The Cincinnati Reds have made no credible attempt to mask their true intentions for the 2016 season, despite what Walt Jocketty might say. A fan knows a rebuild when they see one and calling it a “reboot” is nothing but PR lip service. From the quotes in the press to their actions on the trading block, the Reds are very clearly making no attempt to stay competitive in 2016. Teams trying to stay competitive don’t trade Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman. Teams trying to stay competitive also don’t pencil in Chapman for 60 innings pitched, but that’s a different article altogether (one, thankfully, that no longer needs to be written).
What if the Reds did an about-face overnight? What if the Reds front office decided it was in the franchise’s best interest to compete now?
The circumstances revolving around a shift this radical would have to be equally radical. Perhaps Bob Castellini received a visitor claiming to be from the future with tidings of success. Perhaps he was being held hostage by anti-rebuilding terrorists. Regardless of what could cause such a shift, let’s assume a shift has taken place.
So, how do the Reds get from their current position to a World Series title? As it turns out, this is a very complicated question. They are in a significantly worse position to compete immediately than they were a few months ago. How does one go about undoing the damage?
Before we get into that, let us first take stock of what the Reds are working with in the personnel department. The following chart is each Reds player that has, in my estimation, a shot at receiving some sort of playing time in 2016. The accompanying number is a projected WAR figure from the Steamer projection system, pro-rated to 600 plate appearance for position players, 450 PA for catchers, 200 innings pitched for starters, and 65 IP for relievers. This method will give us an idea of what to expect if a certain player plays most of the season.
This list doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Two of the top 6 players are injured pitchers, one more so than the other, who won’t be ready for opening day.
Before we go further, it is important to remember a few things when dealing with projection systems. First, projection systems look for a “most likely” outcome. So, after spitting out all the possibilities of what a player may do or can do, the system will attempt to give that player a rating based on his own injury history, aging data from players of his type, minor-to-major transition data, and other factors. For example, the fact that Votto is projected for 4.4 WAR is not an indictment of his skill, it’s simply based on the reality that he is getting older and has missed major time in 2 of the last 4 seasons with injuries.
Now, let’s construct a roster based solely on the projections and see what it looks like. The sWAR (seasonal WAR) column is my guess at playing time adjustments. For example, if Votto is going to be healthy we’ll project him for more than 600 PA and if Adam Duvall is going to be a bench player we’ll project him for less than 600 PA. An asterisk denotes a starter.
A few particular notes about the above roster. I’m assuming Homer Bailey misses April and May. During this time, Daniel Wright will be on the roster as a reliever, netting around 20 IP, and Rookie Davis is in the starting rotation. When Bailey returns, Davis moves to the bullpen and Wright is optioned back to either AA or AAA.
Also being used in bullpen roles, rather than starting, are Michael Lorenzen, John Moscot, and Keyvius Sampson. Normally guys like this are left to develop as starters, but if we’re throwing caution into the wind, they could be decent bullpen arms in 2016.
For position players, you see Jesse Winker is pressed into a starting role. He is simply the most likely to do well in LF for the Reds this year if there are no service time issues to deal with. Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall are your left- and right-handed bench bats, respectively, while also serving as defensive backups. Jose Peraza and Alex Blandino are your infield utility men, with Tucker Barnhart spelling Devin Mesoraco behind the plate. Returning starters Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, and Eugenio Suarez round out our beginning roster.
In total, this roster is projected to accumulate 33 wins above an entirely replacement level team. Let’s make the safe assumption that there will be some amount of injuries and the Reds will have to bring up lesser AAA players for some amount of playing time. Because of that, let’s adjust the team WAR down by 3 wins making our starting point 30 WAR. I won’t have to tell you that is quite underwhelming.
From 2013 to 2015, the average National League division winner accumulated 45.2 WAR. The average NL wild-card team accumulated 41.6 WAR. The team who squeaked in with the lowest team WAR was the 2014 San Francisco Giants at 35.4 WAR. We should probably assume the Reds won’t be overly lucky, so in order to get up to this average level of production we need to find ourselves a minimum of 11.6 more wins. Let’s begin!
At the time of this writing, there are only 2 impact free agents available that would fit the Reds circumstances, Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond. I don’t really like Desmond all that much, for multiple reasons, so, let’s go ahead and sign Dexter Fowler and his 2 WAR for 3 years and $50 million. Maybe 3/$50M doesn’t do it, but in our scenario that doesn’t matter; make it 3/$70M, because we’re going for it!
Fowler would play LF and relegate Winker to a bench role which sends Schebler and his 0 WAR projection back to AAA. Adding Fowler’s 2 wins and adjusting Winker from 1.1 wins to 0.3 wins brings in a grand total of 1.2 extra WAR. There is still quite a way to go.
The trading block is where big gains need to be made if the Reds are to compete. The Reds have a fairly well-stocked and fairly well-regarded farm system. The Reds will have to leverage it heavily if they are going for it in 2016.
There is a pretty big hole in RF in the guise of Jay Bruce. He’s been bad the last 2 years, injuries notwithstanding. His peripherals looked promising for a lot of 2015, but ultimately reverted to normalcy. While I tend to agree with keeping Bruce in the real world and letting him rebuild some trade value, in “Go for It Land” we can’t wait around for that. Also, the potential PR backlash of trading Bruce, Frazier, and Chapman would go away when the fans see how dedicated the Reds are to going for it in 2016!
To find an impact trade, I decided to look for productive, expensive, older players. These are the kind of players that contenders would be more likely to part with since they are unlikely to be build-around pieces for the future. Bruce’s replacement should be Jose Bautista and his 4 WAR; a huge upgrade. The Reds could attempt to acquire Bautista from Toronto for Bruce and minor leaguers Amir Garret and Nick Howard. Maybe that doesn’t get it done, so the Reds could offer to eat Bruce’s contract. They are going for it, after all! The success of Edwin Encarnacion in Toronto might be the grease needed to push this deal through. Adding Bautista for Bruce increases the Reds team WAR by another 3.3 wins.
Another older, expensive, productive veteran that the Reds could grab is Adrian Beltre, along with his 4 WAR projection. This one might be a bit tricky to pull off since Beltre is likely going into the Hall of Fame as a Texas Ranger. If Jocketty and Dick Williams can convince Texas that super-prospect Joey Gallo needs the starting role at 3B in Texas, they might be able to bring Beltre back for Jose Peraza, Eric Jagiello, and Nick Travieso. If Texas in interested in unloading the contract of Elvis Andrus, the Reds may have to take that on in place of Jagiello or Travieso. Once Beltre is acquired Suarez can move back to SS and Cozart can be benched. These moves will net another 3.4 WAR. Peraza has now been traded 3 times in less than a year.
On the pitching side, the Reds aren’t in quite as bad shape. If Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, and John Lamb keep on their paths, Bailey comes back strong, and a few things fall the Reds way, this staff may be fringe playoff caliber. That is a big “if.” Adding a single front-line starter should be considered a priority. Since the Reds are going for it, it’s time to make a bold move. Let’s have the Reds trade Robert Stephenson, Tyler Stephenson, Yorman Rodriguez, Keury Mella, and whomever else they want to the Dodgers for Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers might be averse to trading their franchise player, so this is certainly going to have to be an overwhelming package. You may be thinking “no way the Dodgers trade Sandy Koufax 2.0” and you are probably correct. In “Go for It Land,” however, we throw caution into the wind! The Dodgers, after all, have the prospects needed to succeed at the trade deadline by adding the best available starter for their stretch run. The Los Angeles roster is deep enough to stay in contention up until that point, while simultaneously emptying every remaining Reds prospect of note. After this move, the Dodgers are still the best in the West and would have the consensus #1 farm system in baseball along with the ability to carry the #1 payroll. Can you say dynasty? This is likely how the Reds would try to sell this to the Dodgers front office. Perhaps some smoke and mirrors would also be required. This move brings in Kershaw’s 6.5 WAR in place of Stephenson’s 1.9 WAR; a staggering increase of 4.6 WAR.
Without further ado, here is our shiny, new roster:
At 44.8 total WAR, we are closer to the average division winner (45.2 WAR) than the average wild-card team (41.6 WAR) from the previously discussed 2013-2015 period. While additive team WAR is definitely not an exact science, there is a strong correlation between high team WAR and final win-loss records. The main things that can tip the playoff needle one way or another are sequencing variance, batted ball variance, and injuries. Let’s just go ahead and assume everything will break right for the Reds; might as well!
Well, we’ve made it, folks. That was a long, busy off-season. I’m glad it’s over. Given a lot of luck, a lot of phone calls, a lot of shrewd negotiating…as well as two future Hall-of-Famers and two all-stars…even the Cincinnati Reds could be contenders in 2016!
What’s that? Yeah. I agree. It’s probably a good thing we’re rebuilding. Or is that rebooting? I always get those confused.