The RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 2015 campaign can be broken down into four separate segments:
Segment 3: Frazier captures the Home Run Derby crown/other All-Star week fun.
Segment 4 (The present): The post-Cueto-and-Leake-trade slog to the finish line.
Keeping in line with the off-the-field storylines that have come to define the 2015 Reds, in the aftermath of the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, general manager Walt Jocketty referred to the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ modus operandi going forward as a Ã¢â‚¬Å“rebootÃ¢â‚¬Â rather than a Ã¢â‚¬Å“rebuild.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Less than a week later, when asked about his clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s chances in 2016, Jocketty said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our plan at this point is that we realistically have a real good shot in 2017,Ã¢â‚¬Â while also noting that the Ã¢â‚¬Å“nucleusÃ¢â‚¬Â of the club is in place.
In essence, while Jocketty and the Reds front office/ownership arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t punting on 2016, they feel that 2017 is a more practical year for the club to seriously pursue a playoff berth.
Is aÃ‚Â Reboot/Aim for 2017 plan realistic? LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s examine the pros and cons of the Reds’ apparent strategy moving forward.
Con: The position players are aging quickly
Note: For each playerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s age, I used Baseball-ReferenceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s measure, which goesÃ‚Â by the playerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s age at midnight of June 30.
|Player||Age in 2017||Contract status after 2017|
|Devin Mesoraco||29||Signed through 2018|
|Joey Votto||33||Signed through 2023|
|Brandon Phillips||36||Free Agent|
|Zack Cozart||31||Free Agent|
|Todd Frazier||31||Free Agent|
|Eugenio Suarez||25||Under club control through 2020|
|Billy Hamilton||26||Under club control through 2019|
|Jay Bruce||30||Free Agent|
Counting on this particularÃ‚Â position player core for sustained production inÃ‚Â 2017Ã‚Â is aÃ‚Â risky proposition. Mesoraco, Votto, Cozart, and Bruce have missed sizable chunks of timeÃ‚Â in the pastÃ‚Â with serious injuries. Phillips has accumulated myriad minor maladiesÃ‚Â over the last few years, and his declining power production/ability to hit the ball hard as well as his aversion to walks is certainly worrisome.
If the Reds do indeed push their chips to the middle of the table in 2017, the season will take on a Last Hurrah feel — not unlike 2015, to an extent — as the contracts of Phillips, Frazier, and Bruce are set to expire after the 2017 campaign, and Cozart’s last year of arbitration taking placeÃ‚Â in 2017. (The Reds picking up BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s $13 million team option for 2017 would seem to be a cinch.)
The age-related decline ofÃ‚Â the older players should be offset by a handful of the other regulars (Mesoraco, Suarez, Hamilton) ideally entering or being in the middle of their prime years. One would think the Reds would have upgraded the bench into a more versatile and formidable unitÃ‚Â as well.
The 2015 Reds offense is fifth among the 15Ã‚Â National League squads in fWARÃ‚Â and OPS,Ã‚Â seventh in wRC+, and 11th in runs scored.Ã‚Â Can what will likely be mostly the same group of regulars produce an average-ish offense to augment a potentially emerging pitching staff?
Wild cards: Prized outfield prospect Jesse Winker (age 23 in 2017) will likely — sensing a pattern with the italics yet? — make the Reds at some point in 2016, increasing the likelihood he can contribute in 2017. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Infield prospect Alex Blandino (24) was bumped from High-A to Double-A recently. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a chanceÃ‚Â Blandino could reach the majors at some point next season. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ The Reds should be able to procure something out of outfielder Yorman Rodriguez (24), corner infielder/outfielder Kyle Waldrop (25), and corner infielder/outfielder Adam Duvall (28) by 2017, too.
Pro: Potentially superb pitching depth
Age in 2017 (currently in majors/on DL): Homer Bailey (31), Anthony DeSclafani (27), Raisel Iglesias (27), Michael Lorenzen (25), Keyvius Sampson (26), David Holmberg (25), Jon Moscot (25).
Age in 2017 (currently in minors): Tony Cingrani (27), Robert Stephenson (24), Brandon Finnegan (24), John Lamb (27), Cody Reed (24), Amir Garrett (25), Keury Mella (25), Nick Travieso (23).
As far as the current starters in the bigs go, Bailey should be back to full strength from Tommy John in 2017. DeSclafani, Iglesias, and Lorenzen could be in their third seasons as major-league starters. More than likely, Stephenson is embarking on his second go-around in the bigs.
As for Sampson, Holmberg, Moscot, Cingrani, Finnegan, Lamb, and Reed, most of them will probably be with the Reds, either in the rotation or the bullpen, by 2017. Garrett, Mella, and Travieso, all of whom are pitching at High-A, should be in Triple-A by 2017 and waiting for a taste of the big leagues.
If the Reds can sort everything out, they should possess an impressive collection of young, controllable, and cheap (with the exception being Bailey, of course) pitching, which is why itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also feasible that a handfulÃ‚Â of the aforementioned pitchers will be packaged together in a trade for young hitting talent, something the Reds are in dire need of.
Con: There are three teams in the NL Central with better young players, better coaching, and better front offices
Pirates: Pittsburgh isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going anywhere, the chief reason being Andrew McCutchen is under contract through 2018, his age-31 season. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are just scratching the surface of their respective potentials. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Jung-Ho Kang, Neil Walker, and Josh Harrison will soon be joined in the infield by the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top hitting prospect, first baseman Josh Bell. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow will join Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano in the rotation next year. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ The front office has proven itself to be more than savvy enough (Liriano, Kang, Russell Martin, Francisco Cervelli, A.J. Burnett) to locate and fill their weaknesses on a cost-effective basis. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ The Pirates went 94-68 in 2013, 88-74 in 2014, and are pace for 95 wins in 2015.
Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber are locked up for years to come. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Jon Lester signed a long-term deal last offseason. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel are under club control through 2017. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Everyone in the world knows Theo Epstein will secure a top starter (David Price? Johnny Cueto? Zack Greinke? Jordan Zimmerman? Jeff Samardzija? Scott Kazmir?) and at least one impactÃ‚Â bat in the offseason as the Cubs begin to flex their financial might.
Cardinals: Adam Wainwright stands to age well and mesh with eventual ace Michael Wacha atop a rotation that also sports the rapidly-developing Carlos Martinez and often-overlooked-but-very-good Lance Lynn. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and Matt Adams arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going anywhere. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ The inevitable age-related decline of Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and Jhonny Peralta is a concern. Holliday is likely gone after 2016, while Molina and PeraltaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contracts expire after 2017. And yet, impact position players always want to play for St. Louis, so even if Jason Heyward departs this offseason, the Cardinals willÃ‚Â fill the gap ably.
Pro: With a new TV deal on the horizon, an everything-must-go rebuildÃ‚Â wasn’t/isn’tÃ‚Â a feasible financial option for the Reds
Within the confines of Great American Ball Park, the fact that the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ television agreement with Fox Sports Ohio expires after the 2016 season could have been the single most important reason the Reds eschewedÃ‚Â a scored-earth rebuild — i.e. the trading of Bruce, Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, and possibly even Phillips at the non-waiver deadline last month — in favor of The Reboot. (ObligatoryÃ‚Â mention of Bob Castellini’s well-known competitive streak.)
Leverage always plays a big role in any sort of financial agreement. Quite obviously, if theÃ‚Â strip-minedÃ‚Â Reds were on track for somewhere around 100 losses in 2016 and 2017, that would harm their negotiating power. The powers that be at GABP want to broker the best possible deal before the TV bubble bursts.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s possible the Reds are victims of bad timing with the All-Star Game and the new TV deal. (WouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been nice if both of those events took place in 2012 or 2013, eh?) The circling of 2017 as a return to contention is not unlike the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plan this past winter to push for the postseason with All-Star Game on the horizon: it can work, but it has to be done right without obvious mistakes (Jason Marquis, Kevin Gregg, Brennan Boesch, the bench) while employing some defensible (Marlon Byrd) and inspired (DeSclafani, Suarez) moves. Player health is obviously the biggest unknown/swing factor.
In a hypothetical world, if there was no new TV deal to worry about, the Reds would heavily weighÃ‚Â the aging/injury history of the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s position player core and the strength of the NL Central and decide to executeÃ‚Â the following: the already-completedÃ‚Â Cueto and Leake trades; sell high on Bruce, Frazier, and Chapman, and getÃ‚Â whatever they could for Phillips either at the trade deadline or this offseason; move bit parts (Byrd, Manny Parra, Brayan Pena, Skip Schumaker); and promote the ready/near-ready youngsters (Stephenson, Lamb, Rodriguez, Waldrop, Duvall) from Triple-A.
The result wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been some lean, lean years in 2016 and 2017, but as the end of the decade approached and the Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates respective cores aged and/or became too expensive to keep together, the Reds could have primed for 2010-esque uprising. Having said that, the Reds can realistically chase a playoff berth as soon as 2017, but the margin for error — not unlike this past winter — will be very slim.