Since July 2015, the rebuilding Reds have been able to trade away Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Todd Frazier and Mike Leake in exchange for young talent, including several players who contributed in 2016. The team’s remaining star player, Joey Votto, is still in the prime of his career and would likely be willing to waive his no-trade clause if the rebuilding is to continue. Which direction will the Reds go this offseason?
- Joey Votto, 1B: $179MM through 2023 ($20MM club option in 2014; $7MM buyout; full no-trade clause)
- Homer Bailey, SP: $69MM through 2019 ($25MM mutual option in 2020; $5MM buyout)
- Brandon Phillips, 2B: $14MMMM through 2017 (full no-trade clause as part of 10-and-5 rights)
- Raisel Iglesias, RP: est. $21MM through 2020 (can opt out and file for arbitration after 2017 season)
- Devin Mesoraco, C: $20.45MM through 2018
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; link to MLBTR projections)
- Zack Cozart, SS (5.084): $4.7MM
- Blake Wood, RP (4.131): $2.1MM
- Billy Hamilton, CF (3.028): $2.3MM
- Tony Cingrani, RP (3.088): $1.9MM
The 33-year-old Votto is still owed close to $180MM through his age-39 season in 2023. With the expectation that he’d be past his prime for at least a few of those seven seasons, teams probably aren’t willing to take on that kind of money and give up premium young assets to get him. Unless the Reds are willing to eat a good chunk of his remaining salary, Votto is likely staying put.
With that in mind, along with a halfway decent second half (35-37) that likely saved manager Bryan Price’s job, it’s possible that the rebuilding period has come to an end. Notable acquisitions in trades for veteran talent since the 2014-15 offseason include Rookie Davis, Anthony DeSclafani, Adam Duvall, Brandon Finnegan, Dilson Herrera, Keury Mella, Jose Peraza, Cody Reed and Eugenio Suarez. With that group assembled, general manager Dick Williams could look to add an impact player or two at the major league level as he takes over the baseball operations department from president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty this offseason.
Votto might’ve been the best hitter in baseball in 2016 after struggling out of the gate. From May 1st through the end of the season, he posted a 1.044 OPS with 27 homers, 33 doubles and 96 walks. That’s a pretty good starting point if you’re building a playoff-caliber lineup. But is there enough talent surrounding him?
After posting a sub-.300 on-base percentage through the first 1350 plate appearances of his career, speedster Billy Hamilton reached base nearly 37% of the time in the second half of the 2016 season. While it was only 197 plate appearances—he suffered a season-ending oblique injury in early September—it was a very encouraging development for a Reds lineup that also had a breakout from Duvall (33 HR, 31 2B) and strong second half performances from Brandon Phillips (.828 OPS), Suarez (.765 OPS) and right fielder Schebler (.818 OPS).
A return to health from catcher Devin Mesoraco would give the Reds an additional boost. The 28-year-old has played in only 39 games since signing a four-year contract extension after a terrific 2014 season (.893 OPS, 25 HR). The expectation is that he’ll be ready for Spring Training after undergoing shoulder surgery in May and and hip surgery in July. Even if Mesoraco is healthy, the Reds figure to ease him back to regular duties with Tucker Barnhart, a strong defender who posted a .702 OPS in 2016, having proved that he was a capable big league catcher.
Even if the rebuild is over, the Reds could still look to trade Phillips—he would need to waive his no-trade clause— and shortstop Zack Cozart, with Peraza and Herrera representing capable replacements up the middle. Phillips, who vetoed a trade to the Washington Nationals last offseason, is entering the final year of his contract and set to earn $14MM.
The market for a highly-paid second baseman entering his age-36 season probably isn’t great even if Phillips agrees to waive his no-trade clause. Cozart, on the other hand, should have plenty of interest, although the Reds likely missed their best shot at trading him at peak value. When the trade deadline passed on August 1st, Cozart was having a career year with a .779 OPS and 15 homers. He stayed put, however, and went into a 19-for-96 (.198 BA) with one homer before he was shut down with a sore knee in mid-September. The Mariners, who were reportedly close to acquiring Cozart prior to the trade deadline, could still have him on their radar. The Padres and Twins, who have Luis Sardinas and Jorge Polanco penciled in, respectively, could also be interested in acquiring Cozart for 2017.
While there are no clear holes in the lineup, Schebler’s success came in a small sample (.762 OPS in 82 games) and the addition of another corner outfielder, at least to create some competition and provide depth, wouldn’t be a bad idea. Peraza, who posted a .762 OPS with 21 stolen bases in 72 games as a rookie, could also push for playing time at several different spots. He started games at shortstop, center field, left field and second base in 2016. Even if a regular lineup spot isn’t in the cards for 2017, his versatility still allows him to fill a super-utility role with at least four starts per week.
The pitching staff, despite finishing the season with the 3rd worst ERA in baseball (4.91), also gave the team plenty of reasons for optimism with strong second half performances from both the starting rotation and bullpen.
After missing the first two months of the season with an oblique injury, DeSclafani was able to stabilize the top of the rotation with a 3.28 ERA and 70% quality start rate. Taking a flyer on Dan Straily, who was claimed off of waivers just before the start of the season, worked out well. The 27-year-old led the team in wins (14), starts (31), innings (191.1) and strikeouts (162) while posting a respectable 3.76 ERA. The team’s bevy of young starting pitchers mostly struggled, but Finnegan finished on a strong note with a 2.23 ERA over his last 11 starts.
Unsurprisingly, Homer Bailey’s return from Tommy John surgery was not a smooth one (6.65 ERA in six starts) and top prospects Reed and Robert Stephenson proved that they weren’t quite ready for the big leagues. However, Bailey should be closer to his pre-injury form next April and the talented duo of Reed and Stephenson are breakout candidates in 2017. Amir Garrett (2.55 ERA, 3.7 BB/9. 8.2 K/9 between Triple-A and Double-A) could also factor into the mix.
There are still too many question marks for the Reds to stand pat, however, and the addition of another reliable starting pitcher could be at the top of their offseason wish list. But as is the case with the other 29 teams in baseball, this is easier said than done. Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson and Ivan Nova are the best starters available in free agency and would likely cost more than the Reds are willing to pay to upgrade their rotation. The key will be finding a gem amongst the long list of free agent mid-rotation options who are coming off of unproductive and/or injury-riddled seasons.
While Raisel Iglesias could be the frontline starter that the Reds need, the closer’s role that he finished the season in might a permanent one. With his health and durability a long-term concern, the Reds had the 26-year-old pitch out of the bullpen after a disabled list stint that kept him out of action from mid-April until late July. As expected, he was very tough on opposing hitters and his ability to pitch multiple innings proved to be valuable. By season’s end, he was Price’s top choice to close out games. Michael Lorenzen, another former starter moved to the bullpen because of health concerns, also thrived in his new role and emerged as the primary setup man.
Jumbo Diaz and Blake Wood pitched well enough to enter 2017 with spots, as did lefty Tony Cingrani, who held down the closer’s job for a long stretch before struggling in September. Alejandro Chacin, who dominated at the Double-A level in 2016 (1.78 ERA, 11.1 K/9), could also make an impact next season.
Adding two veteran relievers who Price can lean on to help ease the workload of Iglesias and Lorenzen would go a long way in bringing the Reds back to respectability. Williams has expressed a willingness to spend money to upgrade this area of the roster, which could put them in the mix for one of the top free agent relievers not named Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon.
It’s unrealistic to think that the Reds can jump to the top of the pack in a very tough division. If they continue to build on the several bright spots from the second half, however, and add some talent to the big league roster this offseason, 81-85 wins isn’t out of the question in 2017.