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.
Who’s the Reds Third Best Pitcher?
The third best pitcher on the Reds in 2020 will not be who you are thinking.
Castillo, Gray, Bauer, DeSclafani, and Miley. A deep, veteran, proven rotation which, on paper, makes the Reds the NL Central favorites. You can argue over who the “Ace” is, but who cares. Gray and Castillo both showed incredible stuff each earning an all-star bid. Miley brings a lefty to the rotation while Bauer brings the big name on a contract year. However, the one pitcher that doesn’t have an all-star appearance on his resume is the one to keep an eye on. I think Anthony DeSclafani will be the third best pitcher behind Castillo and Gray.
In 2019, Anthony DeSclafani had a healthy season. Coming off a promising 2016 (3.28 ERA 130 ERA+), Disco missed the entire 2017 season and only pitched in 21 games during the 2018 campaign. With how fantastic Gray/Castillo pitched and the splash trade that landed Bauer, DeSclafani’s season flew under the radar. 2.6 War 3.89 ERA 117 ERA + 167 K’s in 31 starts pitching 166.2 innings. His last 8 starts he pitched to the tune of a 2.39 ERA. Just a lucky year? I don’t think so. DeSclafani has mentioned before how much working with pitching coach Derek Johnson has helped him. Now more of a veteran, coming off a healthy season and having another healthy offseason with DJ, just how good could DeSclafani be?
According to Baseball Reference Disco’s projections:
9-9 4.35 ERA 1 Sv (?) 155 innings 154 K’s
Zips projection: 1.6 (Bauer 3.8, Castillo 3.9, Gray 3.2, Miley 1.1)
First off, win loss record for a pitcher means absolutely nothing. However, I do think DeSclafani will set a career high in wins, which is 9 (9 wins 3 different times). Last season, his first with Derek Johnson, Disco set a career high in strikeouts while pitching 18 fewer innings than his career high in innings. Contrary to many pitchers, he pitched pretty well at GABP.
Home: 6-4 3.50 ERA 82.1 in 71 hits 86 K’s
Away: 3-5 4.27 ERA 84.1 in 80 hits 81 K’s
A healthy 2020 while pitching in a contract year is important. Earning $5,900,000 at 30 years old it is crucial for DeSclafani to pitch well and set himself up for another contract and payday before he gets older. If he can continue to build off last season and take a step forward the Reds could be around a 90 win team in 2020.
*Random stat: DeSclafani’s 2019 117 ERA+ is higher than Bauer’s ERA+ in 7 of his 8 seasons.*
Bounce Back and Breakout: Outfield
Looking to the outfield for a bounce back and a breakout candidate.
10 outfielders. TEN?!?!? On the 40-man roster? Well, let’s try to unpack this obscurity. The offseason started with a quick trade to acquire Travis Jankowski which has turned into the safety option after the Reds hit big on their free agent targets. Mark Payton was selected in the Rule 5 as a long shot to make the roster. Scott Schebler is still around and apparently healthy. Don’t forget he once hit 30 home runs but more recently hit .123/.253/.222. VanMeter is probably projected more as an infielder especially with the new additions. Ok, so now that we have trimmed the fat, we are left with the big question mark in Aquino, hits LHP Ervin, often injured Senzel, RHP only Winker, and the big free agents Akiyama and Castellanos. With at bats limited, who will bounce back and who will break out?
Bounce Back: Nick Senzel
Honorable Mention: Aristides Aquino
No one has ever questioned the talent. There’s a reason Senzel was drafted high and appeared at the top of prospect list. The issue has been health. Not to beat a dead horse, but he’s struggled to stay on the field. Once he arrived on the scene in May, Senzel hit .279/.347/.468 with 4 home runs 5 doubles and 2 triples. Those numbers started to slip and Turner Ward changing his batting stance didn’t help. Injuries once again were an issue. How Senzel will be used in 2020 is up for debate. Everyday centerfielder? Second if Suarez is injured? Super utility? Who cares, the most important thing is to get Senzel healthy, find a comfortable batting stance, and get him at bats. A season (well, 104 games) under his belt should help. Many rookies struggle. Hell, Mike Trout batted .220 in his first year (40 games). Senzel won’t be Trout, but if he can hit around .280, which I think he can, this team could catch fire in and take the division.
Baseball Reference Projection: .260/.324/.445 14 HR 10 SB 20 2B (These seem low to me)
Breakout: Shogo Akiyama
Honorable Mention: Phillip Ervin
The first Japanese player in Reds history comes with high expectations. Although a rookie, Akiyama will be 32 years old and has proven himself in Japan. Hitting 20 home runs or more the past three seasons while hitting over .300 and an OBP of .398, .403, .392 should cause fans to drool over what he could be. Many question if he can be a centerfielder in the MLB but the Reds think he’ll hold his own. Adjusting to the new country and a new league could lead to a slow start. Many assume he has an elite eye for the strike zone due to his OBP, but Akiyama has never walked more than he strikes out. Not many players do, we as fans have been spoiled with Votto doing just that a few seasons in his career (APPRECIATE VOTTO). Frankly, I couldn’t care less how he gets on base as long as he is on base. I think Akiyama will be a crucial part of the team’s success in 2020.
2020 Offseason Compared to Others
This offseason is definitely the best the Reds have had in the last decade.
$165 million dollar SPLASH offseason’ s are not common in Cincinnati. After years and years of subpar rosters and uninspiring managing, the Reds started to focus on the future last offseason with a few big moves. Sonny Gray was brought in help the top of the rotation while Puig in friends were brought in to jazz up the lineup. At least one worked. 2019 offseason has built a solid foundation for the years to come. If you thought that was exciting, 2020 blew it out of the water.
So, let’s run down some previous offseason’s. Here are some of the players the Reds acquired via free agency and trades:
2010: Chapman, Arredondo, Orlando Cabrera
2011: Ramon Hernandez and Edgar Renteria
2012: Mat Latos, Sean Marshall, Ryan Madson, Dioner Navarro, Ludwick, JJ Hoover, Wilson Valdez
2013: Jumbo Diaz, Broxton, Choo, Hannahan, Cesar Izturis
2014: Tim Adleman, Skip Schumaker, Jason Bougeois, Trevor Bell, Ramon Santiago
2015: Ivan De Jesus, Ramon Cabrerra, DeSclafani, Suarez, Marlon Byrd, Jason Marquuis, Burk Badenhop
2016: Blake Wood, Brandon Allen, Tim Melville, Schebler and Peraza, Alfredo Simon, Dan Strailey
2017: Stuart Turner, Josh VanMeter, Drew Storen, Luis Castillo, Scott Feldman, Arroyo, Scooter
2018: Kevin Quackenbush, Mason Williams, Phil Gosselin, Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Cliff Pennington
2019: Tanner Roark, Farmer/Puig/Kemp/Wood, Sonny Gray, Derek Dietrich, Jose Iglesias
Man, that 2014-2018 was bad. The good players acquired were prospects. Obviously, during a rebuild that is what you do. But the MLB “talent” that was signed, well, yikes! (A couple of good players, I am being harsh.) The front office had no plans for winning. That is just how rebuilds work. But, you can see the foundation being built. The prospects take a few years and 2018 was the first aggressive push in years. The Reds window for success is now. By going out and signing offensive players in Moose and Castellans to pair with OBP machine Akiyama the city of Cincinnati is ready for excitement. Lack of spending has been the gripe of patrons each offseason. They were finally silenced. Interestingly, previous improvements had been made via trade, mostly. The opposite happened this offseason with signing talent and holding on to future assets. What do we make of that? I’m not really sure. Does it say the Reds have something up their sleeve to pull off a spring training trade? Could be. Too many outfielders will have to play itself out. Although this offseason has been the biggest yet, it’s possible it’s not even over yet.