As we work towards Opening Day, John Pielli will be previewing each team based on past performance, offseason moves, minor league system, and overall outlook for 2015. Today: the Cincinnati Reds.
What I liked about the Cincinnati Reds last season was the depth they had in their starting pitching staff. Having the NL’s best non Clayton Kershaw pitcher, Johnny Cueto (20-9, 2.25, 242 Ks, 4 CG), the Reds were able to match up very good pitchers like Homer Bailey (9-5, 3.71, 23 starts), Mat Latos (5-5, 3.25, 16 starts) and Alfredo Simon (15-10, 3.44, 32 starts) against pitchers that were not the best the other teams had to offer. With competition in the division as high as it has even been, the most important attribute to the Reds was their starting pitching.
The trades of Latos (to the Marlins for minor league C Chad Wallach and RHP Anthony DeSclafani) and Simon (to the Tigers for SS Eugenio Suarez and RHP Jonathon Crawford) seemed counterproductive. You would expect a team to deal out of a position of strength to address a position of weakness. They added a SS that is slightly better overall than their incumbent Zack Cosart and a catcher who, though he hit for a high average in 2013, is light years behind starter Devin Mesoraco. I like the trade for Marlon Byrd though. His 25 HR should translate to Great American Ballpark and that gives the Reds a solid 3rd OF.
Because of the breakout seasons of 3B Todd Frazier (.273, 29, 80) and Mesoraco (.273, 25, 80), it was easy to overlook the glaring problems with the aging offense. Joey Votto, once considered one of the best players in the game, seemed to be losing his power at a rapid rate before he got hurt last season. In 62 games, Votto hit only .255, but more importantly had a slightly higher SLG (.409) than OBP (.390). Nobody pays their franchise player just to draw walks. Prior to 2014, their two other cornerstone players, Brandon Phillips (.266, 8, 51) and Jay Bruce (.217, 18, 66) were already declining at just as rapid of a pace. Phillips’ OPS was .678 last year while Bruce was at a dismal .654. Mesoraco and Frazier, though very good power hitters, are not enough to carry this offense. Billy Hamilton, despite 56 stolen bases, OPSed an even worse .648. And Cozart finished with an unfathomable .568. If I was manager Bryan Price, I’d try this lineup to try to maximize its talent: Hamilton CF, Votto 1B, Frazier 3B, Mesoraco C, Byrd LF, Bruce RF, Phillips 2B, Suarez SS (.242, 4, 33, .652 OPS). Even with that, they need Frazier, Mesoraco, and Byrd to all hit as well as they did last season.
The Reds’ bench should consist of the versatile Skip Schumaker (.235, 2, 22), C Brayan Pena (.253, 5, 26) and Cozart (assuming Suarez is the starter). Minor league invitees Josh Satin and Brennan Boesch are looking to make the team as well. Also consider Kristopher Negron and Donald Lutz, both of whom appeared on the 2014 Reds.
In spite of the trades, the Reds still return a solid three of Cueto, Bailey and Mike Leake (11-13, 3.70, 33 starts). Tony Cingrani (2-8, 4.55, 13 games, 11 starts) will likely get his chance to become a staple in the rotation. The same cannot be said for the 5th spot, where DeSclafani, journeyman Dylan Axelrod, and veteran Paul Maholm all seem to be in a battle to make the rotation. Maholm provides some leadership and is capable of making 30 starts again. DeSclafani has the most upside while Axelrod is simply looking for another chance.
The bullpen is obviously led by flamethrower Aroldis Chapman (0-3, 2.00, 36 saves in 54 games, 106 Ks in 54 IP). The problem the Reds had last season is when both Chapman and Jonathan Broxton were injured and the team blew a series of games, led by J.J. Hoover (1-10, 4.88, 54 games). Sam LeCure (1-4, 3.81, 62 games) and Manny Parra (0-3, 4.66, 53 games) both return with RHPs Jumbo Diaz (0-1, 3.38, 36 games) and Pedro Villarreal (0-2, 4.30, 12 games) both looking for more serious roles. LHP Sean Marshall, once seen as a closer prospect with the Cubs and when he was first acquired by the Reds is an interesting piece. If he has returned from his injury problems, the Reds’ bullpen can have a little more depth. The same can be said if Hoover has anything left.
The Reds do have some decent-to-good pitching prospects. While DeSclafani has made his MLB debut already, RHP Robert Stephenson looks like he will be ready this year. Crawford, acquired in the Tigers trade, will be ready late this season or early next year. So will RHP Michael Lorenzen, a 2013 1st round draft pick. If things do not go well for the Reds, expect them to continue to see what they can get for Phillips and Bruce and maybe even put Votto on the market. The farm system is not very deep with MLB-ready position players.
Similar to Tampa Bay, I am down on the Reds going into this year. I like the Cueto/Bailey combo at the top of the rotation, but Cueto will be a free agent after this coming season. Las Vegas puts the Reds number at 77 1/2, one which I do not believe in. I think the Reds win 70 games, lose 92 and finish in last place in the NL Central.