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?
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a fair question to ask. Remember, the Reds were reluctant to part with Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and others in 2015Ã‚Â until nearly the last possible moment. (Though Cincinnati hosting the All-Star Game certainly played a sizable role in that line of logic.) Ã‚Â
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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“restock the cupboard.Ã¢â‚¬Â Whether Williams believes cupboard is half-full or half-empty at the present time is a matter of personal perspective, as WilliamsÃ‚Â 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 HamiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 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, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s needed), but if he allows Williams to do most of whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s necessary around this time next year, I believe the Reds stand a chance of attaining playoff relevance by 2018.
JockettyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s greatest strength to play a large role in 2016
JockettyÃ‚Â 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 RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ top dog in baseball operations for another season. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fair to criticize JockettyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 JockettyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s big-deal experience at the trade table isÃ‚Â critical.
Williams will walk the walk after talking the talk on analytics
InÃ‚Â 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:
*Ã¢â‚¬Å“(Analytics) is not a cure-all. We canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just buy more computers or hire more guys and think that thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to get us to the top. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ But analytics is critically important to me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
*Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have a very good staff behind the scenes. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ I will put our analytics team up against anybody.Ã¢â‚¬Â
*Ã¢â‚¬Å“This year, we are going to grow even further into [analytics]. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll have some announcements this offseason about the new initiatives weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to do. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m excited about what that brings, but the Reds have always been based in good scouting. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s my job to make sure [scouting and analytics] work well together.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Based on what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve heard, Dick WilliamsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 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 hisÃ‚Â word.
To pursue an innings-eater or to not pursue an innings-eater
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢mÃ‚Â interested to see if the Reds go afterÃ‚Â 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 BaileyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.