[This post was written by Jux Berg, who has his own website at Bergonsports.com and @bergonsports on Twitter. Thanks, Jux. — spm]
An argument can be made that heading into 2014, Cincinnati’s roster was solid enough to return playoff baseball to Great American Ballpark. It just so happened that an incomprehensible ten out of Cincy’s Top 16 players spent time on the disabled list. Of the six “healthy” cogs, three (Billy Hamilton, Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart) also missed handfuls of games. This type of health debacle is not likely to reoccur anytime soon. That said, the Reds’ roster does have glaring holes.
Walt Jocketty must ask himself a simple question for each player: Would he play for the St. Louis Cardinals?
In my opinion, the Cardinals would have nothing to do with the following players:
- OF Chris Heisey (career .301 OBP; .271 in ’14)
- P J.J. Hoover (straight/flat fastball; 1-10, 5.27 ERA in ’14)
- 1B/UT Jack Hannahan (career .346 SLG)
- P Logan Ondrusek (he’s improved, but I still don’t think STL would trust him)
- P Manny Parra (career 4.94 ERA)
- 1B Neftali Soto (overmatched at MLB level)
- P Sam LeCure (drop in velocity, huge hike in BAA in ’14)
- (3rd Base Coach Steve Smith)
Replace these players with proven veterans or by virtually holding an open tryout with your farm system over the course of the season until you find the strongest 25 in your organization (regardless of experience).
The Good News
Hamilton, Frazier and Devin Mesoraco are under Reds’ control until 2018+. If healthy, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips stabilize the lineup. Assuming RF Jay Bruce returns to form after an off year, potential All-Stars occupy six of eight positions.
Kristopher Negron’s emergence this season was a bright spot. The kid is reliable at multiple positions and has a smart, oppo-focused approach at the plate. He will make the bench stronger in ’15. Brayan Pena’s a keeper (signed through ’15). I wouldn’t be opposed to re-signing UT Ramon Santiago.
On the pitching side, the Reds discovered a couple of gems in Alfredo Simon and Jumbo Diaz. Although Simon has essentially run out of gas after the All-Star break, he’s proven to be filthy enough for at the very least a prominent bullpen role in ’15. Diaz has displayed impressive command of three high-velocity pitches. I’d say he’s a potential closer or set-up man.
Offensively, the biggest areas of need are, as usual, left field and shortstop. Left field has been a revolving door of mediocrity for years in Cincinnati, save for Ryan Ludwick’s hot stretch in 2012 when Votto was hurt. Ludwick and the Reds have a mutual option for 2015. If he does re-sign, he can’t be your everyday left-fielder. I’m fine with a guy like Luddy as a fourth OF/bench player who’ll give you a professional AB when summoned, but he’s clearly in the twilight of his slightly above average career.
As for shortstop, Zack Cozart is polarizing. On one hand, his glove is both reliable and magical. Being strong up the middle is a big reason the Reds have led the National League in defensive efficiency (per baseball-reference.com) the past two seasons. On the other hand, Cozart has posted a career .284 OBP in 1589 AB; and his SLG is all the way down to .295 in ’14. For a team that struggles to score runs, can you afford to have this type of hole in your lineup?
On the pitching side, middle relief has been a nightmare in ’14. Hoover, Ondrusek, Parra and LeCure have all posted WHIPs of at least 1.463. Bring in reliable arms from elsewhere or promote the best arms in the farm system.
A Potential Bold Move
LF, SS, middle relief and bench bats have been needs for years. Why hasn’t Jocketty acted? It’s simple. He’s not willing to give up what opposing GM’s want. And with the amount of money tied up in Votto, Phillips, Bailey, etc, there isn’t much room to add salary.
Something’s got to give. Most likely: Jocketty trades starting pitching. Heading into 2015, the Reds have ten potential rotation starters: Cueto, Leake, Latos, Bailey, Tony Cingrani, Simon, Raisel Iglesias, Robert Stephenson, Michael Lorenzen and Ben Lively. 2014 1st-round draft pick Nick Howard (Virginia) may be added to that depth chart soon.
You’ve gotta give something to get something. Decide which of these guys are least likely to be a part of your future and then hit the phones. Plenty of teams need pitching. One team in particular needs arms badly: The Texas Rangers (dead last in BAA and quality starts, 29th in ERA and WHIP). Offer pitching for…
3B Adrian Beltre – Adrian Beltre (.323/.377/.502 in ’14 at Age 35) has one year left on his deal and would add veteran clout. It’s possible Texas would eat a portion of the $18 million Beltre is owed in ’15. Beltre has a vested team option of $16 mil for 2016 which can be voided if he misses too many games in ’15. The Reds could move Frazier to LF in the short-term.
Imagine a lineup with Frazier, Mesoraco, Votto, Phillips, Bruce, Hamilton and Adrian Beltre…
Okay, enough fantasizing. In order to construct a fully productive roster for 2015, Jocketty must ask the “Would he play for the Cardinals?” question of every player, cut ties with the ones who wouldn’t, and be willing to part ways with starting pitching in exchange for offensive upgrades.