The 2018 Reds weren’t going to be contenders. Most knew they wouldn’t win the National League Central or contend for a Wild Card spot. This year was about figuring out who could be part of the solution. The days of Bronson Arroyo, Alfredo Simon and Scott Feldman pitching meaningful innings for the Reds were over. This season was about continuing the rebuild and finding out who could stick around to help this team win in 2019.
I bought into that idea after they fired Bryan Price 18 games into the season. I believed this season could be a success, even after a 3-18 start – the worst in franchise history. I didn’t question their decision to promote Nick Krall to general manager in the middle of the season, although it was odd timing. This was the last season where the record didn’t matter and it was supposed to be about the young players getting experience.
Despite their early season struggles, I saw a team that was playing young prospects like Jesse Winker, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano. They gave Alex Blandino opportunities in the big leagues and we all know it’s just a matter of time before Nick Senzel gets promoted from Triple-A.
I bought the idea that the Reds’ rebuild was doing better than their record showed. I can’t buy that anymore. Does anyone outside of the organization believe benching Winker was the right move? Sure, he was hitting .164 in his last 18 games. He’s struggling at the plate and has plenty of flaws defensively. Winker isn’t perfect, but he shouldn’t have been benched.
“I think if it was Schebler, we’d say the same thing,” Reds manager Jim Riggleman told John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “If it was Duvall, the same question. Basically, I think none of them have really hit yet like they’re capable. Schebler and Duvall’s defense is probably a little bit ahead of Winker.”
The logic doesn’t make sense. Adam Duvall is hitting .208 in his last 18 games. He may be better defensively, but he shouldn’t be part of the Reds’ long-term future. Some believe they’re trying to get him into a rhythm so they can trade Duvall before the July 31 trade deadline. If they wanted to do that, then why didn’t he start from day one? Odds are Duvall’s numbers will go up a bit between now and the deadline, but is it worth benching Winker to slightly increase his trade value? How much is a team going to give up for an outfielder with a .181 batting average, who gets on base 27 percent of the time? Duvall will be 30-years-old on September 4 and he’s eligible for arbitration this offseason. A team may trade for him, but the Reds aren’t going to get anything of significance in return.
Benching Winker feels like a knee-jerk reaction to his recent struggles. The Reds probably realize Duvall doesn’t have any trade value. That means they benched a 24-year-old who is the midst of a slump, to hope and pray that Duvall gets hot and they can get something for him before the deadline. I don’t want my organization hoping something good happens. I want them to have a well thought out plan. If this season was about figuring out what these young players can do, why bench a player who should be a big part of the future?
I understand why Scott Schebler would play every day. Heck, I understand why the Reds want Billy Hamilton in center – he’s really, really good on defense. If you have a high-end center fielder, who can cover a lot of ground, couldn’t he make up for Winker’s shortcomings? How is Winker going to improve defensively on the bench?
Here are the WAR numbers for the four outfielders:
This decision was not Riggleman’s alone. He met with GM Nick Krall and special assistant Buddy Bell. #reds
— John Fay (@johnfayman) May 30, 2018
Winker spent six seasons in the Reds’ minor league system. No one taught him how to be a competent outfielder? I don’t expect him to win a gold glove, but the idea that he is just bad on defense is unacceptable at this stage. Hamilton gets ripped apart for his struggles at the plate and rightfully so. He’s been a bad hitter for the Reds, but what has changed since he arrived in 2014? Devin Mesoraco is thriving with the New York Mets. He gave all the credit to his new hitting coach. The Reds’ are struggling to develop players.
Just thinking about it reminded me of something Barry Larkin told the Cincinnati Enquirer during the offseason. Larkin believes there’s a ‘lack of communication’ between the major-and-minor league sides of the operation.’
“Eric Davis is a Gold Glove, 40-home run, 120-run-producing, 80-stolen base guy. He doesn’t work with Billy Hamilton,” Larkin told Zach Buchanan of the Enquirer. “I’m a Gold Glove, 30-home run Hall of Famer. I don’t work with the big-league shortstops, nor any other player at the big-league level.”
It’s fair to wonder if Winker’s benching is a sign of major problems. Are the Reds making things up as they go along? Why are they struggling to develop minor league players? Winker and Hamilton aren’t the only examples either. Robert Stephenson is another player who hasn’t developed like he was projected to. Reds legend Johnny Bench questioned Homer Bailey’s delivery a few days ago.
It’s time for Homer @Reds to change his delivery. For 4 years I’ve watched and he just shows the ball too long. No deception. I just think the change would benefit him. The hitter sees the ball for 63 ft almost.
— Johnny Bench (@JohnnyBench_5) May 29, 2018
This organization hasn’t given anyone a reason to trust them. Has anyone seen Dick Williams or Krall complete a successful rebuild? Does anyone believe owner Bob Castellini will take his Reds fandom out of the equation and put a winning baseball team on the field anytime soon? Benching Winker may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s just one of the many questionable moves this organization has made throughout the rebuild.
This is the part of the rebuild that Williams, Reds ownership and Krall need to get right. They’ve traded away pieces, signed washed up veterans and have had to endure a bunch of losses. It’s not the time to deviate from the plan. It’s time for them to double down on these young players. Why bench Winker when you can let him work through his slump? He only has 315 Major League at-bats. He needs every rep he can get. They should get Blandino more playing time. That could mean moving Scooter Gennett to the outfield once in a while.
This team isn’t winning now, so why bench a player who may be able to help you when they’re actually ready to win? By the end of this year I want to know who can be a significant contributor in 2019. Duvall shouldn’t be in the conversation. Hamilton shouldn’t be in the conversation. Winker should be and that’s why I’m shocked that they decided to make this move.
Maybe I’m overreacting to the Reds’ decision to bench a young player who has struggled over the past month or maybe it’s proof that there are much bigger problems within the organization.
For more on Winker, listen to the Locked on Reds podcast below:
Read The Room
David Bell has made some interesting choices, some that he may want to tweak his thought process on. Let me explain.
On Monday’s podcast my friend Jeff stated he liked the fact that David Bell was able to remove himself from the equations on many big decisions. He stated that by focusing on the analytics Bell is able to make an objective decision versus a gut decision. I won’t disagree with fact that I am loving the front office and managements use of analytics. I, like most Reds fans, love to see the organization finally joining this century of baseball thinking in full force, from an analytics stand point. However, while I do support the use of analytics in helping make decisions, I don’t feel as if it should be the sole reason for decision making.
The best managers in the history of this game are often forward-thinking and also having the right instinct at crucial points in games. I think the Reds, and even David Bell, are some of the most forward thinking in baseball right now. We have seen it in all the new positions created this offseason specifically for analytics within the Reds front office. The Reds outfielders carry cards based on each pitcher and each batter in where to align themselves. The infield is making unique shifts. Bell seems opposite of his predecessor, because he despises bunting frequently. The amazing performance by our pitching staff which has been one of the worst in recent years. I believe these things will continue to help this team as the season continues. I also believe it’s one of the main reasons we have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball right now.
On the flip side of this is the daily, head-scratching decisions Bell has made. The constant hooking of starting staff or bullpen pitchers too early. This isn’t just something making fans question his decisions, but his players as well. I have seen almost every starting pitcher this year, on at least one occasion, have a baffled look after being removed to early. Bell often pulling starters in a close game due to the “third time around the order” analytics. In regards to the bullpen often pulling relievers early who are up there throwing smoke and no one is touching them. All that started back on Opening Day when he used three relievers, each for one out in the bottom of the ninth. Then when it comes to the lineup we are often seeing players who may be crushing it that day pulled for favorable situational matchups such as lefty right or righty lefty. On several occasions I’ve seen him pull Dietrich or Winker when there out there hitting rockets just for an analytic advantage. It often causes me to yell at my television.
One of my favorite sayings is “READ THE ROOM”. Bell desperately needs to “READ THE ROOM” in more crucial situations. Leaving pitchers in to go one extra innning in a start or relief when there mowing batters over. Leaving a guy in the lineup who is on fire rather than pulling him for a analytic matchup. This shows faith in your players as well as your instincts as a manager. It’s what differentiates the best coaches from everyone else. It’s the knowledge that no amount of statistics can provide and it will ultimately be what puts this team over the top. In recent weeks I have seen signs of this coming to fruition. I hope to see more of it as the season goes on. And I promise you Reds fans when it does the most important statistic WINS will come much easier.
Reds Catchers Now and in the Future
Let’s take a look at the catching picture for the Reds organization.
In late September of 2017, the Cincinnati Reds locked up Tucker Barnhart to a 4-year, $16 million contract. And why not? Barnhart hit .270 in 2017 and was a gold glove winner. $4 million a year for him was a steal. Fans were ecstatic about the deal, especially at the price. Don’t get me wrong, having a catcher with a career average of .248 with about 10 home runs a year and a great glove is something most teams are satisfied with. It’s more about what he does with the pitching staff and defense than the hitting. But in 2019, although only 100 at-bats in, how concerned should Reds fans be about their catching situation now and in the future?
The Reds currently have two active catchers: Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali. Barnhart has struggled mightily out of the gate. A .160/.282/.270 line is not anywhere close to his career numbers. Adding to that, he only has two hits in the past 10 games. A switch hitter with only 10 at bats versus Left-handed pitchers tells us Bell wants Casali taking those at-bats.
Curt Casali has put together a great season for the Reds. Acquired off waiver last year from Tampa Bay he hit .310 before the All-Star break. In 2019 he is hitting to the tune of .293/.349/.379. When used as a pinch hitter, he’s delivered at times for the Reds. Although Casali is the better hitter so far, I do not think it is time to give up on Barnhart. 100 at-bats into a season with plenty to go. *Deep breath* He can still put together a decent season. Something needs to change though, drastically. Right now, the Reds have bigger issues than the catcher’s spot. But will Casali take reigns as the team’s number one catcher? A lot of fans are calling for it. Keep in mind Casali is a career .229 hitter. He has been streaky in the past. The Reds will probably continue to platoon and giving at-bats to Casali against left-handed pitchers. 2019 catcher situation is pretty much locked in. The depth at AAA Louisville are not “prospects” and haven’t shown to be MLB hitters either. The question is what will it look like in the future?
Tyler Stephenson is one of the top prospects in the Reds organization (#6 mlb.com) and is showing his potential this year in Chattanooga. A first-round pick in 2015, he’s struggled with injuries early in his career and is now showing his potential. Hitting .267 with 3 HR and 18 RBI while throwing out 26% of baserunners is a nice start to the first part of the season. He won’t be in Cincinnati this year, who knows where he will start next year, but he plays into the future of the Reds.
There are some other options in the minors. Chris Okey (#30 Reds prospect) was drafted in the second round of 2016 but has really struggled with the bat. Hendrik Clementina (#23 Reds prospect) is someone to watch. He was acquired in the Tony Cingrani trade and hit 18 home runs with Dayton in 2018. He has some pop and but also strikes out too much. We all know how frustrating that can be. Other than those 3, the Reds do not have another top 30 catching prospects. A thin position of depth look for the Reds to bring in more talent this year.
The Reds catching future is banking on Stephenson and Barnhart to be the guys. That could end up being just fine, but it also doesn’t leave much room for error. Casali has two arbitration year left and is 30 years old. He could be a Red past this year, sure. Good catchers are hard to find and that’s why the asking price is so high (paging JT). I would expect the Reds to try to add depth here through the draft or offseason. The quick fix would be Tucker returning closer to 2017 form but who knows if that will happen.
What The Reds Should Be
Wednesday night was a glimpse at this team’s potential.
If you were able to witness tonight’s win over the scorching hot Chicago Cubs you were probably ecstatic. It was a comeback win, in extra innings, and a one-run game. In a season clouded by early disappointment and many missed opportunities, tonight we witnessed the Reds full potential.
This game had all the markings of what was shaping up to be another Reds loss. A five-inning start by the pitcher, playing from behind almost the entire game, and constant pitching changes. Instead the Reds played together and won, as a team. The chemistry we see off the field was finally seen on the field. The bullpen stepped up when they needed to. Stephenson, Hughes, Peralta, and Garrett all providing top notch performances. Garrett making what seemed to be an impossible out at first to save a run from scoring. When providing a clutch at-bat was needed, we saw it from nearly everyone put on the spot. Senzel with 2 hits and 2 stolen bases. Iglesias continues to be the Reds MVP of position players having a double and solo home run to keep the Reds in contention. Suarez starting to catch fire with a 3-for-5 evening, 3 RBI’s, a double, and a 2 run HR in the eighth inning to tie up the game. Quietly, Joey Votto was the one who actually came up big, in the clutch, during the eighth, with a single. He then scored on Suarez’s dinger. Then again in the 10th inning with a one-out walk. For the icing on the cake the player all of Cincinnati wants to see perform comes up to seal the deal. And most importantly the extra innings walk-off hit by Puig with a bat flip for Reds highlight reels for years to come happened.
What made it most glorious was the absolute look of disappointment on Cubs fans faces as the Reds came back to pull off the comeback win. Wednesday, we saw the Reds full potential as a team. This is the Reds ceiling as a team performance. I hope we grow accustomed to this scene more often and start to see them compete in this division. There is no doubt they are in the toughest division in baseball. That being said, they can absolutely shake things up whenever they decide to get hot. I know it’s possible. I just hope it’s not too late when it does.