2015 Reds

A Better Way to Play Out the 2014 Season

[This post was written by Warren Leeman, better known in these parts and the frozen tundra as Shchi Cossack. He's decloaked for a moment at our request to elaborate on a comment he wrote a few days ago. -- spm]

The Old Cossack never throws in the towel on a season until the Reds are mathematically eliminated, but a more constructive approach to the remaining 2014 season will serve the Reds better than simply maintaining the status quo.

The Reds offense is going nowhere this season. Joey Votto is on the 60-day DL. Brandon Phillips has continued his offensive age regression and is completing rehab on a 15-day DL. Does anyone remember Phillips’ post-injury performance last season? Ryan Ludwick has little to no power left in his swing following his severe shoulder injury and his age regression. Jay Bruce suffered a leg injury early in the season and has had little offensive production at all. Billy Hamilton had never proved his capability to hit AAA pitching. Hamilton’s season-long performance, his June surge notwithstanding, has fully demonstrated his lack of major league readiness at the plate.

The starting pitching and defense have carried the 2014 team to whatever success they have attained and that isn’t going to change. But now even the starting pitching is showing huge cracks.

Alfredo Simon has nothing left in the tank. He has reached his limit of effectiveness and stamina after a spectacular first half. Homer Bailey is on the 15 day DL and will be out at least until the end of August. Tony Cingrani in on the minor league DL and will not pitch again this season. That leaves two BIG holes in the starting rotation. The three remaining starters cannot carry this team. The only effective, reliable relievers are Chapman, Diaz and Broxton. The lack of starting pitching consistency and reliability is going to decimate the marginal bullpen and we can expect more of what we saw at Coors Field.

The Reds know what they have in most of their current active roster.

Chris Heisey, Skip Schumaker, Brayan Pena, Ramon Santiago and Jack Hannahan are utility role players at best. Zack Cozart and Phillips are defensive stalwarts with limited offensive capability. Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco and Bruce are proven starters at the major league level with their long-term effectiveness still a bit murky.

That leaves left field, utility infield, utility outfield, middle relief and starting pitching depth as wide open questions going into 2015. Short stop, second base and center field are concerns.

Instead of regularly using those players that the Reds already know about, the final few weeks of the 2014 season should be used to answer staffing needs and prepare for a serious playoff run in 2015.

Alfredo Simon may be an effective starting option for 2015, but he has nothing left for 2014 and should be removed from the starting rotation, for his own physical survival. I’d place him on the 15-day DL with arm fatigue.

If anyone claims Ludwick, Schumaker, Hannahan, Sam LeCure or Manny Parra, Walt Jocketty should try to work out a trade for some return, but if not, then let the waiver claim go through along with the remaining contract responsibility.

If someone claims Heisey, Santiago, Phillips, Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton, Logan Ondrusek or J.J. Hoover, Jocketty should work out an equitable trade or withdraw the waiver.

If Pena is capable of catching, option Barnhart back to AAA; if Pena is not capable of catching, place him on the 15-day DL.

DFA Hannahan and Schumaker off the 40-man roster if they are not claimed off waivers. Quit signing replacement (or below replacement) level utility players and middle relievers to multi-year, guaranteed contracts!

The Reds need to find out what is available in house now so they know what roster holes (if any) must be filled externally during the off season.

Neftali Soto and Donald Lutz should be added to the 25-man roster and play virtually every day. With regular consistent playing time, Lutz has produced at both AA and AAA, despite being jerked around for 3 weeks and again for 4 weeks with very limited and irregular playing time. He needs to prove if he can play at the major league level for a possible starting role in LF for 2015.

Soto has produced at AAA after 7 weeks of minimal and irregular playing time to start the season. Soto needs to prove he if he can play at the major league level for a possible off-season trade opportunity.

Felix Perez and Rey Navarro have produced at AAA. Perez and Navarro should be added to the 40-man and 25-man roster and given significant, regular playing time. Perez needs to prove if he can play at the major league level for a possible platoon option in LF or possible utility OF role for 2015. Navarro needs to prove if he can play at the major league level for a possible utility IF role for 2015.

Kristopher Negron needs to prove if he can continue to play consistently at the major league level for a possible super-sub utility IF/OF role for 2015.

For the pitching staff, continue with Jumbo Diaz and Carlos Contreras to see if they can become major options from the bullpen in 2015. Curtis Partch should pitch regularly for a possible middle relief role for 2015. Add David Holmberg to the 25-man roster and have him pitch regularly in the starting rotation.

Once the younger, cheaper players prove or disprove their major league readiness with extended, regular playing time, the Reds will be ready for some serious and informed off-season decisions.

61 thoughts on “A Better Way to Play Out the 2014 Season

  1. If they do anything you say I would be happy. But what I really want to see is Lutz play full time this last month. We toted him as first German system player yet we dangle cheese (Playing in majors full time) over this hungry rat. He wants to play and win and maybe he can provide a power spark we need.

    • Actually hanging a bone over a salivating dog is a better analogy.
      Lutz, Heisy, Santiago, Negron, and Pena would be a good bench next year.

      • Heiasey makes $1.76MM and will probably make $2MM through arbitration in 2015. He has 2 years of team control remaining after this season, but his OPS+ has declined from 112 to 90 to 89 to 78 over the past 4 seasons. His only value right now defensive flexibility and defense only outfielders are not what the Reds need, especially at $2MM.

        • Plus he’ll be 30 in December. Unless he agrees to take a significant pay cut, he should be traded or, as a last resort, non-tendered.

        • You old Cosack you, I like your plan but would keep Parra. He is not as healthy as last season and could and I say will be lights out again next season

          Besides how could I lobby to move Chapman to the rotation all offseason without healthy lefties….
          :)

      • No offense, that is a terrible bench, how is it any better than this season?
        I intended the first 2 words to be ambiguous

  2. You nailed it, although I think a combo of Negron and Elmore would be very useful to the Reds. We could reduce Votto and Phillips work load to around 130 games. I dont see the Reds jettisoning anyone though. My fear is we keep everyone for a 2015 return including Ludwick.

    • Question, when you waive all the players propose- who replaces them when the beasts at AAA live up to expectations?

      • Minor league season ends pretty soon anyway. If something needs to be done for the major league club, you can’t really worry about how it will affect the AAA or AA teams records. It would probably only be Navarro, Soto, and Perez anyway. I think Lutz needs to be left alone for a little while.

  3. I believe you are on to something, although I would like to see Lutz finish out the season at AAA, as he has been in a good hitting groove since the Reds sent him down (.324/.375/.568 in 8 games). They have jerked him around for the last two seasons essentially costing him two of his development seasons and he has almost no AAA experience. He is in a good groove and I would like to see him continue with that and then get a September call up and get regular playing time in the outfield for the last month of the season. 95 ML PA spread over two seasons with a week or more between games and sometime only a pinch hit appearance then, is no way to develop or evaluate a young player, especially one who didn’t even have AAA experience before this year.

    Soto has plenty of AAA experience and they could call him up now and give him regular time at 1B. He has also been playing some 3B at Louisville, as well. I cannot believe that he is as lost at the plate as he has appeared so far at the ML level.

    But as BOHDI87 says for the Reds to do any of the things you outlined “requires way too much logic and proactive foresight for this front office to handle”.

  4. Before bringing up virtually the entire Louisville bat lineup up to play in the bigs, one might consider that that team isn’t going to make the playoffs and no one on it has a higher OPS than .780.

    Lutz is hitting .250 and striking out in close to a 1/3 of his PAs while sporting a 4.5/1 K/BB ratio. Sure call him up in September but play him every day? Be serious.

    I’d let the Bats’ season finish and the rosters expand before I’d call up any of these guys; none of them look particularly major league ready but giving Soto or Lutz some playing time at 1B in early September would be OK with me.

    • Michael,
      Since you referenced the Big Lutz specifically, I offer my personal opinion regarding Lutz.

      These are the players currently used to play LF or 1B (the positions Lutz would play) for the Reds:
      .718 OPS for Ryan Ludwick in 332 PA
      .697 OPS for Brayan Pena in 293 PA
      .635 OPS for Chris Heisey in 240 PA
      .610 OPS for Skip Schumaker in 236 PA

      None of those players should be starting in LF or 1B for any major league team. Playing Lutz as a full time starter will not hinder the Reds chances for a playoff run.

      Lutz posted a 1.098 OPS in 97 PA at AA while playing in a stadium notorious inhibitive for LH power hitters. After being promoted to AAA, Lutz posted a .800 OPS in his 1st 5 games (18 PA), before WJ promoted him to the show. After 3 weeks with very limited and irregular playing time, Lutz returned to AAA. While knocking off the rust and trying to regain his swing, Lutz posted a meager .394 OPS and a 41% SO rate over his 1st 56 games (24 PA). Then he started regaining his stroke and posted a .716 OPS and a 32% SO rate over the next 21 games (92 PA), before WJ again jerked him back to the show. This time after 4 weeks with very limited and irregular playing time, Lutz returned to AAA, but ‘hit’ the ground running with a .943 OPS and a 22% SO rate in 8 games (40 PA).

      When Lutz plays regularly, he hits and he hits with power, lots of power. The Reds would lose nothing by playing Lutz every day over the available players and that opportunity would allow Lutz to prove, to himself and the Reds, if he is major league ready. Think what an .800+ OPS playing at league minimum would do for the 2015 Reds lineup if Lutz can play at the major league level. In the alternative, if Lutz fails to produce any better than the currently available players, the Reds know that they need to look externally for another 2015 option.

      • Lutz’s numbers in AAA are about the same as Ludwick’s in the bigs. His isolated power number is only slightly higher. And that’s comparing the “apple” of AAA to the “orange” of MLB.

        It’s highly unlikely that Lutz is the answer in LF for 2015.

        • If Lutz could produce his AAA numbers in the bigs, sure, but he hasn’t come close.

          And it would be $4.5 million; either way, the Reds are going to have to pay Ludwick at least $4.5 million.

        • You leave out the most important consideration- one of them is on the upswing and the other is just about done. Remember that Lutz is not the average minor leaguer at his age. His development began rather late. As such, I think many of us believe he still has much room for improvement. Steady playing time is important to his development.

      • You’re preaching to the choir. I want to see what Lutz can do given some consistent playing time. He has some things to work on, mainly plate discipline, but he can’t work on those sitting on he bench which is where the Reds have kept him for a significant part of the last two seasons. Like you say when he has been given consistent playing time he has produced a very good OPS. Because he hasn’t hit with any consistency in the majors with around 90 PA over about 10 weeks time spread over 2 seasons some people want to write him off. It’s hard to take them serious when they want to play guys like Schumaker, Hannahan, etc. who are on the downside of their careers and were not producing rather than give a young guy who was put on the 25 man a chance. I include Price in that, too.

        Lutz only has a total of 156 AB in AAA, and as you said, got off to a terrible start after “rusting” on the Reds bench. However, he put up good numbers right before being called back up and again since being sent back down. He managed to get his overall OPS in AAA up to its current .733 from where it was near the basement. As you stated, his OPS over his last 18 or so games is over .900.

        • Yeah, sorry. The response was to Kevin not you. My bad. I would like to have WJ sitting with you and me down at the Banks for 30 minutes.

      • When you claim that “none of these players would be starting in LF for any other team” are you aware that the league average OPS for :LF in the NL in .727? Ryan Ludwick is now at .725.

        I’m beginning to think the Reds will pay him the $9 million next year to stay on the team rather than pay him $4.5 million to go. The question seems to be how confident are they that they can get better production for $4.5 million or less? I’d say that’s a considerable risk unless they can swing a trade for a big, and costly, bat for LF.

        • Hmmm…I’m not sure where you got the .727 OPS, but I think it probably represents the average OPS for ALL LF, not the starting LF. That would include the likes of Heisey and Schumaker as LF. That was not my assertion.

          In the NL, there are 9 LF with enough qualifying PA to be considered starters. Of those 9 starting LF, only 1 has an OPS<.770 (Dominic Brown @ .615). I don't think any NL team wants Brown as their starting LF.

          If Ludwick had at least a .770 OPS, I don't think we would be so concerned about the Reds offensive production from LF.

        • Ludwick has a higher OPS than 5 players who have started the most games in LF for their NL teams. That includes two first place teams the Nats and Dodgers.

          Yes, .727 is the average for all NL LFs. But your comment as regards Ludwick is an exaggeration.

  5. Great post. I’ve been saying for a while now that the reds need to do some remodeling now, or else face a painful rebuilding job really soon, possibly after 2015. The farm needs to be built back up, so that the reds can actually sustain an injury or two. They came into the season with very little depth. The bench is a joke and most of the minor league talent started the year in AA or lower. But what’s really frustrating is that Walt won’t even use the little bit of depth he does have at AAA. He’d rather keep schumaker and Hannahan rather than give Perez, Navarro, or Soto a shot. There is a lot of scrap that needs to be cleared off the 40 man, and you are right on in what needs to be done. It’s frustrating to watch the reds whine about injuries when the cardinals are competing without Yadi, Wacha, and Garcia.

  6. While I agree, and have previously stated most of what you say here, I have to say you are way off on Soto and Lutz. They cannot hit MLB pitching, period.

    • I don’t think anyone knows if they can hit major league pitching or not. I certainly don’t know. The ‘opportunities’ they received previously were destined to fail and they certainly failed. Either or both Soto and Lutz might fall on their face if given a real opportunity with consistent, regular playing time, but they might also produce like they have historically with consistent, regular playing time. The only way to know for sure is to try.

        • So did Zach Cozart for his first weeks in the league. The point of my contrarianism being that… give them each a solid month of at bats before you make blanket statements.

      • Cossack: In deference to my respect for your opinions, I will put aside my doubts about Lutz and agree that the Reds should give him a try. I’m mystified, though, by your near dismissal of Hamilton: He has seriously outperformed anyone’s projections for his rookie year, and seems likely to improve on his walk rate and caught-stealings (I say this because he is clearly learning to hit mlb pitching, and has turned himself–in short time–into a premier defensive center fielder). I’m not as lacking in hope for next year as some, and not as convinced that the front office is foolish as many seem to be. But, yes, the gist of your proposal–clean out dead wood and evaluate what is available in the organization–makes a lot of sense to me.

        • I really glossed over Hamilton, since my focus in the article was to address changes and opportunities during the final 6 weeks of the season. The intent was not to dismiss Hamilton at all since his role within the final 6 weeks is consistent with his role all season. A discussion of Hamilton’s strengths, challenges and contributions would require a completely separate article and discussion. He is an interesting and complicated subject and certainly a lightning rod for discussions.

  7. Why in the world would you give away Lecure and Parra (particularly the former), and especially why those two instead of Ondrusek?

    • economics.
      LeCure is on a 2-year contract that will pay him $1.85MM for 2015. Parra is on a 2-year contract that will pay him $3.5MM for 2015. Ondrusek has no contract for 2015. His 2-year contract expires this season. When I wrote the article, ondrusek was still on the DL and had not begun a rehab assignment yet. I did not anticipate seeing him again before September at the earliest, or maybe it was just wishful thinking. ondrusek should be at the front of the line for non-tender next season and I would love to see WJ DFA him along with Hannahan and Schumaker.

      • Hannahan’s contract can be brought out, but at $2 million. DFA Skip would be foolish; the Reds would be stuck paying his $2.5 million salary so he could play somewhere else. I’m sure he could be traded somewhere.

    • Parra and LeCure are both signed for next year; P at $3.5million and L for $1.85 million. Ondrusek is due for arbitration and could be simply non-tendered.

  8. I wish this would happen. I also wished that Walt and Bob would improve the team before the break. I have no idea what the plan for 2015 is, other than cross fingers that everyone gets healthy. all I know is that a very valuable year of Cueto, Leake, Simon, Bailey and Latos has been utterly wasted.

  9. Cossack, I think you should be fitted with a turban, and bear the honorific title of “Cossack the Magnificent”!

    Without benefit of envelops sealed in a Mason jar on Funk & Wagnalls porch since noon today, you have outlined a coherent plan that defines the way forward for the Reds. It cuts losses and provides answers to most of the uncertainties in our minor league roster.

    Brilliant!

  10. Regardless of how sensible they are, I’m thinking that there is no way that these changes happen before rosters expand. Given what we saw (rather, didn’t see) at the deadline, Walt/Bob view such moves as tantamount to throwing in the towel. However, in the immediate future, it may be possible to unload Broxton and (gasp) even Ludwick. The Dodgers are looking for bullpen help and don’t particularly care about salary, so send him back to LA and save $9 million next year. Some team may even be willing to pay for Ludwick’s buyout in exchange for his services over the final weeks of the season.

    However, it should have never gotten to this point. At the deadline, Walt/Bob had a chance to move Broxton for some return and salary relief and Simon for some kind of useful return (before he reminded us that he is not really an All-Star starting pitcher). Also, who even knows what kind of return Cueto would have brought at the deadline. My only remaining hope for this year is that there are no more injuries. However, Cueto ending the year on the DL would be a most fitting end to the 2014 season.

    • You have an obsession with Cueto and I do not understand why. For multiple seasons, he’s been our best pitcher by far, yet you constantly advocate trading him for some minor league guys who are far from guaranteed and have nowhere near the same value. Now, it seems as if you are wishing him injured before the end of the season- why? To be able to say, “I told you so!”?

      • Well, as stated in my post, “my only remaining hope for this year is that there are no more injuries.” . . . My last statement is just referencing the horrible luck the Reds have had this year.

        Regarding moving Cueto, it is precisely that he has performed well this season that I contend that the Reds should have moved him at the break (and should now do so during the offseason). This past offseason, I advocated a 2-3 year extension for Cueto, because it makes sense to buy when stock is down. When it comes to value, it appears that the Reds will get one more year out of Cueto before he leaves via free agency. If he has an outstanding season, he will provide 6 WAR. I think that it is probable that the Reds would be able to get more than 6 WAR in return for Cueto, if only by virtue of getting players back who are under several years of team control.

    • Cueto will probably win 20 games even with all the moves the Old Cosack mentioned

      Cueto is more durable than Bailey or Latos and should be resigned. His mental make up is worth the premium

      Need proof, check his batting average with the bases loaded. Or check out his stolen bases against or number of hitters picked off. Or his stats last year when he was hurt. Or in 2012 or this year when he puts up cy young numbers at GABP.

      His game at Coors with this team might have won him the Cy Young this year

      • Staggering stat: Since the All-Star Break, Cueto is 5-0. Everybody else on the Reds is 5-21.

        The Reds should try to extend Cueto NOW. They have a club option for 2015 at $10 million; I’d say offer Johnny a 4-year deal worth $80 million somewhere along the lines of 15-20-20-25. That would give him an immediate raise but forego some of the higher price he is obviously worth to the future when some contracts expire.

        • Cueto may have taken your deal after the 2013 season. If he were to hit the open market today, his deal would be north of Bailey’s.

        • Agreed, 4/$80MM seems way below market for a top 5 starting pitcher in the league. I wonder what Cueto’s response might be if the Reds floated a 5/$120MM contract for him.

        • $5 million extra for next year is a powerful incentive which no other team could offer. And he winds up being paid more than Homer.

          And anyways human beings don’t act for purely pecuniary reasons; Cueto’s never played anywhere else and seems quite comfortable with the team. The Reds can be outbid by the the Yankees, Dodgers, etc. etc. but they have been able to sign their stars to contracts anyways. Yonder Alonso isn’t starting at 1B and Joey Votto on the Yankees like so many Reds fans believed was a certainty three years ago.

      • Was Cueto more durable last year? . . . I think Cueto is one of the best three or four pitchers in the show. Also, I think that he is, indeed, better than Bailey or Latos at present. However, in the long-run, I would be more comfortable with signing Latos to an extension (also, since his stock is presently down a bit). He has a bigger frame, has proven that he can pitch effectively when his velocity is down, and has a nice breaking ball that should age well. Cueto relies on velocity. Once his velocity dips a bit, his two seamer will not have as much run and he will be much more hittable. Also, frankly speaking, Cueto’s value is now in the stratosphere. The time to extend Cueto was during the last offseason.

        • I mentioned that Johnny had an injury year last year. he still had a 2.82 ERA. Matt has never had an ERA under 3.

          Matt’s injuries this year are like Cueto’s last year so I see durability as a push.

          Cueto’s ERA has not been in the 3′s since 2010

    • No one is going to take Ludwick for a month when that puts them on the hook for $4.5 million. Walt reportedly shopped him and there were no takers at the trade deadlines.

      Weakening the bullpen for 2015 sure seems like a good idea.

      • At the trade deadline, the situation was much different. He wasn’t hitting well and the Reds still appeared to have a slight chance at the postseason. A team unconcerned with payroll may be compelled to claim Ludwick (and his $4.5 million option) off of the wire for the last six weeks of the season, provided they don’t have to return anything of value to the Reds (other than payroll relief). He has hit very well recently. If a claim is made on him (I don’t claim to know one way or the other if one will be made), Walt should just let him go.

        • Walt would dance in the streets if someone claimed Ludwick off waivers.

          It won’t happen; other team’s primary goal isn’t to help the Reds out; Ludwick is, at best, an average hitting corner OF and that’s not worth $4.5 million for 6 weeks to anybody.

  11. The Reds have not had the opportunity to give their minor leaguers significant playing the last couple of years because they were in the middle of a playoff race. This year is obviously different. They should not waste the chance to find out what some of these players can do with regular playing time.

    • I believe a reservation for 5 is in order for a table down at the Banks with invatations for WJ, BC, Michael Hampton, Zaglamir and the Old Cossack. I’m sure we can find a bigger table if anyone else wants to join the party!

        • I fail to see why BC wouldn’t pick up the tab for a couple rounds of Little Kings, if we ask nicely and promise to be on our best behavior. It certainly wouldn’t run him anywhere close to $200MM and think of the good will he would generate…

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