Cincinnati’s offseason was spent adding depth over adding high impact players. The club spent a little bit of money, though their payroll is still near the bottom of the league, bringing in the likes of Frankie Montas, Jeimer Candelario, Nick Martinez, Brent Suter, Buck Farmer, Luke Maile, and Emilio Pagan. That’s a much longer list of big league free agent signings than the club has had in quite a while. And there are some quality players in that group, too.

With depth, a team is looking to be able to avoid falling apart if there are some injuries or underperformance. When you can go to someone who is a true big league talent instead of sending out someone who was playing independent league baseball in April or a guy who was not having any success in Triple-A but someone has to cover innings or fill in at third base or whatever – that can really hurt a team. The Reds had that situation hit them several times last year when injuries piled up and they simply didn’t have much of a choice.

Now, or at least on paper, they have a lot more depth than they had last season. And that’s especially true when it comes to the pitching side of things. On Thursday over at Fangraphs, Ben Clemens authored an article titled “A New Way of Looking at Depth“, and it of course, looks at the depth that each team appears to have and what that means.

To make a very simple explanation, they looked at the projections for all of the teams and players, and ran just how much each team would lose in value if their #1, #2, etc. most valuable players were to miss time and be replaced by the player presumably next in line on their depth chart.

So how exactly do the Reds stack up? Well, let’s begin with the framing that Fangraphs projections have the Reds with a .488 winning percentage right now. So they have them as being a mediocre team overall. Agree or disagree with that, but it’s the baseline we’re starting with.

When we look at the first column and which team’s are best equipped to replace their “most valuable player” with a backup option, the Reds are just behind the Chicago Cubs here. You can look at this a few different ways – the first being, hey! The Reds have good depth. I think that is true. But I don’t think that’s what should be taken for this spot. Here it’s more so that the Reds don’t have a superstar. No one has a backup that’s going to be a 6-win, MVP/Cy Young caliber player. The teams with the best players in baseball are the ones at the bottom of this list because you can’t replace Ronald Acuna Jr.

But what happens when we move to the next column and a teams two best players are now out and have to be replaced? The Cubs are still at the top, but the Reds are just behind them and the Giants. There’s probably still some of the same reasoning for this column as there was the previous one. Superstars being out is still felt here in a big way.

When we get to the numbers for if a team’s top three players are all out, the Reds jump into a 1st place tie with the Cubs and Giants. They take a big lead among all teams for the column if a team loses their four best players. They also hold that lead for both the five and six best players being out. They fall to third place if they lose their top seven players, and fifth for being without their eight, nine, and ten best players.

It’s an interesting look at how things could shake out. But as Clemens notes, it doesn’t exactly reflect reality. How long players will be out makes a difference, and for every team and player that’s going to be different.

I believe there could be two takeaways here, though. One is that the Cincinnati Reds do indeed have plenty of quality depth. But the other part, and it’s an important one – the projection systems don’t think the Reds have all that much above-average talent for 2024. There’s a whole lot of average-ish guys on the team.

When you have a team of young, and for big leaguers, relatively unproven players, the “error bars” on the team projections are going to be huge. Take Elly De La Cruz for example. Anyone who has watched him play can argue that he could be an All-Star or maybe even MVP candidate this year. He’s got elite power potential, could steal 50 bases, plays shortstop – all of the right pieces are there. But he’s also a guy who is coming off of a big league debut with a .710 OPS (which translated to a below-average 89 OPS+) where he fell off a cliff after the first six weeks. He’s still going to provide value if he doesn’t hit a ton for average or get on base, but if he repeats a .300 on-base percentage like he had last season, he’s just going to be an average starting caliber player. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it does show you just how large the error bars on him could be. You can apply that same thing, but maybe to a slightly lesser degree, to much of the roster.

What if Frankie Montas is healthy? What if Hunter Greene really finds something with his new curveball or splitter, or both? How will Nick Lodolo look if he’s healthy all year? What if Graham Ashcraft avoids one of the worst 8-start runs in baseball this season? What if Matt McLain plays 150 games with the same output he had last year? But what if none of those things happen and some of the young guys regress? The depth helps with that last question and should mean it’s highly unlikely that the Reds will be a bad team in 2024. The question that is likely going to be unanswered for a while is how good they can be.

52 Responses

  1. Mark Moore

    It’s all projections based on past performance and some advanced thinking until we see it play out. I respect those who delve deeply into all that, but that’s not where I live in a baseball sense. I think we have a great deal of potential and the ST games so far have been a treat to watch.

    The only true fact is that today is March 1 and Opening Day is right around the corner.

    • Melvin

      “The only true fact is that today is March 1 and Opening Day is right around the corner.”

      Yeah. Anything is just guessing when it comes right down to it.

  2. MBS

    As many have already noted the floor has been raised, but not the ceiling.

    The depth we have should keep us from losing because of injury, but not win more. We didn’t sign any big impact guys, so any increase in wins will come from the young talent we already had.

    • greenmtred

      I think the ceiling has been raised. If Montas returns to form and Candelario, who has hit very well at GABP, is among the leaders in extra-base hits, the Reds will be better than they would be without them. Add to that that the Reds may well have an effective long man who could take considerable strain off the pen.

      • LDS

        And if I pick the winning lottery numbers, I win the Powerball. That’s why the ceiling isn’t higher. Montas could return to his earlier top of the rotation form. Candelario could turn into Castellanos in GABP. EDLC could breakout and be the latest incarnation of a superstar. Lots of potential on this team. But the bottom line is that the Reds’ success will have to be a black swan event. The depth they’ve added likely keeps them from falling into last place. On the other hand, they didn’t add anyone that says they are making a run for the title. Not too many projections out there have the Reds with a winning record. And that’s probably a fair assessment. Lots of things have to go right to match last season’s win totals. And maybe things will. Might be worth a few dollars to bet on a long shot, but at this point, it’s only a long shot.

      • MBS

        I’m not knocking the FA’s, I think they’re good pickups. When you have to use the word “if” it takes away from your point. I agree if we get the preinjury version of Montas it will be an upgrade.

        I like Candelario as well, but I don’t think he’s appreciably better than Marte. I like the fact that Candelario, Montas, Suter, Martinez, and Pagan bring some veteran experience to a young team. We made safe solid additions.

        At the end of the day we didn’t sign Snell, Hader, Bellinger, or Yamamoto. That’s fine, but those are the type of big impact players that would have raised the ceiling. at least imo

      • BK

        There are “ifs” with any course of action the Reds would have taken. We now know, Yamamoto had not intention of signing in Cincinnati–he wanted to play in a large market and probably on LA given that is the largest Japanese market in North America.

        Signing Snell, Bellinger or Hader would have simply traded more certainty for this year with more risk in the future. In short, the “ifs” would have been down the road.

      • greenmtred

        A ceiling, as I understand it, doesn’t describe a likelihood: it describes a possibility, the result if everything goes as well as it can.

    • Tampa Red

      Respectfully, I think this is wrong. Unless I have just flat-out misinterpreted the floor-ceiling” thing my entire life and ceiling in the context of this discussion doesn’t mean “potential win total if things go right” then OF COURSE the ceiling has been raised. When you compare additions to the roster vs subtractions to the roster….yeah definitely higher ceiling.

      • LDS

        @TampaRed, currently I’ve not seen any projections or betting lines that have them matching or exceeding last year’s win totals. Maybe they will. That’s why most don’t think the ceiling has been raised. Would I rather the Reds had Candelario than Newman or Senzel? Probably. Will Candelario have the same kind of impact as Castellanos? Again maybe, but probably not. We’ll see. Regardless, the Reds will be more fun to watch than in years past. But to win the division, a lot of things have to exceed expectations. And they could. Hence the reason I suggested a wager on a long shot might be worth the risk.

      • Tampa Red

        @LDS Well I believe that is a different discussion, expected win total vs ceiling.

        In other words, I believe the Reds ceiling – if critical pieces get healthy and stay healthy, sophomore slumps are avoided etc – is MUCH higher than their expected win total. But who’s gonna put their hard earned money on that?! I can and will dream on that though lol

      • MBS

        @Tampa, We agree on what a ceiling is.

        Marte 122 OPS+ vs Candelario 119 OPS+
        Montas (2021) 122 ERA+ Williamson 117 ERA+
        Martinez 119 ERA+ Cruz 93 ERA+
        Suter 150 ERA+ Young 119 ERA+
        Pagan 144 ERA + Gibaut 137 ERA+

        Ceiling Raisers

        Hader 321 ERA+
        Snell 182 ERA+

      • greenmtred

        But MBS: the Reds added those guys without losing the guys you’re comparing them to. Because everybody is likely to get significant playing time, the new guys might better be compared to the depth pieces–Newman, Senzel, Myers, etc.–who are gone.

      • MBS

        @Green, That’s the point, they added depth, not top end talent. That’s why the floor is higher, but the ceiling is not.

      • Tampa Red

        @MBS I don’t think those are the right comparisons, in terms of simply raising the ceiling. Here are more appropriate comparisons:

        Montas/Martinez vs Overton/Lively/Weaver etc

        Pagan vs Duarte etc

        Candalerio vs Newman/Senzel etc

        Could the Reds have raised the ceiling even higher with Snell/Hader etc? Well yes, of course. EVERY time would have raised their ceiling with those kind of players.

      • MBS

        @Tampa, I understand what the difference is between you’re and my opinions are.

        When I say the floor is raised it’s because we don’t have to use that crew “Overton/Lively/Weaver/Duarte/Newman/Senzel.

        When I say the ceiling isn’t raised it’s because the guys we added are similar to the guys we already have in house.

        So maybe it’s a semantics issue we’re having. I stand by my statements, but I do understand your’s. We define things a bit differently.

        So here’s an easier thing to agree on. We are a better team then we were last year.

      • greenmtred

        The guys they added are better than the guys they replaced. That makes the ceiling higher. We may be discussing semantics more than baseball?

      • greenmtred

        MBS: I wrote my comment before I read your response to Tampa, and I see your point. But If Candelario performs better than Newman/Senzel et al, and he gets playing at least equivalent to theirs, that raises the ceiling, doesn’t it?

    • DaveCT

      Given the influx of elite talent, the ceiling has indeed risen. It may not emerge for some time, as with all youth movements. Case(s) in point, the Astros, the Braves. It took time for the Altuve and Acunas to become elite performers. But that doesn’t mean their ceiling wasn’t there when they started.

  3. CI3J

    The club spent a little bit of money, though their payroll is still near the bottom of the league

    I sincerely hope they use that money to start locking up some of the kids to longer-term contracts. They obviously believe in these kids since they didn’t feel the need to bring in some high-priced FA, and they didn’t trade any of them away, so time to put up some cash and buy out some arbitration years.

    • BK

      I’m not sure (see comments below) if this is the right season to start locking up young players. Both players and management would be wise to see which ones need to be here long-term, and it will take an entire season to get that insight.

      I also wouldn’t read too much into the payroll compared to the league this season. The Reds spent the last two seasons removing long-term commitments from the payroll. That allows them to retain any of their young players, either now or later. Because of the number of players they have on league minimum contracts, they will likely be lower than their prior highs this year and next year.

      • CI3J

        They seemed willing to invest in the talent of Hunter Greene, even if the results haven’t exactly been there yet. I think that was a smart move.

        I think, at a minimum, they should look at locking up Ashcraft, Abbott, Benson, McClain, and EDLC. Take a wait-and-see approach to Marte and CES.

      • BK

        I’m not against locking up the players you mention, but it takes two sides to make an agreement. If I’m the agent for most of those players, I would advise them to wait as modest improvement and a larger body of work will significantly raise their value. For example, from the Red’s perspective, locking up EDLC after his middling results would be a no-brainer … at the price point his current MLB performance would garner.

    • Doc

      Only in sports could nine figures be referred to as “a little bit of money”

      • Doug Gray

        They didn’t spend nine figures this year. They committed that, maybe, over multiple years.

        The current team payroll is just over $75M. That doesn’t include the buyouts paid on contracts from last year, which would be another $9M. Also doesn’t include Griffey’s $3.6M.

      • Doug Gray

        The link you shared is accounting for a lot of assumptions that are not at all related to the 26-man roster. There’s like $9M in there for “injured list” and non-big league 40-man roster salaries. No one has ever accounted for “team payroll” in such a way.

        I will be fair, though – I just went to Spotrac and grabbed their number. I gave it a quick glance on a player level and didn’t see anything that looked *off*.

        Either way, the overall point stands – the Reds payroll is among the lowest in baseball.

  4. BK

    The last two paragraphs of this article summarize where the Reds are and why the projection systems are essentially worthless (aside from entertainment value). From a statistical analysis perspective, the projection systems don’t have enough data to deliver decision-quality results.

    The Reds will need a couple of breakthrough players to move into the league’s upper echelon. EDLC and Hunter Greene certainly have the talent to do this and compete for league MVP/CY. Other players have the talent to generate all-star, but not likely MVP seasons. In short, the team is loaded with untapped potential.

    This is why bolstering the depth was the smart move. Like it or not, this is a sorting year. That’s not to say that the team shouldn’t be competitive, but the Reds need to know which young players will take that next step and where they can best augment the team down the road. This will be an exciting year, and the team will be very competitive. But I think the best years start in 2025.

  5. DaveCT

    I think is a fine way to evaluate depth and even validate a team such as the Reds.

    However, all ya have to do is look at the elite teams in order to realize they have elite, veteran players and others do not. Not even including pitchers,

    Texas: Garcia, Seager, Semien
    LA: Betts, Freeman, Ohtani,
    Atl: Acuna, Olson, Albies, Riley
    Houston: Altuve, Bregman, Alvarez
    Philly: Harper, Turner, Realmuto

    Second tier teams have at least two.

    St. Louis: Goldschmidt, Arenado
    Cubs: Bellinger, Swanson
    Yankees: Judge, Soto
    Padres: Machado, Bogaerts

    So … given our one elite veteran is 40 years old and didn’t have his option picked up, the above data about depth validates what the Reds are doing, building from within, using free agency to supplement short term needs and piling on the depth.

    Editorial comment. I, for one, prefer a young team developed from within and/or built from the ground up rather than the best team money can buy. But I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, too

    • BK

      A World Series win for the Reds would be pretty sweet, knowing the deck is stacked against them. It’s undoubtedly part of their charm now.

      • David

        I don’t think the deck is stacked against them. It is all just opinion, some of it dressed up in the clever use of limited statistics.

        And that’s just it. The Reds currently have a group of players that could really take off and perform well this year.
        Some of them will, some will not. But to expect ALL of the young players to crash and burn, is just as absurd as predicting some young guy on the Reds will win the Triple Crown (not the horse races, either) 😉

        The “experts” look down on the Reds because they did not buy into Free Agent sweepstakes. Look at the Yankees. A very expensive line up, and they did NOT even make the play-offs last year. Too many big contracts on the 26- man and 40 man roster they could not move (and were hurt), and not much talent at AAA for them. And not any pitching depth.
        St Louis: Their problem last year was actually pitching. Arenado and Goldschmidt did not have terrible years. But they are both a year older and who knows how much each has left in the gas tank? And just how good will their starting pitching be? Sonny Gray is not a youngster, either.
        If I were actually to predict ONE team in the NL Central to fail, it would be the Brewers. They could fall from 1st (2023) to 4th or 5th (2024).

        Pitching actually wins games. And it is hard to handicap prior to the season.

      • BK

        @David, I agree with your points. However, the reality is that the Reds cannot make the same choices that the Yankees, Dodgers, and Mets have made. Those teams and a few others have options on how to build a team. That’s why the deck is stacked against smaller market teams; they have few options on how they can build their team.

    • Old Big Ed

      There’s a bunch of over-30 guys on your list of opponents. Arenado and Goldschmidt will be in their 33 and 35 seasons; Machado and Bogaerts will be 31 this season, and neither of them cracked .800 OPS last season.

      Like you, I prefer the upside of youth. (It’s hard to knock the Braves on that.)

  6. Jason Franklin

    So, if the team had spent more money on less number of players (going for stars over depthy), the Reds would be worse off or better off?

    • Doug Gray

      That depends on the health of everyone involved, and we don’t know that kind of outcome. But if the Reds had spent, say $50M in salary for 2024 on say 2 elite-ish players instead of Candelario, Martinez, Montas, and Pagan, they’d probably be better off. That’s all in theory, of course.

      And it’s also sort of fudging the numbers a bit, too. Because the players the Reds did sign didn’t require any real long term team, which mitigates the risk on signing them. Getting two guys in that $25-30M a year range is going to require a longer term deal at those prices per year, which makes those deals more risky.

      But from a pure “better spent money” – you want stars over a collection of players. Stars are a lot tougher to find and tougher to replace. A down year from a star is still going to be a good year.

    • BK

      As far as the Fangraph’s and other projection models are concerned, they all struggle with modeling young players. Older, more expensive players would have bought a better team projection by producing a more reliable projection. When the model has low reliability, regression takes over, and the projection forecasts something close to a .500 team (see Baltimore Orioles projections for last year and this year as an example).

  7. RedsGettingBetter

    So we could say (as everybody knows) the Reds is a good team potentially 90-game winner but it’s a big question mark as of now due to have no proven players who have enough data recorded along their careers neither superstars in order to project something better than mediocre results… Only time will tell us the truth…

  8. Optimist

    Last year’s ceiling is this year’s floor. Is that wrong?

    • Doug Gray

      Could be wrong because what you believe the ceiling for last year may be different than what I think which could be different from what Fred thinks.

      • Optimist

        To clarify – last year’s ceiling is what they did, not what was thought last pre-season. 82 wins.

      • Doug Gray

        I mean I can’t agree that what they did was their ceiling. Their ceiling for last year would have included fully healthy years from Greene, Ashcraft, Lodolo, McLain, Fraley, etc.

      • Optimist

        I meant to change the definition – namely, the ceiling for a completed year is the result, not the projection.

        On the other hand, what were the projections last pre-season – with all health as noted? Without looking I suspect it was about 82 wins? Did anyone project more than 85? I thought some were still projecting 68-72.

    • MBS

      I don’t know what the win total ceiling is for the Reds, but I’m feeling 87W’s is a likely scenario with a 3 W swing in either direction.

      • greenmtred

        As others have said, the youth of a number of key Reds is an imponderable: If several of EDLC, CES, Benson, Marte, McLain and the numerous young pitchers perform close to their potential, the team might surprise everybody. If there are growing pains and numerous injuries, then the pessimistic predictions will be justified.

      • MBS

        @Green, Do you think 87 is pessimistic?

        87 W’s would be a 5 W increase over last year. That’s also playoff baseball, with a potential to be the divisional winner. The experts have us regressing, I’m predicting progression.

        I also think the way this team is shaping up, we will see another bump in W’s in 2025, and likely be one of the favorites for the WS.

        I think you read negativity into my comments that doesn’t exist.

      • MBS

        @Greene, I am one of the others

        “If several of EDLC, CES, Benson, Marte, McLain and the numerous young pitchers perform close to their potential”

        My comment from above “so any increase in wins will come from the young talent we already had.”

      • greenmtred

        No, 87 isn’t pessimistic. Under .500 is, I think, though it’s possible. I think this iteration of the Reds is particularly hard to accurately make predictions for.

      • greenmtred

        I don’t think that you’re being negative, MBS: I really just started thinking about the nature of ceilings, temporarily concluding that the distinction may be between theoretical ceiling and practical ceiling. I’ve enjoyed the discussion.

  9. Indy Red Man

    I chose to look at it like this. They won 82 games and swept Texas, Houston, and Arizona in a series. Won the season series from LA and Baltimore too. All that with CES only playing 60 games and all the injuries. Plus all the rookies too? I’m more then cautiously optimistic, but you never know. The Cubs are putting together a pretty good roster too with some young talent