The Cincinnati Reds have been stuck in a period of stagnation, as they have failed to reach a .500 record since 2013 and have three consecutive fifth place finishes in the National League Central.
In Bryan Price’s fourth season as the Reds manager, Cincinnati went 68-94 for a second consecutive year. Although the team as a whole was underwhelming, the Reds offense alone was very respectable, finishing 14th in runs scored and RBIs, 13th in home runs and 18th in batting average.
The team was led by Joey Votto, who played in all 162 games, and led the National League in walks, on-base and on-base plus slugging percentage. It is anticipated he will finish within the top three in the National League MVP vote.
Other impact players included first-time All-Star Zack Cozart, Adam Duvall, Scooter Gennett, Scott Schebler and Eugenio Suarez, who each hit over 24 home runs and drove in at least 60 RBIs. Many baseball fans expected speedsters Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza to take the next step in 2017, but both saw regression in their batting averages.
The main cause for the Reds’ struggles stems from their inconsistent pitching, as Cincinnati ranked 29th in earned run average, walk rate and quality starts. Only the Seattle Mariners used more starting pitchers than the Reds this season. Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani and Tony Cingrani, who pitched a total of about 360 innings in 2016, only amassed 36 total innings due to injuries in 2017. This forced young arms like Amir Garrett, Luis Castillo and Sal Romano into action.
Garrett showed promise in his first three starts, pitching a total of 19.2 innings while allowing only four earned runs and striking out 21. Unfortunately for the rookie left hander, right hip inflammation forced him onto the disabled list in May. After returning from the DL, Garrett struggled mightily, finishing the season with a 7.39 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 70.2 innings pitched.
Romano and Castillo were bright spots for Cincinnati, as they combined to pitched 176.1 innings with a 3.79 ERA. It is clear the Reds will rely on all three of these young arms in 2018.
The best pitcher on the Reds roster is closer Raisel Iglesias, who pitched a total of 76 innings, logging 28 saves with a 2.49 ERA and 10.9 K/9. He pitched more than one inning in 18 of his 63 appearances, showing his longevity in the bullpen. The Reds will rely heavily on Iglesias in 2018, as he is the only reliever on the roster to have two consecutive seasons with a sub-3 ERA.
Prospects to keep an eye on
Nick Senzel, Third Baseman
Ranked eighth among all MLB prospects by MLB.com, Nick Senzel promises to be a franchise player for Cincinnati. The former second-overall selection in 2016 has been flying through the minor leagues, advancing from rookie ball to Double-A in just two seasons.
In 187 minor league games, Senzel is batting .315 with 21 home runs, 105 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. I absolutely expect to see Senzel at the major league level in 2018, as he will likely replace Suarez or Cozart on the left side of the infield once one is dealt.
Jesse Winker, Outfielder
Winker played 47 games at the major league level this season, batting .298 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs. In 85 minor league games, Winker batted .314 with 24 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs.
The corner outfielder seems more than capable of playing an everyday role with the Reds. However, a log jam in their outfield may force Winker to start the year in Triple-A if they don’t move Schebler or Duvall by the start of 2018.
Dilson Herrera, Second Baseman
Herrera was acquired by Cincinnati in the deal that sent Jay Bruce to the New York Mets. The 23-year-old played in 68 games at the Triple-A level this season, batting .264 with 17 extra-base hits and 42 RBIs.
His season was cut short after season-ending arthroscopic shoulder surgery in July, but he is expected to be a full participant in spring training. There is a major log jam in the Reds infield, and Herrera will further complicate things for Reds management, although this problem of excess is one that all teams would love to have.
The Reds certainly could use more pitching, as their rotation lacks an established arm with a proven track record. Only Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo have finished a season with double-digit wins and a sub-4 ERA in their career. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they don’t have much wiggle room in terms of salary cap, as they will need to sign Gennett, Hamilton, DeSclafani, Suarez and Iglesias this offseason. All are arbitration eligible and should be retained though.
Also, the team will have to make a big decision regarding All-Star Zack Cozart, who is a free agent this offseason. The Reds will likely offer him a $17.4 million qualifying offer, which will allow the team to acquire a compensatory first-round pick in 2018 (if he were to sign a deal with another club for north of $50 million).
If Cozart were to accept the qualifying offer, the Reds would be unable to make any significant move in free agency. If they were to lose him, they would be without one of their key contributors from the 2017 season. A decision regarding Cozart will be a likely indication of the team’s direction moving forward.
Potential offseason moves
With the Reds not in a clear contending position, it is likely they sell some of their established players in order to continue developing their farm system. Trading Suarez and Duvall would open up every-day roles for the aforementioned Senzel and Winker, while moving players like Iglesias or Cozart (if signed) could get the Reds a good haul in terms of prospects.
I assume the Reds will be selling this offseason in order to continue bolstering their farm system, which currently ranks eighth in the MLB according to Bleacherreport.com.
In my opinion, the Reds are a team trending in the wrong direction in terms of winning right now. They had a mediocre 2017 campaign and seem to be looking to continue their rebuilding process.
If I were a Reds fan, I would be disappointed with management for not being able to put a winning team around superstar Joey Votto, as the Reds don’t look like they will contend for a playoff spot until the end of the decade.
However, with a top-10 farm system, the Reds long-term future looks bright.
Featured image by WTOP.com
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