Initially, I’d planned to write an entire post being contrarian about the whole Free Lorenzen thing. The premise being that, successful or not, the Reds still have a ton of starting pitching prospects AND Lorenzen is already a good reliever AND we should assume the Reds know at least a few things we don’t AND there are only so many starts in the big leagues to go around. Thus, such a move would be short-sighted and the Reds shouldn’t make short-sighted decisions right now. Their play lately has put thoughts of contending this year fully out-of-mind. And so, we need to look at next year, which when they are supposed to be ready to compete.

The State of Things

First, there should be a payroll surge. The Reds have been pouring money into signing amateurs the last few years and that’s fantastic, but it’s going to be time to send some of that money to the big league club. The highest payroll has ever been is $115M in 2015. They’re several notches below that right now and, of course, there’s limited commitment Let’s take a look next year to see what they already have on the books (Aside – Everyone please stay cool about how much money is going to a few players. This is how the system is set up to work. Every team is like this to some extent. This is what happens when players are heavily cost-controlled for their first six years.):

Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, Devin Mesoraco, and Raisel Iglesias are all under contract for a total of $63.5M. Votto and Igelsias seems like good bets to continue being worth what they’re paid (the MLB average is about $8M/1 WAR on the free agent market right now – yes, I know that’s a lot, but that’s still how it is). Mesoraco is looking increasingly good. As for Homer, well, we’ll see soon, I guess.

The following players will be in some phase of arbitration with rough guesses in parenthesis.

Eugenio Suarez ($3M)
Billy Hamilton ($5M)
Scooter Gennett ($4.5M)
Blake Wood ($2M)
Tony Cingrani ($2.5M)
Anthony DeSclafani ($2M)
Tucker Barnhart ($2M)
Michael Lorenzen ($1.5M)

That’s another $22.5M there, which brings payroll up to $86M. Another $8M will be needed to fill out the roster with league-minimum players. That brings us to $94M.

If one assumes they can bring the payroll back to at least $115M that leaves room for a free agent or two.

Let’s start by assuming the Reds go exclusively with in-house talent next year. Right now, the roster would probably look something like this:

Lineup
C- Devin Mesoraco/Tucker Barnhart
1B – Joey Votto
Middle Infield – Eugenio Suarez/Jose Peraza/Dilson Herrera/Nick Senzel
OF – Adam Duvall/Scott Schebler/Billy Hamilton/Jesse Winker

Rotation
1 – Homer Bailey/Anthony DeSclafani
2 – Brandon Finnegan
3 – Amir Garrett
4 – Luis Castillo/Tyler Mahle
5 – Cody Reed/Robert Stephenson/Sal Romano/Tim Adleman

Bullpen
Closer – Raisel Iglesias
Setup – Michael Lorenzen
Middle Relief – Tony Cingrani, Blake Wood, Wandy Peralta, Rotation Losers

That’s where we stand. There’s a lot of potential in that roster, but also a lot of uncertainty. Especially in the rotation where the two best pitchers (Homer and Disco) have injury issues that make them hard to count on and the number 3 starter (Garrett) has shown flashes of brilliance while getting shelled a fair bit between. 2018 is supposed to be the year they make the leap. Can they do it? I think so.

Win Now

Here’s my plan to make the Reds contenders in 2018 (this will also probably show why I’m not in charge):

Step 1: Trade Billy Hamilton. He’s probably peaked. He’s not going to be a hitter ever, but he does have value. Still, he probably doesn’t have any more value than Winker, Duvall, or Schebler, and they’ll all make the minimum next year. He should bring a solid return and free up about $4.5M to be spent elsewhere (his salary minus the league minimum).

Step 2: Extend Eugenio Suarez. He’s only gotten better. He’s currently playing at an All-Star level at third. See if you can lock him up through his age-33 season or so (that would cover 4 of his free agent years).

Step 3: Find a place for Nick Senzel. Maybe it’s second. Maybe Suarez moves over (if he’s willing). Maybe he finds a place in the outfield. Either way, he’s going to be ready sooner rather than later and needs a place to play.

Step 4: Say good bye to Zack Cozart. Sorry, Zack. We love you, but the team must move on.

Step 5: Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera. One must go. Given his injury history and defensive limitations, it’s probably Herrera. Peraza may never be much of a hitter, but he can hide at short, which will likely be the weakest position on the team for a while.

Step 6: Drop money on a pitcher. Yu Darvish is about to be a free agent. He’ll probably take $25M/year to sign. The Reds have something like that much money. Go for it.

Step 7: Convert starting pitching prospects to relief.

I now present to you the 2018 Cincinnati Reds as assembled by me.

Lineup

  1. Jesse Winker – RF
  2. Eugenio Suarez – 3B (maybe 2B)
  3. Joey Votto – 1B
  4. Scott Schebler – CF
  5. Adam Duvall – LF
  6. Devin Mesoraco – C
  7. Scooter Gennett/ Nick Senzel – 2B (maybe 3B)
  8. Jose Peraza – SS

Starting Rotation

  1. Yu Darvish
  2. Homer Bailey/Anthony DeSclafani
  3. Brandon Finnegan
  4. Amir Garrett/Sal Romano/Cody Reed
  5. Luis Castillo/Tyler Mahle/Tim Adleman (2 kept in Louisville)

Bullpen

Closer – Raisel Igelsias
Set up – Michael Lorenzen
Middle Relief – Rotation losers, et al.

Caveats

  1. I’m cutting Blake Wood loose. I think he’s a fine pitcher, but the Reds don’t need to spend $2M on a middling reliever.
  2. I’m assuming that between them, Homer and Disco can cover one spot in the rotation, though they’ll likely both be hurt or healthy at the same time at some points in the season.
  3. I assume that at least one of Garrett, Reed, and Romano will eventually stabilize and rise to the occasion.
  4. Yes, I am cutting bait on Robert Stephenson as a starter. At least for now. As always, I want him to prove me wrong. I always want all Reds players to succeed.
  5. Gennett takes second until Nick Senzel is ready, then slides to the bench. If he continues to hit like he has, well, that’s not a bad problem to have, but he’s been around long enough to know he won’t be an embarrassment.
  6. I’m purposefully vague on middle relief because that tends to turn over naturally and quickly.

Strengths

  1. Offense. This team will hit for power and get on base. Votto, Winker, Suarez, Mesoraco, and Senzel should all be on base at above-average clips. With Votto, Winker, and maybe Senzel at elite levels. Votto, Duvall, Schebler, Mesoraco, and Suraez all have 20+ HR power. Only Peraza figures to be a below average hitter among the regulars.
  2. Relief pitching. It’s a similar group to this year. Relievers are capricious things, but it would be surprising if this group were to suddenly implode.

Weaknesses

  1. Defense. The outfield could be brutal at times Peraza will be worse than Cozart at short. And whoever plays second will probably be a downgrade from Peraza. This will also not be a fast team.
  2. Starting pitching stamina. Among all those pitchers, there is not one 200 inning season since 2013 (though Darvish may get there this year). Most of the younger pitchers will be seeing if they can handle a full season of major league work, so it could get interesting, but the addition of Darvish (or any other high-end free agent pitcher) is meant to bring stability so that the Reds avoid the kind of disaster we’ve seen lately where they’re struggling to find warm bodies to fill the available slots.

Conclusion

Can this team win? I think it’s very possible. They’ll certainly score runs, and once they get to the seventh inning with a lead, you’ll like their odds. Much will hinge on the starting pitching. For what it’s worth, Mahle and Castillo have both had better results in the minors than Reed or Stephenson. But they should manage quality starts half the time at the very least, which is better than this year by a mile.

In the end, of course, this is a flawed exercise. I don’t have enough information to say who is ready or if Senzel can play second or if Winker is for sure a major leaguer. It’s projection with the assumption that a lot more things go right than go wrong. And I certainly don’t know what their payroll restrictions are. But I do want to see the Reds try to win next year. As long as they try, I’ll be happy. And given recent drafts, it feels like the good days will be very good once they arrive.