After the season concludes, we’ll be looking at every team in the league in depth with MLBTR’s annual Offseason Outlook series. For the time being, though, we’re taking preliminary big-picture looks at what some of the non-contending clubs will need to focus on as part of our Three Needs series.
Let’s jump to the National League Central to look at what the rebuilding Reds will be looking to accomplish this winter, though the usual “three needs” designation may not quite fit in this case. While the Reds have quite a few needs, they theoretically already have the young talent on hand to address at least some of these problems — now it’s just a matter of which youngsters emerge, fall back or are still a year or two away.
1. Find regular roles for Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera. These two are slated to be Cincinnati’s shortstop and second baseman of the future, and the future could begin now if incumbents Zack Cozart or Brandon Phillips are dealt. Peraza has also seen time in left and center, so there’s some value in using him around the diamond as a Ben Zobrist-esque super-utility player in order to get him in the lineup virtually every day, if a singular position can’t be opened up.
Cozart received a lot of interest at the trade deadline in the wake of his above-average hitting numbers in the first half (.267/.316/.482 in 335 PA), though the Reds couldn’t find a trade partner. He then went ice-cold in August and September, so while Cozart may not quite have turned a corner at the plate, he still provides outstanding glovework at a key defensive position. Cozart will get a pretty modest bump from his $2.925MM salary in 2016 via his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, so he’ll surely get some renewed trade interest this winter from teams looking to upgrade themselves at least defensively at shortstop. Cozart certainly looks like the Reds’ likeliest veteran trade chip, given that their other high-priced vets have major injury issues (Homer Bailey, Devin Mesoraco) or full no-trade clauses (Phillips, Joey Votto).
Phillips already rejected one proposed trade to the Nationals last offseason since the Nats didn’t agree to a contract extension. It’s now even more unlikely that a trade suitor will talk extension, in the wake of Phillips’ below-average year both offensively and defensively. In a recent interview, Phillips didn’t sound much more open to waiving his trade protection, so unless (or until) he consents to a deal, the Reds could make the big move of having both Phillips and Herrera compete for the second base job in Spring Training. This could leave Phillips as a very expensive bench piece, or the Reds could explore moving him to third if Herrera indeed takes over at second.
Of course, Eugenio Suarez has established himself at the hot corner, and it would seem a curious move to displace a 25-year-old for a 35-year-old nearing the end of his tenure with the club. Keep in mind, however, that the Reds have Nick Senzel (the second overall pick of the 2016 draft) earmarked as their third baseman of the future. With injuries and NTCs preventing the Reds from shopping most of their veterans, Suarez would be an interesting alternative trade candidate. He’s coming off a 20-homer season and is still a pre-arbitration player, though with only 2.2 fWAR combined in 2015-16, Cincy probably isn’t looking at Suarez as a member of its next contending team. Speaking of which, the Reds also need to…
2. Figure out which position players are keepers. Don’t count on the Reds acquiring anything more than veteran position player depth, as the bulk of their offseason and Spring Training time should be spent deciding on who amongst their interesting crop of young players projects as a long-term piece.
Billy Hamilton took some small but credible steps forward as an offensive player this season. Hamilton’s speed and outstanding center field glove are worthy of everyday duties anyway, though becoming even an average hitter would make Hamilton into a major threat. Tucker Barnhart’s pitch-framing and defense is a work in progress, though he can hit well enough to handle the position until the Reds know if Mesoraco is healthy enough to continue on behind the plate.
All-Star Adam Duvall emerged as a big power threat and a surprisingly strong left field defender, though he’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts and improve his on-base percentage. Scott Schebler posted some solid numbers and looks like he can, at least, serve as the left-handed hitting side of a platoon in right field. Big-hitting prospect Jesse Winker is knocking on the door for a callup and has been seen time at both corner outfield spots. Winker is also a left-handed hitter so he’s not ideal as a platoon partner with Schebler, though one would suspect Cincinnati would give Winker the first crack at everyday duties once he gets the call to the bigs.
3. Continue sorting out the pitching, with a focus on the bullpen. The Reds went into 2016 with about as unsettled a pitching situation as possible, and it resulted in a new Major League record for most homers allowed in a season. While Anthony DeSclafani, Dan Straily and Brandon Finnegan need to drastically cut down on the long balls, all three have claimed rotation jobs for next season. Bailey will join them if healthy, though that’s a big “if” given how he’s faced somewhat of a bumpy recovery from Tommy John surgery. There are plenty of candidates in the mix for the fifth starter’s job, with former top prospect Robert Stephenson tentatively in the lead, though he didn’t impress in his first taste of big league action. Cody Reed, Keyvius Sampson, John Lamb, Tim Adleman and highly-touted prospect Amir Garrett will also be competing. A minor trade wouldn’t be out of the question given the number of arms on hand, though given that the rotation is hardly set in stone, the Reds might want to keep as much depth as possible.
Losers of the rotation battle could help out the league-worst bullpen. There is some hope at the back of the pen, with the combination of Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen standing out as an intriguing closer/setup man pairing. Beyond those two, there’s really nowhere to go but up given how poorly the Cincy relief corps performed in 2016. If the Reds target anything in free agency, it could be a veteran reliever or two (on a short-term or minor league contract) just to add some stability. If these relievers pitch well, the Reds could potentially flip them at the deadline.