There’s nothing wrong with a rebuilding team, or one that has struggled in recent memory, making transactions to help improve their win-loss differential. In fact, especially for that team’s fanbase, it should be admired, which is what the Cincinnati Reds appear to be doing this offseason. With that said, while they have the right direction in mind, the Reds are going about it the wrong way.
The Reds have been one of the most active teams in Major League Baseball on the trade market. In a seven-player trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Reds traded right-handers Homer Bailey and Josiah Gray, as well as infielder Jeter Downs for outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, left-hander Alex Wood, and catcher Kyle Farmer. The Reds also traded minor league reliever Tanner Rainey to the Washington Nationals for right-hander Tanner Roark. All in all, the Reds have added impactful individuals to their roster.
Over the last two seasons, Puig has resembled moreso the hitter he was when he came on the scene in 2013 than the slumping hitter some have become accustomed to. In each of the last two seasons, he has totaled 23-plus home runs and hit above .260 while compiling 137 RBIs in that time span. While the career-worse eight errors in right field in 2018 are a bit alarming, the uptempo Puig still has all the tools to be reliable at the corner outfield position. For years, the talk was how a change of scenery would be best for Puig; now he has it and likely a starting gig from the get-go.
Like Puig, Kemp has been productive over the last two seasons, last season in particular. Finishing the regular season with a .290 batting average (which is the highest batting average Kemp has recorded since hitting .303 in 2012) while totaling 21 home runs and 85 RBIs, he was a reliable source of offense in manager Dave Roberts’ lineup. At one point you could’ve argued Kemp was the Dodgers most valuable everyday player when taking into account the team’s injuries and his offensive production. In all likelihood, Kemp could also start in the Reds outfield on opening day.The @Reds' offseason moves have been great and all, but @RPStratakos argues the Cincy brass is going the wrong way about their newfound sense of organizational direction.Click To Tweet
Wood became one of the Dodgers most forgotten pitchers before getting traded, mostly due to being knocked out of the starting rotation in the postseason. But over the last three seasons, he’s recorded ERAs under four — including one year under three — is a reliable groundball pitcher, and a steady presence on the rubber every fifth day. Injuries have been an issue for the left-hander as his 27 starts in 2018 were the most he made since 2015 when he made a combined 32 starts with the Atlanta Braves and Dodgers. At the same time, Wood gives the Reds a proven and reliable pitcher — which they’ve been in dire need of.
Like Wood, Roark gives the Reds a proven starting pitcher. Yes, he’s recorded ERAs over four in each of the last two seasons, but he’s durable and has pitched in the big moment. Roark has made 30-plus starts in each of the last three seasons, pitched in the postseason, and has also recorded an ERA under three twice in the last five seasons. He gives the Reds consistency and reliability. And the acquisition of Farmer gives them organizational depth at catcher.
Here’s the problem with the Reds’ offseason: Puig, Kemp, Wood, and Roark are all free agents after 2019.
The Reds appear to have made the conscious decision to add players who can help them compete in 2019, and that’s great for their sake. They haven’t made the playoffs, or endured a winning season since 2013, haven’t won 70 games in a single season since 2014, and have been in clear need of a boost. Without a doubt, the Reds four big offseason acquisitions give them such a lift, but it’s only temporary.
The Reds haven’t made many significant free agent signings in recent memory. Could general manager Nick Krall be ready to change the franchise’s mindset and spend big in the coming years? Perhaps, but even in a best-case scenario, it’s difficult to envision the Reds making the playoffs in 2019, considering their competition in the National League, more specifically the NL Central.
The Milwaukee Brewers are fresh off a seven-game NL Championship Series against the Dodgers and have a deep roster. Even though they may continue to lose some proven commodities to free agency, the Brewers are well-positioned to be in the playoff hunt once again in 2019. The Chicago Cubs lost to the Colorado Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game, but have won 92-plus games in each of the last four seasons, and their core remains intact. The St. Louis Cardinals won 88 games and finished one game short of an NL Wild Card seeding in 2018 and have added perennial All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and reliever Andrew Miller this offseason. While they’ve struggled to get over the hump, the Pittsburgh Pirates are always a competitive team and have an intriguing young core coming off an 82-win season.
Are the Reds a more talented and deeper ballclub than they were last season? Of course, the additions of Puig and Kemp make their lineup a fearsome bunch. Joey Votto is one of the best first basemen in the sport; second baseman Scooter Gennett has totaled 23-plus home runs and 92-plus RBIs in each of the last two seasons and hit .310 in 2018; third baseman Eugenio Suarez has totaled more home runs and RBIs in every passing season and is coming off a year where he hit .283 while totaling 34 home runs and 104 RBIs; Scott Schebler is a year removed from totaling 30 home runs; Tucker Barnhart is a steady hitting catcher.
Meanwhile, the additions of Wood and Roark give the Reds starting rotation some veteran pedigree. If Anthony DeSclafani can bounce back, and some other young right-handers such as Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, and Tyler Mahle can begin to turn the corner, manager David Bell could have a vastly improved pitching staff in 2019. In the bullpen, the Reds have the likes of Raisel Iglesias, Jared Hughes, and David Hernandez.
The Reds have a healthy mix of young talent, homegrown players, and veterans. But they could lose all of their offseason acquisitions next offseason, as well as Gennett — who is a free agent after 2019 too. Management’s approach makes sense when it comes to wanting to win soon; at some point, when your season is continually over at the All-Star break, you want to start playing competitive baseball down the stretch of the regular season. At the same time, it would’ve made more sense for them to surrender young talent such as Downs and Gray for players under contract for two or three years, instead of one.
Now, the Reds could certainly re-sign a couple of their offseason additions. Perhaps Wood or Roark have strong seasons, embrace the fact that the Reds traded for them, and look to re-sign with the organization. Maybe Puig brings life back to Great American Ball Park and chooses to stay in Cincinnati. But those are hypotheticals, not certainties. If the Reds make great progress and finish .500, or a few games above that mark, they could lose some prominent pieces to their success. Wouldn’t you want to keep in place what helps you prosper?
The Reds have the right mindset when it comes to wanting to get back on the MLB map, but the types of contracts they’re obtaining are not what such an approach should entail.