[This post was written by Joe Atkinson, guest columnist from earlier in the season. Thanks, Joe! — spm]
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m throwing in the towel on 2014.
There are two schools of thought right now as to how the Reds should face the future: as a team that still has a chance to win this year, or as a team that does not. In order to talk about how our favorite team should proceed from this moment, the first thing I must make clear is that I fall in the latter camp.
I do not say this lightly, and I would love to be proven wrong. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m also not going to point fingers at Bryan Price, Walt Jocketty, or Bob Castellini; whatever faults they had in putting together this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team, they arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the primary reason this season has been a disappointment. In the end, I believe we will all simply remember the 2014 season as the year that the Baseball Gods looked down upon our Cincinnati Reds and said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“No.”
So where do we go from here? How do the Reds recover from the 2014 debacle to field a championship-caliber team in 2015?
The one person I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to see don a RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ uniform again this year? Joey Votto.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a huge Votto supporter; heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one of my favorite Reds, and one of only three my 5-year-old son can name (Jay Bruce, Devin Mesoraco). But I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen a fully healthy Votto since the first half of 2012, and if rest is what that knee needs to heal, then rest it.
In fact, while I reserve the right to change my mind if the Reds go on an unexpected winning binge, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to see anyone rushed back this year. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bring Homer Bailey back until youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re sure heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 100%. After his performance Sunday, give Aroldis Chapman a look and make sure he really belongs on the field.
And while theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re sitting down, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s see what else we have. What do David Holmberg, Carlos Contreras, or Dylan Axelrod look like with more than spot starts? How about giving Donald Lutz, or Neftali Soto, a legitimate look at first base? I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see either being a long-term option, but how do I really know? Most of their Major League experience involved picking splinters; letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s see what they can do with some actual playing time. Maybe theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be the next coming of Chris Heisey and fold; maybe theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be the next Devin Mesoraco and flourish with regular time on the field.
Whichever way it goes, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be good to know before we do anything in the offseason, right?
2. Find a Left Fielder
This one sort of goes without saying.
I know there are those out there who want to see an improvement at shortstop, too. Count me off that list; give me a full season of Votto and Bruce at full strength, another year of maturation for Todd Frazier and (especially) Mesoraco, and a legitimate left fielder, and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be just fine with an eight-hole hitter whose glove tops any other shortstop in the game (yeah, I said it).
But one of the keys to making that work is a legitimate left fielder. This year, four players have taken at-bats while playing left for our Reds; of the three, Ryan Ludwick has been far-and-away the best. He is the only one with an average above .240 (heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s at .260), an OBP above .300 (.322), and WRC+ above 76 (heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s at 103).
The Reds need better production out of that position. Expecting Ludwick to improve in his 37-year-old season hardly seems realistic, so we need an upgrade from outside. Whether itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s by trade (and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d put Chapman on the block this year – Point #3 aside, we need to get more than 3-4 innings a week out of someone that talented, or we need to trade him) or a free agent signing, upgrading here is a must.
3. Shore Up the Bench and BullpenÃ‚Â
Bullpens are a crapshoot; what looks great one year falls apart the next (see Hoover, J.J.). As such, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not smart enough to make suggestions to Walt Jocketty as to how to fix this. But hereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what I do know: Someone who is smarter than me needs to. STAT.
As for the bench: This is an annual gripe. And itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gotten better; there are even a couple of guys on this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bench who IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to see around next year. Guys like Kristopher Negron, Brayan Pena, and Chris Heisey all would be excellent role players on the 2015 Reds. Ryan Ludwick would be a nice bat to have, as long as heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s coming off the bench. And if Lutz or Soto proves …
You know what? Let me rephrase that:
3. Shore Up the Bullpen. And Make Sure the Bench Players Remain Just That