (myself included at times) as a cry for help. A hero to save the lifeless Reds. Well, on August 27th fans got their wish. And Garcia delivered with a hit, walk, and a stolen base. He had a 3 game hitting streak to start his career. However, Garcia did not save the Reds. In fact, his .194/.206/.194 and 7 OPS+ (100 in MLB average) left many fans asking “What happened?” “ Is this really the guy going forward?” Let’s dive in.
At 22 years old, the jury is still out on Garcia. No one has ever doubted his talent, but I think he was just not ready for MLB baseball. I get the move at the time. The Reds needed something and two headed monster of Galvis and Farmer at short was in need of an upgrade. Bring up your SS of the future and let him learn on the fly. You’ll never know what will happen until you try it. And I tip my cap to the Reds for actually doing it. It did not turn out how we all wanted it, but they did something to try to spark the team.
In terms of development, I am not sure how it will change Garcia. MLB talent was overwhelming for him, but maybe it was better than just playing in Prasco all year. If there was a minor league season, obviously Garcia would have been playing in it. That would have been best case scenario for 2020. But there wasn’t a season so plan B happened. Now we just wait and see how he develops. But what’s the plan for SS in 2021?
As it stands today, Garcia, Blandino, and Farmer are the only rostered players with SS experience. I can tell you right now, that will not be the case come Opening Day. The direction that most, including myself, think the Reds go is adding a veteran to fill in for a year or two. This allows Garcia to develop and not have all the pressure on him while also having a proven (and hopefully above average) veteran to hold down the position. The consensus top 3 available FA are : Semien, Didi, and Simmons. Of the three, I want the Reds to go Semien here. Semien had a monster year in 2019 (3rd in MVP) while putting up a 139 OPS+, his only season over 100 OPS+. He came back down to earth in 2020, but at 29 years old he can do a one year prove it deal to still land one last big contract, or take a 2-3 year deal for good money and eventually give up the starting spot in a year or two and be a solid back up infielder. With Didi taking the prove it deal last year, and performing well, I think he is looking to get longer term at 30 years old. Simmons is the oldest of the 3 at 31, but he is still productive. He seems to have a good offensive season every once in a while, but his glove carries him most years. I am not sold on any of these 3 being high level players, but I think Didi has the best shot at that. I just don’t think the Reds are a fit with what he will want/get.
Bottom line, I still think Garcia is the future. The Reds have struggled to lock down the SS spot since Larkin, and Garcia seems like the most talented of the bunch to get a shot. We know the Reds cannot go into 2021 with the Freddy Galvis’ of the world and expect this team to improve. Let’s hope Garcia explodes onto the scene in 2021, and SS becomes the least of our worries.