Since the 2017 season mercifully ended for the Cincinnati Reds, I’ve had this sticky thought that keeps popping into my head. It’s an image I have of a competitive Reds team in 2018, a contender for the Wild Card, and it requires just three simple moves by club management:

1. Insert Jesse Winker into the lineup 140+ times;
2. Insert Nick Senzel into the lineup 140+ times;
3. Acquire a good starting pitcher (a #1, #2, or a reliable #3 starter).

That’s it. With relative good health: Playoffs here we come.

If it were only that easy…

The Reds, you may remember, have this annoying recent habit of losing at least ninety games each season. So even if the Reds took my advice — and the first two items are simple and completely obvious — and acquired Clayton Kershaw, there’s no guarantee Cincinnati would even climb back to .500.

But in my optimistic, off-season haze, I can squint and see how one good starter could really transform the Reds rotation. If you assume Luis Castillo is going to be good again, and the Reds pair another good starting pitcher with him…all of a sudden, there are a boatload of interesting options for the final three spots in the rotation. You could see that group really taking a gigantic step forward. And with Senzel/Winker added to a lineup that loses Zack Cozart, I think there’s a pretty good chance the Reds will have more runners on the bases than in previous seasons.

Again, I’m kinda squinting and trying to make the case, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable. So what have the Reds done when it comes to pitchers this off-season?

–They gave a two-year contract to a 32-year old reliever, Jared Hughes, who had been cut by two different NL Central organizations in the last two years.

–They signed a talented young lefty reliever, Kyle Crockett, to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

–They signed Brandon Floro, a right-handed reliever who — like Hughes — throws a lot of ground balls, to a minor league deal.

The off-season is far from over, but consider me underwhelmed. Not that any of these acquisitions are terrible — though the Hughes signing (a two-year contract?) is curious, at least — but they’re just meh. None will help the Reds take a significant step towards competing in 2018. (My holy grail, if you haven’t noticed.)

So when I see that GM Dick Williams is still tinkering with the roster, I get my hopes up. Until I read that piece and I see that much of the talk surrounds signing more relief pitchers.

There are, however, two interesting items to come out of that piece by Mark Sheldon (go read it). First is this quote by Williams, addressing his reasoning in adding bullpen arms:

“Also, by adding bodies, we can keep more guys starting as opposed to feeling we have to push them into a bullpen role to fill a space,” Williams said.

Okay, I can live with that. Give the Cody Reeds and Amir Garretts and Rookie Davises and Robert Stephensons, et al, more opportunities to establish themselves as starting pitchers before shifting them to the bullpen. Of course, a good argument could be made that those guys could have gotten more opportunities last year rather than handing dozens of starts to Scott Feldman and Tim Adleman and Bronson Arroyo, but there’s no use arguing about that at this point. (More on that in a moment, however.)

The other interesting item comes from Williams interview on the MLB Network’s “MLB Now” program, which you can view from the video at the top of the page. About the pitching, Williams says this:

If we add any more over this off-season, and I do intend to, I think it’ll be focused on pitching. That’s where we need to supplement a little bit. You know, fortunately,
we’ve got some internal additions that we think are going to help a lot, and that’s getting guys back healthy….

We were really struggling last year to get healthy, productive innings out of our rotation. DeSclafani missed most of the year. Finnegan missed most of the year. Homer missed a significant part of the year, and all three of those are expected to have normal off-seasons and come into spring training ready to go.

And then, of course, we do have a bunch of exciting young pitchers that were cutting their teeth last year. Tough at first, but some really good news in the second half of the year from that young group.

There is a good argument to be made that the Reds should wait until next off-season to go after a big starting pitching acquisition. I don’t think the Reds need to wait — and let’s be honest, there’s no guarantee that any such pitcher is even available right now — but I get that viewpoint. But let me say this: if no upper-level starting pitcher is available to the Reds (such as I described up there at the top of this rambling jumble of words), then Cincinnati should not sign or trade for any starter, period. Let me reiterate:

The Reds have no business whatsoever going out and finding an “innings-eater” of the type that they’ve signed every off-season for most of the 2000s. Don’t acquire anyone at all, if that’s the only type of pitcher available.

Seriously, it makes no sense whatsoever to acquire another Scott Feldman-type. I am appreciative of the services Feldman and his brand of pitcher brethren have provided to the Reds over the last fifteen years or so. But every single start a Feldman-type makes for the 2018 Reds is a start that Cody Reed isn’t making. Or Amir Garrett. Or…well, you get the picture.

When I hear the quotes from Williams above, it certainly sounds like he would rather go with the arms the Reds have in 2018, and I guess I’m okay with that. That’s not a recipe for a surprising playoff run, certainly. But it will allow the Reds to give valuable experience to some pitchers that will be counted on for the glorious march to the 2019 World Series.

Then again, maybe Williams should just go out and get Chris Archer or Marcus Stroman and allow us to dream of 2018 post-season success. Simple, right?