The big rebuild is in full swing with more to come for sure. At least there had better be more to come since the job is obviously only half done and there are a multitude of questions left unanswered with not much of a game plan left apparent to interested observers.
The rebuild began last winter with the Latos and Simon trades bringing back a couple of key pieces in DeSclafani and Suarez. It continued last midseason with the Cueto and Leake trades that returned Finnegan, Lamb, Reed, Mella, and Duvall. These deals added major pitching depth to a minor league system already full of good young pitching talent.
The latest rebuild activity was the trades of Frazier and Chapman that returned Peraza, Schebler, Davis and Jagielo as the notable return. These deals hinted at a change of sorts in that the Reds appeared to be targeting close to the big leagues position prospects.
That is the current state of the rebuild. The only remaining players that the Reds seem to be entertaining the idea of moving as part of the rebuild are Phillips and Bruce. Phillips will be tough to move due the Reds not pulling the trigger before he acquired this 10/5 trade veto rights. Bruce’s recent down turn and sporadic play the last two seasons will make it tough to get perceived value back in a deal for him.
Sorting Out The Pitching
The Reds have accumulated an awesome array of great arms that one would expect to become a formidable pitching staff by the end of 2017. The concern here is that there are many questions remaining to be answered in regards to which arms will be filling what roles. The Reds have not inspired confidence over the recent years that they are capable of sorting through this pile of talent, evaluating the players abilities, defining the roles that they will be filling, and then developing the players for those roles. Chapman and Cingrani are recent examples of players in which the Reds waffled back and forth on role definitions to various degrees.
Can the Reds evaluate these arms and make some timely decisions on their future roles so they can begin developing them appropriately? I can see the value in wanting to maximize a pitchers value by developing them as a SP for as long as possible while they are still showing that potential. It is evident however that the Reds will soon not have that luxury any longer as they will be running out of rotation slots for the many talented arms that they have acquired. They will soon need to put their scouting and analytic resources to good use and make some tough decisions on the future path of these young arms. We’ve already heard a few of these pitchers, (Finnegan, Lorenzen, Mella) mentioned as possible relievers down the road. A key to the Reds success of forming these arms into a great staff will be their ability to make these tough decisions the first half of this upcoming season.
Behind The Plate
Devin Mesoraco’s hip and bat are big questions that need and should be answered soon. Ideally, he is healthy, catches 100+ games and continues hitting something like he did in 2014 and life is good. If he’s not healthy, things start getting ugly. The Reds have already invested ~25M in him over the next three seasons. If he is not healthy like last year to the extent he can’t play, he becomes another Sean Marshall multi-year 60 Day DL veteran. If he’s not healthy to the extent he just can’t catch any longer but can play elsewhere, the Reds may be forced into attempting to transition him to LF where he’s really never played before.
If Mesoraco is ultimately moved to LF, it’s not only can he handle it defensively, but will his bat play there? Mesoraco the hitter of 2010 (.964 OPS at A+,AA,AAA), 2011 (.855 at AAA), and 2014 (.893 OPS at MLB) play just great in LF. Mesoraco’s best OPS in his other six professional seasons is .710. Perhaps it’s the rigors and additional duties of the position that have had effect on his bat over the years, but there’s still a legitimate question about what one should expect from him offensively and will it be enough to play at a prime offensive position.
If Mesoraco can no longer catch, can the Reds get by with Barnhart and Cabrera to bridge the gap to top prospect Tyler Stephenson, or perhaps Jake Turnbull, whose ETAs are probably about 2019 or 2020? If not, they might want to look at acquiring a near ready catcher in one of their upcoming rebuild trades.
Around The Infield
Joey Votto may be the only sure thing on this team. I’m already relieved that with the pickup of Adam Duvall we already have a legitimate backup in place in case he gets dinged up or needs a day off. If only the rest of the infield was as simple.
Todd Frazier has already been dealt away and as previously mentioned, the Reds would like to deal Phillips, as the failed deal to the Nationals would attest. I’d also put forth that if Cozart proves himself healthy this spring, he is a very likely a midseason trade candidate as well. One would expect that Phillips and Cozart will start out back at SS and 2B respectively and the Reds have already stated that Suarez is expected to start out at 3B in place of Frazier. Given that though, the Reds need to make some evaluations on the pieces at hand to lay out a plan going forward should they accomplish the Phillips and Cozart deals this year.
Who is the Reds SS of the future? Suarez has the inside track as he filled in nicely for Cozart last season with some questions about his defense there. The newly acquired Peraza could be a good option here as well. He has seen more time recently at 2B, but this is more due to him being blocked at SS in other organizations by top prospects Simmons and Seager. Alex Blandino ended last season at AA and has hit well at so every level far. I believe the Reds first step is to evaluate these three players and determine the best choice for the SS position. The 2B of the future should come from the two remaining players. My current personal preference is for Peraza at SS and Suarez at 2B, but I’ll leave it up to the scouts to evaluate how their defense stacks up best up the middle.
Who is the Reds 3B of the future? Whoever loses out at SS/2B (Suarez or Blandino perhaps) should have enough bat to hold down 3B going forward if all goes well. I believe Duvall, primarily a 3B in the minors, should get a long look at 3B this spring to confirm if he can field the position well enough. Newly acquired Eric Jagielo should soon be ready as he may very well start the season out at AAA after posting a strong .842 OPS in 248 PA at AA last season. Once again, there are lots of candidates and moving pieces here that the Reds to get sorted out.
In The Outfield
Entering the season, two thirds of the OF appears set for now. Jay Bruce is the RF until when/if the Reds can trade him. Billy Hamilton appears to be entrenched as the CF. LF, as usual here lately in Reds land, is a free for all. It’s rather sad that the OF got so little attention in terms of the prospects received in the recent trades given the lack of offense the Reds have gotten from it the last few years.
Love him or hate him, Jay Bruce will in RF every day until the Reds can unload him as part of the rebuild. Should they deal him the Reds should have a game plan in place to back fill for him. Current in house candidates would be Rodriguez, Schebler, and Winker. There will be more on these guys later.
Billy Hamilton is the incumbent in CF and we all know his value comes entirely from defense and base running. We are still waiting for him to hit at AAA, much less the majors. It is my hope that the Reds consider other options in CF for 2016. I feel Tyler Holt should get a long look in CF this spring. He slashed .304 /.398 /.382 /.779 in 703 PA at AAA over the last two seasons. He’s posted a 12.7 BB% at AAA and was named twice by BBA to be the Best Defensive OF in the Cleveland Indians system so he can play some defense in CF as well. I’ll gladly trade off a little defense and some SB for someone that may very well be a real leadoff hitter. Yorman Rodriguez is worth a mention here as well if he can ever put the whole package together and Phil Ervin may be the CF of future and he should start next season at AA.
Who plays LF? This year’s LF may just be a placeholder until Jesse Winker, who will start out at AAA this season, is deemed ready. The best candidate may very well be newly acquired Scott Schebler. Yorman Rodriguez, who is out of options and had some success at AAA last season, will get a long look as well. Adam Duvall, a CI throughout the minors, began getting a look in LF last season and will most likely be in the mix as well. As mentioned above, Mesoraco could be a wild card here also. The Reds evaluators have some more big decisions to make on prospects in the OF as well.
The Decision Makers
It also seems imperative that the decision makers in the front office make some changes in how they are managing the team as well. This is the year of the transition. Walt Jocketty has announced he’ll step into an advisory role following the 2016 season, ceding the day-to-day operations to Dick Williams. So the big question here is, will we begin seeing some changes in the way things are done this season with Dick Williams preparing to take over the helm?
The Reds actually participated in the major league portion of the Rule V draft this year for the first time since Walt Jocketty became GM. They picked up a LH hitting OF in Jake Cave and a LH RP Chris O’Grady who both currently have a half decent shot of sticking with the Reds for the 2016 season. This is a small thing, but definitely an encouraging step for the Reds to be utilizing an avenue of obtaining talent that appeared to be long forgotten by them in recent years.
What’s next, could the Reds start paying more attention to the Waiver Wire? The waiver wire can produce some decent finds from time to time. The Reds have picked up Alfredo Simon, Ryan Mattheus, and Tyler Holt up off waivers. It just seems that the waiver wire has become over Jocketty’s tenure to be another underutilized tool to pick up players to enhance the roster, supply depth and fill roster holes. I’m sure we don’t want to see its use reach the level of the Bowden/Krivsky days but it sure seems like a long forgotten tool now.
Will roster depth be addressed? It’s become obvious in recent years with all of the injuries that have befallen the Reds that roster depth has become a real problem. Maybe this issue will be addressed as a byproduct of the rebuild with all of the upper level talent being added in the recent trades. But it has become apparent that the current organization was ill prepared to produce replacement level players to back fill for the MLB roster when needed. Brayan Pena filling in for Joey Votto at 1B is the shining example here.
Will there be some sanity brought to roster management? The Jocketty tenure as GM is littered with sad examples of the Reds on field managers having their hands tied by being left shorthanded on the bench. First off, the Reds need to get back to being able to manage the bullpen such that they only need to carry 12 pitchers on the roster. There is this role called long reliever. He’s a guy that actually goes out there and pitches for 3-4 innings after you get a starter knocked out in the 3rd inning. With a 12 man pitching staff, you can carry 4 reserves on the bench besides your backup catcher. Ideally 2 of them would swing LH, the other two RH, and between all four can cover each of the 7 IF/OF spots defensively. Then if there if some semblance of roster depth in place, we can actually put a guy on the DL when he’s hurt and can’t play and be able to call up a reasonable replacement. Far too many times, players who were hurt and unavailable for a week or better sat on the bench taking up the roster spot and leaving the bench shorthanded.
It’s been a really tough off season thus far as a Reds fan. Not only are we undergoing a rebuild, but it’s been set back by things like off field shenanigans and blocked trades. Our beloved team is currently a jumbled mess in transition. While we search constantly for answers to what and how the team will look like in the near future we are forced to wait patiently as possible and trust in the Reds front office to utilize their scouts and analysts to sort through the many scenarios and provide us with the best team possible going forward. The waiting is the hardest part.