[Part Two of a series about the Reds getting the next six months right. The first post covered the financial picture facing the Reds in 2015. Later posts will address blowing up the team, the specific need for hitting over pitching, the left field market, the terrible twos, trading a starting pitcher, Aroldis Chapman and building a better (and cheaper) bullpen.]

The financial context outlined in the previous post set the parameters for big-picture choices confronting the Cincinnati Reds this offseason. Broadly, those options fall into three categories: (1) Stay the course, (2) trade pitching for hitting and (3) blow up the team.

Options 1 and 2 are similar and rely on this basic calculation: 2013 + 2014 = 2015.

Here’s the argument for that math. Those advocating “blow the Reds up” look at the 2013 and 2014 rosters and say the current core group has failed each of those years. They ask, why try another season with basically the same players? While it’s easy to be sympathetic to the frustration that spawns that conclusion, the problem with that thinking is that each of those seasons lacked significant pieces that are readily available in 2015.

The 2013 Reds, for example, not only didn’t have a healthy Johnny Cueto, they also didn’t have the new-and-improved Devin Mesoraco. That’s a Cy Young runner-up and an MVP-caliber hitter. That team won 90 games and made it to the play-in game. Imagine if they added 20-game winner Cueto and 25-homer Mesoraco.

The 2014 team had a litany of injuries, most notably Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. But add also the important limitations on Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, and Aroldis Chapman. Mesoraco also missed time twice on the DL.

Assembling the 2015 Reds primarily from the core, healthy parts of the 2013 and 2014 rosters would look like this:

From 2013  Joey Votto returns healthy from his quad strain and hits .300/.430/.500 — a season at least as good as 2013.  Given what we know about his injury, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be back at 100 percent for spring training and the 2015 season. Votto and the Reds have been conservative with the timeline of his second return and he’s almost ready right now.

Jay Bruce comes back after having the offseason to rehabilitate his knee. The 28-year-old Bruce returns to his 2012 and 2013 Silver Slugger numbers – 30 home runs, 40 doubles and hits .260/.330/.500.  2014 was an aberration caused by his mid-season knee surgery and too-quick return to play.

Mat Latos starts the year healthy and puts up his top-of-the-rotation career-average numbers. Homer Bailey gets 30 healthy starts and pitches like he did in 2013 and the last couple months of 2014. Tony Cingrani returns to health and pitches capably in the bullpen.

From 2014  Devin Mesoraco healthy at the start of the season, puts up .275/.350/.500 or better. Todd Frazier hits .275/.335/.480 like he did in 2014 and 2012. Johnny Cueto sets to work on another Cy Young season. Mike Leake continues his steady improvement. Aroldis Chapman strikes out half the batters he faces.

Start with that core of Votto, Bruce, Mesoraco and Frazier and stack those four bats 2-6 in the lineup. Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Leake and Simon in the rotation.A first-class starting rotation. All healthy. Add the defense-oriented guys up the middle — Billy Hamilton, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart. Aroldis Chapman closes.

That is not enough, however.

Even implementing a “stay the course” strategy, the Reds need a new left fielder. They could acquire one through free agency or trade.

After we look at the free agent options for LF and the qualities the Reds need in a left fielder, it may turn out that it would make sense to trade a starting pitcher to obtain a bigger LF upgrade. But trading Mat Latos or Mike Leake, for example, for a bat isn’t “blowing the team up.” That trade would be a variation on the theme of sticking with the current core another year.

Others argue for a more radical approach to 2015 than the one outlined above. I’ll discuss that in the next post.


Getting the Offseason Right – Next: The big bang theory