Come October 2016, Walt Jocketty will not be the chief decision-maker in the Cincinnati Reds front office for the first time since April 2008. After co-overseeing the Reds with Jocketty through this offseason and the 2016 campaign (with Jocketty retaining final say on baseball moves), in less than a year, recently-installed general manager Dick Williams will become the final authority when it comes to reshaping a Reds on-field product badly in need of a makeover.

Reds owner Bob Castellini obviously trusts Williams with his franchise going forward — ergo, this succession plan — but if the The Reboot (for 2017) needs to become The Rebuild (for 2018 and beyond), will Williams own the jurisdiction to set forth drastic change?

It’s a fair question to ask. Remember, the Reds were reluctant to part with Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and others in 2015 until nearly the last possible moment. (Though Cincinnati hosting the All-Star Game certainly played a sizable role in that line of logic.)  

With an aging position player core, an inexperienced starting rotation and an uncertain/combustible bullpen, the Reds are staring at a third straight season below .500 in 2016. Last week while he was on the air with Cincinnati radio personality Mo Egger, Williams noted the need to “restock the cupboard.” Whether Williams believes cupboard is half-full or half-empty at the present time is a matter of personal perspective, as Williams did not elaborate on that comment.

Williams, who has a three-year contract beginning with the 2016 campaign, will (potentially) possess the opportunity to alter the Reds’ immediate and long-term future by executing (or not executing) a collection of critical moves:

*Trading Jay Bruce — if the right fielder is still on the team. Bruce has a $13 million team option for 2017.

*Trading Brandon Phillips, who enters the last season ($14 million) of his contract in 2017. Phillips has to approve any trade.

*Trading or offering new contracts to Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier, each of whom stands to enter their final season of arbitration in 2017 before becoming free agents prior to the 2018 season.

*Determining whether to stand pat or buy out some (or all) of Billy Hamilton’s arbitration years. Hamilton will reach arbitration before the 2017 season.

*If Homer Bailey enjoys a resurgent 2016, exploring a trade of the right-handed starter. Bailey, the Reds’ most experienced and successful starter, is owed $63 million (plus a likely $5 million buyout) from 2017 to 2020.

Before any of those potential moves see the light of day, it’s feasible that Williams will have to make a call on whether to retain manager Bryan Price, who is entering the final season of his three-year deal. If Price is let go, there could be a swell of internal and external pressure for Williams to tab Reds icon Barry Larkin as the club’s 52nd field manager.

I expect some of the listed possible transactions to occur prior to this spring training or be completed over the summer. I have serious doubts that the famously competitive Castellini will approve a complete teardown (which is what’s needed), but if he allows Williams to do most of what’s necessary around this time next year, I believe the Reds stand a chance of attaining playoff relevance by 2018.

Jocketty’s greatest strength to play a large role in 2016

Jocketty knows how to pull off the big trade from both ends of the spectrum, which is the strongest argument for the veteran general manager to remain the Reds’ top dog in baseball operations for another season. It’s fair to criticize Jocketty’s free agent signings that resemble political cronyism and his apparent indifference for sabermetrics, but the man knows how to read his fellow general managers and pick out their best hand. Jocketty nailed the Scott Rolen, Mat Latos, and Shin-Soo Choo swaps. And on the other side of the coin, it appears Jocketty fleeced the Marlins (by getting six years of Anthony DeSclafani for a broken-down Mat Latos) and Tigers (by getting six years of Eugenio Suarez for a below replacement-level starter in Alfredo Simon) last winter. Also, the early returns on the Cueto and Leake deals are encouraging. (Cody Reed, yo). If the Reds intend to move Chapman, Bruce and other big fish, having Jocketty’s big-deal experience at the trade table is critical.

Williams will walk the walk after talking the talk on analytics

In another part of his interview with Egger, Williams offered his philosophy on analytics/sabermetrics. His comments were nothing short of a breath of fresh air. A few snippets:

*“(Analytics) is not a cure-all. We can’t just buy more computers or hire more guys and think that that’s going to get us to the top. … But analytics is critically important to me.”

*“We have a very good staff behind the scenes. … I will put our analytics team up against anybody.”

*“This year, we are going to grow even further into [analytics]. We’ll have some announcements this offseason about the new initiatives we’re going to do. I’m excited about what that brings, but the Reds have always been based in good scouting. It’s my job to make sure [scouting and analytics] work well together.”

Based on what I’ve heard, Dick Williams’ public comments last week regarding analytics/sabermetrics were not window dressing — he does believe in the power of new-age numbers. So, plan on ‘Trojan Horse’ Williams owning up to his word.

To pursue an innings-eater or to not pursue an innings-eater

I’m interested to see if the Reds go after a cheap veteran starter (Mark Buehrle? Aaron Harang? Ryan Vogelsong?) who can log big innings without being a disaster on the mound. There are more than enough young candidates to fill the rotation, but the front office is surely mulling an early-season nuclear scenario: a rash of 5-inning starts (or worse) by the Reds young starters burning out the bullpen before Bailey’s scheduled return from Tommy John surgery in mid-May. Bailey eats up innings when healthy, but the Reds will likely want to ease their $100 million arm back into the swing of things.

47 Responses

  1. PDunc

    *Determining whether to stand pat or buy out some (or all) of Billy Hamilton’s arbitration years. Hamilton will reach arbitration before the 2017 season.

    I’ve been thinking that offering Hamilton a long-term contract now might be a smart move. He has totaled 6.1 WAR, per Fangraphs, in a little over 2 seasons so far. It isn’t unreasonable to expect him to continue to average at least 1.5-2 WAR per season based on his defense and base-running alone. If he ever improves to even just league-average at the plate, his value would really increase. A contract now that buys out his arbitration, and maybe a free-agent year or 2 could be a good move.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Pros: Hamilton has to be feeling mighty insecure regarding his future in the major leagues. I’d expect him to jump at a guaranteed contract. Could lock him in at a low, low number right now and gain if he improves. Also makes him easier to trade with cost certainty.

      • ohiojimw

        I like the thought of signing BHam on the cheap thru arb then flipping him for what he will bring. I believe he is what he is which means he is just a leg injury away from being worthless to an MLB team, not to mention that attrition from the wear and tear of base stealing will almost certainly wear down his speed ahead of the normal curve.

      • greenmtred

        Most, if not all, players are a leg injury away from being worthless to a major league team, no? Don’t know about attrition, either: The amount of running time involved in stealing 60 bases a year isn’t very much. The injury potential from stealing is a more reasonable concern, to my mind, but injury potential lurks in every play every player is involved in.

      • ohiojimw

        You are correct about a major leg issue like Cozart is dealing with when it comes to any player being and injury away from oblivion.

        I should have specified a “nagging” or chronic leg injury of the type many guys soldier on with thru a season or across seasons or are never quite “100%” again afterwards. Hamilton’s offensive skills appear to be so limited that it is doubtful he’d professionally survive such an injury while we’d hardly notice or maybe not even be aware of it with many players.

        Its the impacts of sliding and diving while stealing and banging into walls in the OF that will take Hamilton’s speed down bit by bit.

      • MrRed

        Good counterpoint. I think a more nuanced description of the concern raised is that BHam has been frequently injured already and getting older has never been a prescription for staying consistently healthy. The injury threat from base stealing or aggressive fielding (which are his attributes) is definitely a concern. He needs to be elite in both aspects to contribute value to the team because he doesn’t bring any other skills such as hitting which could help prolong his career.

      • wkuchad

        I would love to lock up Hamilton long-term if it’s truly a low, low number.

        Worse case scenario: he doesn’t improve. But he’d still be a heck of weapon as a 4th outfielder off the bench.

      • ohiojimw

        I think more like a 5th/ 6th OF which is why In would trade him. Because of the DH, AL teams can afford to spend their 25th roster spot on a guy who is essentially only a pinch runner and defensive sub deluxe. I’m not sure that makes sense in the NL.

      • wkuchad

        Maybe you’re right. I still remember how Dusty used him late in the season when Hamilton first came up. I always thought he’d be a nice bullet to have on the bench late in a close ballgame. Could be a difference maker in a lot of 1-run games as a pinch-runner then defensive replacement.

      • Shchi Cossack

        Having Hamilton as a bullet available off the bench was intriguing when he was first called up. The problem using him consistently as such a weapon is that Dusty had a 40-man roster to play with at the time, not a 25-man roster. I love Hamilton’s spirit and aggressiveness, but speed ages poorly, very poorly. With Hamilton’s slight frame, injuries will become an issue. If Hamilton can’t hit (or at least get on base) effectively, he will be an afterthought by the time he is 30 years old.

      • CP

        Con: More than any player in all of MLB, if his speed declines more quickly than average, or he suffers a serious leg injury, that cheap contract looks terrible.

        I think B-Ham will be a case study on what MLB teams really think about defense and defensive metrics. Are MLB teams willing to pay market value for wins above replacement, when the players wins above replacement is based solely on defense?

      • Michael E

        He should be nervous. He isn’t looking like anything but a career 8th or 9th hitter with a good glove. Those are a dime a dozen. I guess if cheap were really cheap, sure, do it, but I suspect cheap to him is still an unnecessary overpay risk for the Reds.

    • jdx19

      Totally agree. Locking him up is the kind of move a winning club would make. With a low enough number, he’d be very tradeable if you change your mind later.

      I don’t get all the injury nay-sayers… if you didn’t sign guys because they might get hurt you’d never sign anyone.

      • Shchi Cossack

        It’s just a question of value. Signing Hamilton through his arbitration years and 1 or 2 FA years would be a good move at the right price. Overpaying just to lock him up to a long-term contract would not be a good move. When the Reds signed Cueto to such a contract, they struck the mother lode, but they also tried to sign Volquez to a similer contract and avoided shooting themselves in the foot when he rejected the offer.

      • Michael E

        JDX, it isn’t just injury concerns, its hitting concerns. Do you want to lock up a player for $10s of millions to hit .200?

        Yeah, me neither.

        Anyone thinking a highly rated defensive CF will take a “cheap” deal is in need of a brain transplant.

        I get that this could be buy low, but given his production, it doens’t look promising for the future either. We’re likely extending him for a year or two past arb, paying him well (even if possibly cheaper), to be what appears to be a 4th OF, pinch runner skill level.

        I guess it all comes down to what “cheap” is…I think some think he’ll sign a deal two years past arb for barely 8 digits, and I think he’ll want substantially more to give away free agency years.

  2. lwblogger2

    2018 is too late of a target. I don’t see the big guy going for it and I don’t see the fan base going for it. I know I’m not going for it. They need to build for 2017 and if that means spending some money, then they will need to spend some money. They need 2016 to be an improvement and then 2017 to put them back into the playoff picture. After the lost decade, I don’t think the fan base has much patience for a long rebuild.

    • ohiojimw

      I agree. The pitching is in already in house at a level of development and depth that it should be ready on the time table you suggest. The push will be to have position side ready.

      It is not unrealistic to project that by 2018, only Votto and Mesoraco would remain in place. The changes need to get underway now to avoid major retooling on the position side just as the pitching hits its sweet spot in affordability and performance

      • WVRedlegs

        I agree with LW and Jim-Jim. The re-tool for the offense needs to be in-sync with the pitching development. 2018 is too far off. However, the starting pitching really has to start sorting itself out. Many of those rookies who started games after Aug. 1 are not in the forward moving plans, at least for the rotation. DeSclafani and Iglesias are in. Moscot and Lamb have a shot to start the season in the rotation, but both really need to step up and have good springs. Stephenson and Cody Reed are there to battle for the 5th spot and to battle with Moscot and Lamb too. Four guys to battle for three spots. Lorenzen and Finnegan both need to be the cornerstones of a re-built bullpen. Build a Kansas City style bullpen. That can be achieved over one winter. Lorenzen can be a new proto-type of 7th-8th inning reliever, where you won’t have to worry about pinch-hitting for him or have to do a Dusty double-switch when bringing him into a game.
        The Reds have depth in prospects in starting pitching, but now is the time to start to sort things out.

  3. csmountaineer

    Great article. I especially agree with the part that he has to “walk the walk” before I can buy in completely. If i remember correctly, Bryan Price said a lot of things that haven’t happened…

    • jdx19

      Exactly. And he said he’d put the Reds’ analytics team up against anyone’s. Wow. I know we haven’t seen behind-the-scenes, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen any evidence that the Reds’ even HAVE an analytics team, let alone a good one.

      • lwblogger2

        Sam Grossman runs the analytics department and Bo Thompson is one of his analysts. As far as how big the team is, I don’t really know. By second-hand accounts, Sam Grossman knows what he’s doing.

  4. james garrett

    Williams won’t get much of a free rein until Walt is gone in my opinion.I would settle for just a little bit of using data as a tool rather then gut and feel and the good old boy network to make roster decisions.I hope Williams understands just how far behind the rest of our division we really are and starts to work to close the gap.Time will tell.

  5. b.isaacs

    IMO, the Reds need to go all-in on the retooling of the organization. With every move geared toward future success, 2017 & beyond.

    Reds fans are not stupid… We fully understand that keeping 1foot in/1foot out is a way to sell tickets for 2016… Frankly, I’m not buying into that fraud. Keeping STAR names that will ultimately need to be traded anyway & are 1 injury away from being a financial anchors to our small-market team; is not going to quicken the pace of the Reds recovery.

  6. WVRedlegs

    Gold Glove Awards come tonight.
    Good luck to BP, BHam, and Todd Frazier. Frazier may be a dark horse candidate, but we’ll take him.

    • jdx19

      I think it’s pretty unlikely any of them win, but it’s nice to be recognized! BP is probably the most likely due to name recognition.

      No one in the NL is winning a GG at 3B who isn’t named Arenado until he is injured, traded to the AL, or gets too old.

      • lwblogger2

        Arenado is the best 3B I’ve seen since Rolen in his prime. At the moment, I don’t think anyone really comes close to how good he is.

  7. redslam

    Personally, I’d be happier paying my MLBTV subscription to watch the Reds next year if I knew they were making a strategic and intelligent plan around 2018 and beyond. I have no problem watching us lose another year or two under that scenario – and frankly, I find it kind of fun to see which of the young pitchers develop and follow the young bats (new ones hopefully) to see who will make it to the bigs next.

    What I don’t want is half-assed uncertainty and doublespeak that heads us towards more sustained mediocrity, even if it is improvement on last year. I’m not talking about selling the farm irresponsibly, but frankly, we should be listening to ANY reasonable offer for ANY piece with the idea of improving the long-term prospects.

    At least there are signs that Williams may have the right chops to take us in the right direction… I hope Castellini sees where we are heading and realizes we do need a bit of a rebuild while our stockpile of young pitchers develop.

    • Tct

      I agree. That half in strategy is how we got an off season where Simon and Latos were traded, but Leake and Cueto kept. If you’re trying to win in 2015, then you keep them all. If you dont think you have a good chance, and they didn’t, then you trade them all. It worked out okay in the end because they ended up getting decent packages for Cueto and Leake at the deadline, but they could havd gotten more in the off season and it could have been disastrous if one of them got hurt.

      Setting the goal for contention in 2017 seems overly optimistic to me. There would be no point to trading Frazier if you want to win in 2017 and that would be a huge missed opportunity. Better to just go all in on a rebuild with the hope that it happens a year before expected like it did with the Astros and Cubs this year, or like it did with the 2010 Reds.

      • redslam

        Yeah I wasn’t an “all-in” guy re: rebuild before, but I am now. We simply have too many very young pitchers and an odd situation with our closer and a few blue chips… I also wouldn’t mind saving some money on a player like BP if it means that money will be reinvested later. A smaller market team like the Reds needs to have superior pulse on the right timing to attack and also always, always be mindful of the internal pipeline.

        Seems to me timing is all wrong to “attack” and we have a poor pipeline other than pitching, not to mention a bullpen and bench that needs work.. a LOT of work. I am all about the intelligent rebuild now.

      • StillRed

        I really believe Latos and Simon were traded for personality reasons and not at all related to retooling or rebuilding. The organization did not want these guys in the club house. However, it did have the effect of half in half out, especially since the cheap veterans brought in to take their places killed us early.

      • ohiojimw

        Interesting take that just could have some merit to it although in Latos case especially they did unload considerable salary and barring injury replace him in the rotation for the next 3-5 years at least.

      • greenmtred

        Well, Leake and Cueto are better than Simon and Latos. The Reds probably didn’t feel that they could go to a 5-rookie starting rotation before the season even started: Innings limits alone would created really ugly stuff from mid-season on (uglier than what actually transpired, if that’s possible) We also have no idea what anybody was offering for Cueto and Leake last winter. Both trades have the potential to be good ones for the Reds, so I can’t really complain at this point. A few more good trades this off-season, some energy from new faces, further positive development from the young pitchers and, maybe, fewer injuries to key players, and 2016 might be fun and 2017 might be even more fun. Ya gotta believe: A whole winter of negativity and pessimism sounds untenable. I don’t have time for it.

      • lwblogger2

        Yep, trying to stay positive. So far, I like what they’ve done for the most part.

    • Michael E

      My thoughts exactly REDSLAM. Don’t get stuck in no-mans-land, neither good enough to contend, or bad enough to rebuild with vigor. This is what an 8th seed basketball team gets stuck in…just good enough to play .500 ish, make the playoffs, get swept by seed 1, having mediocre draft pick, rinse, repeat.

      Personally, I think we’re better off shopping and moving most of Chapman, Bruce, Phillips and Frazier. I’d listen on Votto too, why not, nothing to lose.

    • chezpayton

      Yes that would be epic if they got Bronson back. My favorite Red of all time!

    • jdx19

      If he signed for close to the veteran’s minimum, sure!

  8. old-school

    Very good synopsis, I like the Aaron Harang idea. He was a great pitcher for the Reds in 2006 and 2007. Then Dusty Baker made him pitch 4 INNINGS on 2 days rest in San Diego in the 18 inning game and then started him 3 days later AGAIN. He was never the same.

    • ohiojimw

      Two years ago, maybe even last year, I think Harang would have been a nearly perfect innings eater of the type the Reds need now (but didn’t need then (2014) just to be clear). However I think that in 2015 there were warning signs he is slipping into the abyss of age.

      • CI3J

        The Reds aren’t going to compete next year, so who cares? They just need a guy to go out there and keep the games mildly interesting, and also provide some guidance to the youngsters.

        Aaron Harang or Bronson Arroyo would both be great for this, no matter what they’ve got left in the tank. One or the other, though, not both; the Reds MUST let the young guys pitch.

      • ohiojimw

        Harang’s innings per start was under 6.0 for 2015. I believe he also had had some physical issues which cost him starts in 2015.
        f he can’t take then ball every 5th day and go thru or very deeply into the 6th inning, he would be part of the problem versus part of the solution.

      • lwblogger2

        I agree with OhioJimW on this one. I love Harang, even met him and talked to him for a bit. He’s a good guy and was a good pitcher on some really bad Reds teams. I don’t see him as being any help now though. He can’t give them enough decent innings. At least that’s my opinion.

      • CI3J

        I didn’t realize that about Harang. If that’s true, then yeah, he’d probably be more of a headache than he’s worth.

  9. Chuck Schick

    The dumbest thing the Reds can do is pick some arbitrary year to aim for success. The Cubs re-build took 3 years, the Astros took 4. Both teams were very focused, disciplined and didn’t panic.

    My concern is Bob C would rather win 82 games every year and be in the wild card mix until September then do what’s needed to beat the Cubs and Cardinals long term. The 82′,83′ and 84′ Reds sucked, but those years laid the groundwork for a decade of generally being good. He needs to not worry about PR and do what’s right for the long term.

    • Michael E

      Yes, if you must take a full step back to take two steps forward…DO IT! Don’t piddle around, trying to glue together a faux contender and never really positioning the payroll or farm system to really get right with the talent/cost ratio.

  10. Shchi Cossack

    While the Old Cossack has tempered, very tempered, expectations for 2016, I do not believe that 2016 will or needs to be a complete write-off, at least heading into the season.

    We saw some real potential in the young starters and I do not believe we even saw their full potential last season. The young starting staff (whoever they may be) will grow and mature. If the stars align properly above GABP and the Baseball Gods smile upon the wishbone ‘C’, the starting rotation could actually be a marginal asset in 2016.

    If the Reds get some payback and reprieve from the injury epidemic, the core position players could be very strong, even with some additions by deletions. I think we can reasonably expect Votto to put up another MVP-worthy performance. Mesoraco hitting cleanup behind Votto and again attacking the ball on a healthy hip could be scary good. I see no reason to expect less offensively from Phillips (if he is still wearing the wishbone ‘C’) than he provided in 2015 and that is plenty good enough to be a asset if used properly. Cozart’s injury was ugly and scary, but Cozart is a ball player and has a huge heart. I’m betting on a strong return by Cozart with something less than his 1st half performance from 2015. Suarez can play. The Reds just need to decide where he will play and how they will utilize him most effectively. Bruce may certainly be shipped out this off-season and Frazier may even be shipped out now that BC has acknowledged the probable lost season in 2016. Hamilton may start hitting the ball on the ground and may even get some good plate discipline. If Bruce and Frazier are moved, then hopefully WJ can arrange for some young replacements, DeSclafani and Suarez, ready to step in at the major league level.

    Chapman is gone along with his supremely talented left arm and overpowering strikeout potential. The trade for Chapman will be a cornerstone for the major league ready replacement talent needed to backfill. Then the bullpen must be reworked with young, inexpensive talent rather than over-the-hill non- talent or over-priced talent.

    That’s a lot that needs to all go right in order to compete in 2016…but it could happen…maybe…

    • Michael E

      I don’t think anyone is writing it off…stranger things have happened. I do think its time to write off Bruce and a few others that aren’t part of a solution, but part of a problem. To me, trading a few of these players could be addition by subtraction, getting back prospects and ridding the franchise of pieces that either don’t fit or simply bring a bad vibe with them.