I don ?t understand the Cincinnati Reds love going around. Sure they ?re making changes, adding to their roster and no question, they ?ve improved. I ?m just not sure if they even have much of a shot at finishing out of the basement. They ?re certainly not a contender for anything but avoiding last place.
My skepticism starts with how far back they actually were in a division that saw two teams finish with 95 or more wins and two others finish over .500. They finished 15.5 games back of a fourth place Pittsburgh team that doesn ?t have much to show for their 2019 offseason so far. It begs the question: Is the Reds lineup sixteen games better than the Pirates’ status quo? My short answer is no, but don ?t worry, the long answer is coming.
The Reds offseason reminds me a bit of Giants of last year. Every move looks amazing in 2014, but they don’t play as well five years later. The end result, for me, is the addition of a number of players whose past results in big markets creates name recognition and goodwill, but probably won’t translate to much on the field. Alex Wood gets the superlative of most likely to succeed. Barring a year of injury in 2016, he ?s consistently produced on the mound. He ?ll likely front the Reds rotation even if he ?d be the third man in most contenders, including the Pirates. Tanner Roark is another good middle of the rotation option. Though he hasn ?t been as consistent as Wood, he eats a considerably larger amount of innings and will add value by the sheer amount of work he puts in. I do have to admit, the thought of Yasiel Puig in Great American Ball Park is a little scary. He ?s been average at best outside of a bump in 2017 after monster years in 2013 and 2014. To his credit, he has hit twenty homers in each of the last two seasons, and I ?d be surprised if he didn ?t get there again. At 28 and in a contract year, it ?s possible that the NL Central gets the star treatment from him again, but there are no guarantees. Matt Kemp had something of a bounce back year in 2018, but he still hasn ?t produced a two win season since 2014. At 34, it ?s not likely that he will again. I don ?t see him providing much if any improvement to even the Reds troubled lineup.
So what else do the Reds have to build a contender around? Joey Votto is a future Hall of Famer who still produced at a high level, but more human level in his age-34 season. He saw his power production drop significantly, but Votto still got on base at his normal high clip. At his age, I wouldn’t expect a huge bounce back, but I would expect some. Eugenio Suarez is legit at the opposite corner, he has settled into the high 3 WAR production range, and has become an incredibly valuable player for them. Jose Peraza broke out last season and at 24, he should continue to get better. Nothing in his peripherals screams unsustainable for me. I’ve questioned whether or not Scooter Gennett could be mega-Gennett again in 2019 to match his 4.5 WAR. I think it’s unlikely due to a slightly inflated BABIP, but at his peak years power surge plus home games at Great American Ballpark seem to have done him well. However, he should still be pretty productive. That’s a productive infield, but it was the infield of a team that lost 95 games. It’s also worth noting how healthy they stayed last season with all four making 600 PA. Can they do it again ?Cumulatively, this group’s not likely to carry any more weight, but it does provide a solid build around for the rest of the team.
The rest of the Reds were pretty bad last season. Puig likely improves one outfield slot. Jesse Winker showed some promise at the plate and likely takes Adam Duvall’s old spot full time. I don’t know who plays center field though. Scott Schebler spent some time there last season, but overall, he hasn’t been great defensively. Puig and Kemp haven’t manned the middle since 2016 and 2014, respectively. I do think the Reds improved their outfield, but it wasn’t very good to begin with and likely would have gotten better just from more time with Winker. I still think this is a pretty big question mark overall for the team.
That said, I think the Reds likely have as much depth in their lineup as some weaker contenders, but like the Pirates, I’m not sure if they have a 5 WAR performer. Votto is capable, but I’m not sure he’ll rebound a full 1.5 wins in his age-35 season. Gennett came close, but I’d be surprised if he improves on his 2018. Puig might be the wildcard for the Reds. The Reds were fortunate to stay healthy in 2018. I’m not sure they’ll be able to repeat that in 2019.
What separated the Pirates from Reds in 2018 and still separates them heading into 2019 is pitching. The Reds best starter in 2018, Luis Castillo, compares pretty evenly production wise with Joe Musgrove. I’ve seen a lot made of Castillo’s youth and of course, he is younger than Musgrove by eight days. You can bump Castillo back to the third in the rotation with the addition of Wood and Roark, but the Pirates’ four is still likely better than the Reds three. I’d take Jameson Taillon or Chris Archer over either of the Reds newly acquired pitchers now fronting their rotation. Both teams have a open slot at the five and some promising solutions, but I favor the Pirates first four by a good bit. The Pirates’ bullpen could one one of the best at protecting late leads with the addition of Keone Kela over the full season. I don’t think it’s even worth breaking that the relief situation down.
The Reds made moves this offseason, and let’s for a second say they do manage to pass the Pirates and finish out of the cellar in the division. What ultimately did their offseason moves accomplish? Being less bad than another team in your division, but that doesn’t mean much. The moves for me are puzzling, because they don’t get them over the hump of contention or even close to it, nor do they control any of the acquired players for long enough for them to contribute when the Reds no doubt are ready. The only thing that does make sense is they bought low on a few assets that they could parlay for a greater return at the trade deadline than what they gave up. If that is their goal, kudos to them on the bold strategy, but if they actually think their moves will get them back to the postseason or even that far up the division, they’re likely kidding themselves.