[This post was written by Joe Atkinson, guest columnist from earlier in the season. Thanks, Joe! — spm]

I’m throwing in the towel on 2014.

There are two schools of thought right now as to how the Reds should face the future: as a team that still has a chance to win this year, or as a team that does not. In order to talk about how our favorite team should proceed from this moment, the first thing I must make clear is that I fall in the latter camp.

I do not say this lightly, and I would love to be proven wrong. I’m also not going to point fingers at Bryan Price, Walt Jocketty, or Bob Castellini; whatever faults they had in putting together this year’s team, they aren’t the primary reason this season has been a disappointment. In the end, I believe we will all simply remember the 2014 season as the year that the Baseball Gods looked down upon our Cincinnati Reds and said: “No.”

So where do we go from here? How do the Reds recover from the 2014 debacle to field a championship-caliber team in 2015?

1. Heal

The one person I don’t want to see don a Reds’ uniform again this year? Joey Votto.

I’m a huge Votto supporter; he’s one of my favorite Reds, and one of only three my 5-year-old son can name (Jay Bruce, Devin Mesoraco). But I don’t know that I’ve seen a fully healthy Votto since the first half of 2012, and if rest is what that knee needs to heal, then rest it.

In fact, while I reserve the right to change my mind if the Reds go on an unexpected winning binge, I don’t want to see anyone rushed back this year. Don’t bring Homer Bailey back until you’re sure he’s 100%. After his performance Sunday, give Aroldis Chapman a look and make sure he really belongs on the field.

And while they’re sitting down, let’s see what else we have. What do David Holmberg, Carlos Contreras, or Dylan Axelrod look like with more than spot starts? How about giving Donald Lutz, or Neftali Soto, a legitimate look at first base? I don’t see either being a long-term option, but how do I really know? Most of their Major League experience involved picking splinters; let’s see what they can do with some actual playing time. Maybe they’ll be the next coming of Chris Heisey and fold; maybe they’ll be the next Devin Mesoraco and flourish with regular time on the field.

Whichever way it goes, it’d be good to know before we do anything in the offseason, right?

2. Find a Left Fielder

This one sort of goes without saying.

I know there are those out there who want to see an improvement at shortstop, too. Count me off that list; give me a full season of Votto and Bruce at full strength, another year of maturation for Todd Frazier and (especially) Mesoraco, and a legitimate left fielder, and I’ll be just fine with an eight-hole hitter whose glove tops any other shortstop in the game (yeah, I said it).

But one of the keys to making that work is a legitimate left fielder. This year, four players have taken at-bats while playing left for our Reds; of the three, Ryan Ludwick has been far-and-away the best. He is the only one with an average above .240 (he’s at .260), an OBP above .300 (.322), and WRC+ above 76 (he’s at 103).

The Reds need better production out of that position. Expecting Ludwick to improve in his 37-year-old season hardly seems realistic, so we need an upgrade from outside. Whether it’s by trade (and I’d put Chapman on the block this year – Point #3 aside, we need to get more than 3-4 innings a week out of someone that talented, or we need to trade him) or a free agent signing, upgrading here is a must.

3. Shore Up the Bench and Bullpen 

Bullpens are a crapshoot; what looks great one year falls apart the next (see Hoover, J.J.). As such, I’m not smart enough to make suggestions to Walt Jocketty as to how to fix this. But here’s what I do know: Someone who is smarter than me needs to. STAT.

As for the bench: This is an annual gripe. And it’s gotten better; there are even a couple of guys on this year’s bench who I’d like to see around next year. Guys like Kristopher Negron, Brayan Pena, and Chris Heisey all would be excellent role players on the 2015 Reds. Ryan Ludwick would be a nice bat to have, as long as he’s coming off the bench. And if Lutz or Soto proves …

You know what? Let me rephrase that:

3. Shore Up the Bullpen. And Make Sure the Bench Players Remain Just That

Join the conversation! 25 Comments

  1. i love this. I cannot agree more.

  2. Can’t agree more. The ship has sailed on this season, for a cascade of reasons, some controllable, some not. Although the Reds are an entertainment business, and likely not so inclined to park marquee players for 5+ weeks, that’s exactly what they should do with Votto, Bailey, etc. Remove any doubt that next Spring the squad hits the field with all cylinders firing. About mid-Sept,. Frazier, Mesoraco, Hamilton and others should start getting 3+ days off per week. I’m as competitive as anyone else, but who cares if you win 72, 76 or 79 games? 2015 should be the year of “No More Chances”, um, I mean “No Excuses”.

  3. In preparing for 2015 (and beyond), I think the first, and most important, issue to address will be the GM in 2015 and beyond. Does BC extend WJ or do the Reds have a new GM going into the off-season? I personally believe WJ has been a capable GM with his moments of success, but the game has passed him by and it’s time for a change. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I trust BC to hire a GM capable of leading the Reds into the future. BC hired both WJ and Dusty and I don’t see either of those choices as indicative of good baseball judgement or knowledge, so hiring a new GM might fall under the category of ‘be careful what you wish for’.

    • I think that’s a bit harsh on BC. When he hired Dusty and Jocketty, he hired them to take over a team that hadn’t seen the playoffs in more than a decade and turn them into a winning franchise. They did that. At the time, I would suggest that both were good, successful hires.

      I can definitely see the argument that today’s game has passed Jocketty by. And I’ll be the first to say that Baker stayed beyond his ability to be effective (he could manage the Reds into a winner, but not into a champion, so when winning wasn’t enough anymore, he needed to go). But put into the context, I think both were good hires for the pre-2010 Reds. Neither are good fits for the 2014 Reds.

      • I definitely agree. BC and WJ has created a winning culture, which is hard to do. Personally I prefer wondering about going to the playoffs by winning the division or wc; then whether will sniff 500 for the season. For a longtime the best season was 1999 and we didn’t even make the playoffs.

        I would like though for WJ to go back to his original role and hire a new GM.

        • This is the point that I think many forget about Jocketty; he was not hired to be the GM, he was hired to be the guy in charge of baseball operations. He actually said that his time of being the GM were over and yet he has revamped this team’s whole structure from top to bottom. I do not know that he has been passed by, I am not privy to those decisions. Did he make the deal to put some of these guys on long term contracts or did someone else OK the deals?

          As far as what the Reds should do, I would be very reluctant to get rid of Hoover, though maybe a change of team would help him. Coming into the season, some people thought he could be the closer in waiting. Ondrusek maybe has had his chance so maybe he is trade bait. The needs IMO are that the Reds need a LH starter, and two or three LH relievers. I am not sure Marshall is not done, I am wary of Parra and maybe Chapman needs to start.

          What do they do in LF? I think you could maybe go with Lutz and a RH OF. Heisey can be used for ph and defensive replacement. There is my 2 cents and that is all that it is worth.

        • I don’t think I would be calling what Walt’s done with this team a positive. This is his seventh (?) year as GM. The list of people he’s drafted that are positively contributing is awfully short. (Leake, Hamilton, and Cingrani last year) While the list of awful contracts he’s given vastly outweigh that. (Ludwick, Broxton, Marshall, Skip, Hannahan, BP) The only bright side is after Ludwick and Skip, I think all the guys Walt knew from the Cardinals are in retirement homes now.

          Either way, what truly promising position player do the Reds even have in the minors? I know of two, both outfielders, one hurt and barely in AA, one in A ball.

          Walt got lucky and stumbled into a team that had already drafted Votto, Bruce, Frazier, Cozart, Mesoraco, Hanigan, Bailey. It had already signed Arroyo and Cueto.

          Meanwhile Walt just sprinkled in some Rolen, Izturis, Valdez, Skip, Renteria, Lewis, Cairo, Bernadina, Ludwick, etc.

          The Latos trade was great, the Chapman signing was good but ruined by having him throw 60 innings a year, the Choo trade was good but he didn’t follow it up properly later in the year be reinforcing the one year rental by getting more help, Pena was a good backup pickup.

          – – – – –

          All that said, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised that if you were to remove all the players that Walt didn’t personally draft or initially sign to the team, and then took the WAR created as a Red of all the players he DID draft/sign during his time as GM, then add that WAR together, then you’d probably have either a negative number or one awfully close to negative.

  4. I’m having a hard time thinking the Reds are going to pay Ludwick $4.5 million to go away, or $9 million or whatever it is to keep him around as a pinch hitter. Guess who will be in left field next season?!

    Absolutely agree about Lutz and/or Soto. It’s high time to find out whether these guys are real players, or just clutter on the 40-man roster.

    • I think you’re probably right. Ludwick will be the starting LF next year.

  5. Three steps are what Reds fans are singing to Bob Castellini today.

    “Won’t you give me three steps,
    Gimme three steps mister,
    Gimme three steps towards the door?
    Gimme three steps
    Gimme three steps mister,
    And you’ll never see me no more.”

  6. I agree also…………We have one more year with our stacked pitching staff, and we are hosting the All-Star Game……….let’s go all in and host the World Series while we’re at it. Who is on the the short list of possible LF acquisitions??

  7. When it comes to left field, I believe there are a three ways to go in the offseason. They can make a trade for an everyday left fielder. However, with offense as a premium, this may be very difficult to do in a way that makes sense. They can sign a Cuban outfielder (Castillo or Tomas come to mind), but to afford to do so it is likely that they will have to jettison salary (which I have no problem with in some cases).

    The final option is to plan on signing/trading for a LF platoon. When the A’s sent Cespedes to Boston, it was also, strangely enough, an effort to improve their LF situation by employing a platoon. A similar approach may well work with the Reds, provided Price is ok with providing the lefty the majority of ABs and adhering, for the most part, to the platoon.

  8. Everythig starts in and ends with Bob. Bob is going to determine this offseason where his franchise goes. He will do this by whom he places in the GM position and the direction he gives them on what monies are available and whom he is willing to pay for. Nothing else matters, if Bob really wants to put a WS contender on the field then he has to show it this offsesaon.

  9. From late June through the all-star break I was a big proponent of the Reds trying all they could do to get relief pitcher Brad Boxberger back and make some kind of deal with the Rays. Boxberger was pitching good at the time but not great. Sell high on Broxton maybe. Balfour was struggling closing for the Rays and lost his job. Now Boxberger is pitching phenominally well. Superbly actually. Only given up 1 ER since June 27. And now the Reds bullpen is in ashes. I’d still like to see the Reds make a go for Boxberger in rebuiling the bullpen, but it’ll cost alot more now. It might be near impossible to get him this winter from the Rays. He’s had an excellent second half. Jocketty was Jocketty.

    • Given what is owed Broxton, there is a good chance the Rays didn’t want to take on that kind of salary. It’s really tough to know what another is wanting or willing to take on.

      • You just never know. It takes two and sometimes 3 to make a deal. They sank a bunch of money in Balfour and he has been a miserable failure. They may not have been in on Broxton because of that. But I would have traded Broxton anyway and try to parlay that into a deal with the Rays maybe.

  10. The article is right on. I believe that with the right players on the field (i.e. everyday LF, decent middle bullpen) this team can absorb a .230 hitting shortstop with great glove along with a streak-hitting .230 RF with some pop in the bat and good defense. Negron, Pena, and Heisey are good bench players to have. Would like to see more of what Lutz can do. Again, not sure if Bernadena, Schumaker, or Hannahan was the way to go. I have always said that if this years starting pitching pitched up to the levels they have shown in the past, I would match them against any starting 5 in the Biggs. Cuetto, Latos, Bailey, Leake, and Cingrani are a good staff to have. Hopefully, Tony will come back stronger. Next year is probably going to be the last year the Reds will have that combo. Also, not a big Ludwick fan, but kinda think that they should have played him as the everyday LF this year. He can hit, but when he can’t, he really looks awful…but so does Bruce and Frazier. Thing with TF is that even when the pitch is 2 feet low and outside, he still goes after it. And dam, he is still able to make contact! Fun to watch. Granted, injuries are probably the most damning thing to happen to this team this year, but several people haven’t played up to their potential either. Price and Jocketty included. As much as I think Price and his coaching staff screwed some decisions, I don’t think he should be released. He played with the players he was given, not all his fault. Lastly, I am one of those that think maybe trading Chapman would help this team down the road. Use to be a 100MPH closer was somewhat of a freak, but now that’s not so uncommon. High 90MPH are now the norm. Not sure paying someone that much to come in for 3 outs every third day is worth the cost to the team.

  11. If Joey Votto feels healthy, I’d prefer him to play the last few weeks to see if he is fully recovered. He’ll have been out for more than 2 months so that’s hardly “rushing him back”.

    • Agree, if he is healthy, and Dr.’s agree, he should play. He doesn’t need to sit around another 6 months.

  12. Count me on the pessimistic side here. I think we need an all-star caliber left fielder that can hit for power and average. I have a hard time believing that the starting pitching will pitch as well as they have this season. Cueto has been healthy this year but can he do it two years in a row? Alfredo Simon has come back down to earth this second half but he was playing way above his head the first half, should have put him out there to see what kind of return we could have got for him while we had the chance. Leake has had his best season yet. Latos has pitched great since coming back. Bailey is the only starter that we can reasonably expect to pitch better next year. Bruce, Votto, and Phillips all have huge question marks attached to them. On a positive note, Frazier and Mez have progressed and grown since the team has had to rely on them to produce all season.

    I don’t know– hope this team is better than I think they will be

  13. What do you guys think of the possibility of trading Latos or Cueto to the Angels, right now? I know they would have to clear waivers and all that, but the Angels are obviously going to be desperate for a front line starter after the Richards injury. I’m sure we could get a great haul. I’m thinking maybe a Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, Grant Green and a pitching prospect type of package.

    • Latos or Cueto would have to pass through waivers in order for a trade to happen. Would never happen.

      Not to mention that trade doesn’t sound so great. They passed up the chance to get in on the big market at the deadline so now it’s time to wait until winter.

      • Well, might depend upon what the Angels think. I still doubt it will happen. But, the Angels may decide to pull the trigger. And, if anything, I do think we could lose Cueto/Latos/Bailey, one of the three, before next season.

  14. The thing is with a trade is that many of the trade pieces are all injured or performing under expectations this season. I don’t believe anyone will take Votto right now. BP is just coming back; people are going to want to see what he can do, what he has left. I don’t see anyone taking Bruce this season, and us getting anything back worth anything. Latos just came back. Homer is injured now. There’s not much out there we can use in a trade.

    I know what I want to do. But, what I believe will end up happening is this. We may let one starting pitcher go, one of Cueto/Latos/Bailey. I believe we will let Ludwick go. It will probably be cheaper to go with one of Lutz/Heisey/someone else, or even a platoon out there. I would say they would let Bruce go, but I don’t think there’s anyone out there that would take him after this season. I would say let BP go, also. But, they would have to make sure they have a plan B for both Bruce and BP, as in a plan to fill the positions after they leave. I don’t see any plan for those positions.

    And, the bullpen. So many people complaining about Walt spending so much on the bullpen. And, now they are talking about how we need to improve the bullpen, aka spending more money on it?

    One thing with this team all can agree with, I believe. Even though this team wasn’t picked to do much this season, as a team, they have done more than many thought they would. Also, if you consider, we had underachievement from Votto, Bruce, and the bullpen, and barely average achievement from BP, what were suppose to be 4 strengths of this team. I believe Hamilton, Frazier, and Devin did more than expected this season.

    We may do a little something in preparation for next season, like maybe switch Hoover and/or Lecure out for some other similar pitchers, or get a similar player to Ludwick for LF, someone with maybe a little better bat. However, for any significant improvements, I believe the club will mostly be looking for Votto, Bruce, and the bullpen to come back to the expectations we all have of them. As I said last season at about this time, Votto, Bruce, and the bullpen need to learn how to make the adjustments. BP needs to step it back up. As well as, Frazier, Devin, and Hamilton will need to be ready to make their adjustments, find their weaknesses and make them stronger, find how the other teams will be pitching them to get them out and be ready to hit those pitches.

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