Reds president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty sat down with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports this weekend to discuss his club’s rebuild. The entire column is well worth checking out, but perhaps the most interesting component of the interview is that Jocketty said the Reds aren’t necessarily entering a full tear-down of the organization and are instead aiming for more of a short-term retooling. Jocketty explained that he feels the team will be more competitive in 2016 than most pundits expect, and he implied that the club isn’t necessarily going to ship out all of its big league assets this summer as the trade deadline nears.
“We didn’t want to take it too far back,” Jocketty told Rosenthal. “[Devin] Mesoraco is still young (27) and under control. Same with [Billy] Hamilton. We didn’t want to do a complete teardown and rebuild. This was more of a transition and an attempt to retool and add to what we have.”
That line of thinking, said Jocketty, is what prompted the Reds to target players at the upper levels of the minor leagues as opposed to lower-level players with higher ceilings. Regarding the 2016 roster, Jocketty offered high praise for Eugenio Suarez and expressed confidence that returns to health from both Mesoraco and Zack Cozart will be a boon for the club’s offense. Relief pitching is Jocketty’s biggest concern at this stage, but the club will take a look at what’s available late in Spring Training to make some moves to fortify the ’pen, according to Jocketty (presumably referring to potential waiver pick-ups or veterans on minor league deals that will inevitably opt out of their current situation).
Jocketty is entering his final year as the club’s president of baseball operations, after which newly minted GM Dick Williams is in line to take over as the top decision-maker in the baseball ops department. It’s possible that a worse-than-expected performance in 2016 or differing views from Williams will lead to a change in the club’s approach, but Rosenthal notes that owner Bob Castellini has been averse to rebuilding in the past.
While the club does have a host of intriguing upper-level arms (e.g. Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Cody Reed, Michael Lorenzen, Robert Stephenson) to fill in the rotation behind Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias and a hopefully healthy Homer Bailey, the pitching staff as a whole is rife with uncertainty. The outfield, too, is filled with question marks (Hamilton’s OBP struggles, Jay Bruce’s production and future with the club). That, on paper, would seem to point to further trades, but the most obvious candidates (e.g. Bruce, Brandon Phillips) come with roadblocks. Phillips vetoed a pair of trades this offseason with his 10-and-5 rights, and Bruce’s value was said to be low when the Reds nearly sent him to Toronto in a since-collapsed three-team deal. Williams recently went on-record stating that he doesn’t plan to trade Joey Votto, either (though his own no-trade clause would be an impediment anyhow), so don’t expect to see his name pop up on the rumor circuit.
Considering the division in which they play — the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals each won 97 or more games last year — the Reds have an uphill battle should they seek to return to contention in the near term. That is Jocketty’s plainly stated goal, however, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team operates come July and next year in free agency. The Reds have just $67MM committed to the 2017 payroll — nearly $50MM less than their 2015 Opening Day payroll — so there would certainly be room to take on some salary via trades or free agency. The 2016 season, then, could be a test run to see what young players like Stephenson, Finnegan, Lamb, Reed, Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza and Jesse Winker bring to the table so the Reds know precisely where they need to fill in the remainder of the roster to take a shot at contending in 2017. They’ll need a few gems to emerge from that group in order to do so, because as it stands right now, the Reds seem further than just a year away from a return to prominence in their top-heavy division.