[This view from the old recliner was written by Warren Leeman, who comments here under the name Shchi Cossack.]

With the Reds in the midst of a successful month of June, coming off a split against the Rangers (arguably the best team in the AL) and heading into PeteRose-apalooza weekend, I found myself leaning back in the old recliner and contemplating the lineup from the past 2 games with Joey Votto OOC.  There were holes in that lineup, but there were a lot of good players in that lineup too.  Then I began to silently contemplate the unspeakable…(what if?).  Could the Reds actually make a run for the playoffs in 2017 without jeopardizing the reboot/rebuild and the future?

The key(s) to a competitive team in 2017 would be Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart.  Without the 2016 versions of Bruce and Cozart on the 2017 roster, the Reds will continue with the reboot/rebuild with an eye towards 2018.  The situation with both Bruce and Cozart gives the Reds options to possibly take a shot at 2017.  The Reds could extend either Bruce or Cozart or both for a reasonable contract length and reasonable salaries. Such a move would obviously require cooperation from both the players and the Reds and may or may not be successful (or desirable).

Even without extensions, the Reds still control the contracts for both Bruce and Cozart in 2017. Cozart’s salary will certainly jump significantly in his third year of arbitration, but would still be affordable, even if Cozart’s salary doubles to $6MM in 2017.  The club option for Bruce will be just $13MM for 2017, also affordable for a LH masher putting up a 144 OPS+.

The financial cost to keep Bruce and Cozart, at least for 2017, would not be a limiting factor. The future cost for both players would be the primary consideration, but the Reds do not have to make this decision now or even during the next month. The risk hanging over that decision is passing while the iron is hot for both Bruce and Cozart. That risk is embroiled by not knowing what might be offered for either player.

Any underwhelming offer should simply be passed without ANY consideration. The problem is that overwhelming offer, the can’t miss prospects that fill multiple holes for the Reds future. I’m talking a haul similar to that achieved by the Cubbies in the Jeff Samardzija deal with the A’s or achieved by the Reds in the Johnny Cueto deal with the Royals. If such an offer comes through and the Reds do not grab it with unbridled gusto, then the reboot/rebuild is nothing more than a myth.

If no one wants to knock the Reds socks off with an offer, then maybe making a run in 2017 wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The risk then becomes turning down an offer with minimal to reasonable value that may not be available again. If Cozart and Bruce revert to prior offensive production levels (2014/2015 for Bruce and pre-2015 for Cozart), the Reds will receive no return for Bruce or Cozart. If Bruce and Cozart continue their 2016 production into 2017, then the Reds again have options. If the playoff run in 2017 flounders, the Reds could again market Bruce and Cozart prior to the 2017 trade deadline, with even more consistency but less contract control. If the Reds succeed with a playoff run in 2017, the possibility of a compensation offer for Bruce and possibly even Cozart remains in play. That would return the player on a 1-year contract or provide a compensation draft pick.

So much for the due diligence. What about being competitive in 2017? After Bruce and Cozart, other factors come into play. The Reds lack OBP at the top of the lineup. That’s a big hole and Billy Hamilton is not going to fill that hole.  There are two in-house options, both still untested and unproven: Jesse Winker and Jose Peraza. I don’t care about Winker’s power or Peraza’s speed. Can they get on base above league average at the major league level? If Winker’s wrist is healthy, I think he can. I have my doubts about Peraza. The decision then rests on the health of Winker’s wrist or obtaining an option from outside the organization.

The other factors simply require a leap of faith. Will Devin Mesoraco come back healthy…finally? Will the first 2 months of 2016 prove to be a complete outlier for Votto and soon to be forgotten? Will Adam Duvall keep proving his cynics wrong with his onslaught of NL pitching? Will the starting pitching come together and provide a solid, healthy rotation? Will be bullpen prove to be a weapon for the Reds rather than a weapon against the Reds?  I think the Reds have proven they are more than willing to take a leap of faith and I think in this situation, such an action could be justified.

  1. Winker (LF)
  2. Votto (1B)
  3. Cozart (SS)
  4. Bruce (RF)
  5. Duvall (3B)
  6. Mesoraco (C)
  7. Suarez/Peraza (2B)
  8. Pitcher
  9. Hamilton (CF)
  • C – Barnhart
  • IF – Phillips
  • IF – Suarez/Peraza
  • OF – Holt
  • OF – Waldrop/Selsky/Schebler
  • SP Bailey
  • SP DeSclafani
  • SP Reed
  • SP Stephenson
  • SP Garrett
  • RP Wood
  • RP Iglesias
  • RP Lorenzen
  • RP Peralta
  • RP Routt
  • RP Straily
  • RP Sampson

That roster is certainly not carved in marble, but should represent a fair facsimile. Michael Lorenzen could make the starting rotation out of spring training. John Lamb and/or Brandon Finnegan could claim a starting rotation position. The Reds could stubbornly hang on to J.J. Hoover, Tony Cingrani and Ross Ohlendorf for bullpen roles.

The lineup has solid OBP skills at the #1 & #2 holes for the first time since Shin-Soo Choo and Votto (circa 2013), with the top six hitters all capable of putting up  an .800+ OPS (and 4 hitters capable of putting up a top 15 OPS in the league) before getting to the bottom third of the lineup.

Even the bottom third could be interesting and productive with elite speed (Hamilton and Peraza), elite defense (Hamilton and Peraza) and a .700-.800 OPS (Suarez). That’s not a perfect lineup, but it could certainly be effective and competitive, not to mention fun to watch. I know I would start locking up tickets from TiqIQ.