Around the time Frank Robinson was winning the National League Rookie of the Year award as an outfielder for the Reds, Pete Seeger was rearranging a passage from the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes into a folk song. The lyrics are familiar.
A time to build up, a time to break down.
A time to laugh, a time to weep.
A time to gain, a time to lose.
Anyone who follows the Cincinnati Reds appreciates the theme: the passing of seasons. Different kinds of seasons. To be sure, Reds fans have known seasons for celebrating and others for crying. And that’s just the past six years.
Seeger’s song, popularized by The Byrds, conveys an important message for Reds fans as we approach our next season.
The lesson: Our world is made up of opposites, inter-tangling opposites to use Seeger’s words, but as time passes we’ll move from one to another. Our broader world outside of baseball put that powerful and unsettling notion on full display this week. Those events of the day have received a fair amount of news coverage. So you’re excused if you missed a bit of C. Trent Rosecrans’ reporting from the MLB general managers meetings in Scottsdale.
“This next year will really help us crystalize who goes where.”
Those words from Reds general manager Dick Williams weren’t meant to be poetic. But they do convey a message with Old Testament bluntness about the upcoming season. Williams is telling any Reds fans who are willing to listen what to expect.
2017 won’t be about the win and loss columns. It’s a season for sorting.
And Dick Williams has that exactly right.
Stipulate: You can argue a million ways about how the Reds shouldn’t be exactly where they are now. They should have rebuilt sooner and deeper. Or is it later and shallower. They should have focused more on pitching. Or hitting. Traded Aroldis Chapman sooner. Or later. Never signed long-term contracts with Joey Votto or Homer Bailey. Never let Todd Frazier or Jay Bruce go. Signed Johnny Cueto to a long-term deal. A million ways.
But even though second-guessing general managers is a national pastime of its own, it doesn’t really matter now. At least not in terms of what the Reds should do going forward. Dick Williams has inherited Walt Jocketty’s team. It would be tempting for him to set off on a radical course correction, to chart his own path. It would imply criticism of past decisions and be popular with many fans.
But instead, the Reds leader is making the case for staying the course. Given where the roster stands right now, he’s right. Let’s hope the front office and ownership sticks with it.
So we shouldn’t expect offseason fireworks. No splashy veteran acquisitions like Mat Latos, Sean Marshall or Shin-Soo Choo. With the most valuable trade chips already cashed, don’t expect new impact players like Anthony DeSclafani, Cody Reed, Adam Duvall, Jose Peraza or Dilson Herrera.
With a couple exceptions, the quieter this offseason is, the better. It’s the season for sorting. Sorting is essential, but it isn’t noisy.
The Reds already have a roster stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with players who need to see the field. That playing time will give fans and the front office a better look at what they offer the club long term.
Infield: Peraza, Herrera and Eugenio Suarez need regular playing time. Nick Senzel could force his way into consideration as early as this season. Joey Votto remains a reliable fixture at first base. Alfredo Rodriguez and Alex Blandino may become other productive logs on the pile.
Outfield: The Reds need to see more of Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker. Billy Hamilton will patrol centerfield. It’s worth mentioning Duvall will be 29 by the end of the 2017 season. These guys may not prove to offer answers for all three outfield positions. After all, Duvall and Schebler were second pieces in their respective trades. But the time to figure that out is 2017. Outfield is the most likely spot for the Reds to need a new big bat in 2018. But not now.
Pitching: Homer Bailey, DeSclafani, Dan Straily and Brandon Finnegan have presumptive spots in the rotation. But Cody Reed, Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson and Rookie Davis should get good looks facing major league pitching and could challenge for several of those slots. Beyond that list, the club still has to determine what roles Raisel Iglesias’ shoulder and Michael Lorenzen’s pitch portfolio will allow. It’s also worth noting that Finnegan and Straily had 2016 strikeout and walk rates indicative of an ERA over 5.00. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
We should see a few offseason moves:
Zack Cozart is 31 years old and entering his final year of arbitration. Because of that, his 2017 services are affordable. The Reds were close to sending Cozart to Seattle at the mid-season trade deadline. The Mariners and other clubs continue to have interest in the Reds shortstop. Zack Cozart would be a great fit for a big-payroll contending team as a defensive-oriented utility infielder with a little pop in his bat. He could also start at shortstop for a budget-conscious team. Dick Williams said that Cozart could fill a role with the Reds: “Cozart can be part of grooming players and part of a winning clubhouse.” That’s Williams dutifully nudging up Cozart’s trade value.
Brandon Phillips is entering the final year of his contract, due to make $14 million. It’s no secret the Reds have been trying to trade their second baseman for several years. Last offseason Phillips exercised his no-trade rights and turned down two trade offers to Washington and Arizona.
Phillips is reportedly more open to a trade out of Cincinnati this season. Maybe the Reds prodded Phillips’ change in outlook with heartfelt conversations about the team’s life cycle. The club will have to find an Old School trade partner that still valorizes blips in batting average. They can’t depend on the bizzaro D-Backs for that any more.
Yet, the Reds front office seems serious about finding everyday playing time for their young middle infielders. It’s hard to imagine a higher priority in 2017. So expect Cozart and Phillips to be moved or suffer reduced playing time. Neither player will return anything of much value in trade.
Veteran Starting Pitching
There’s talk that the Reds might look for a veteran free agent starting pitcher. Think Alfredo Simon without the domestic violence accusation and 9.36 ERA. Or Jason Marquis without the former Cardinals connection. But the plan to bring in another starter or two is more about building organizational depth than filling an Opening Day roster spot. The Reds have young arms in desperate need of testing against major league bats.
Simon’s “devil you know” signing and ongoing use was one of the worst mistakes of Walt Jocketty’s final season running the Reds. It’s a powerful cautionary tale. (Although, here’s proof you can find anything on the internet.) But don’t be surprised if the Reds sign a couple veteran starters to minor league deals.
The front office could take a chance and sign a starter or reliever returning from injury and try an Epstein Flip at the trade deadline. Of course the risk there is (cough … cough … Dan Straily … cough) falling in love.
Dick Williams has spoken several times about the Reds looking for bullpen help. This is an area (and a time) where you hope the offseason is even quieter than advertised.
If 2017 is a rebuilding season, and the club’s public statements and actions confirm that it is, then spending significant financial and/or player assets to acquire relief pitching would be a mistake.
Yes, the Reds bullpen was excruciating to watch the first half last year. No one wants a repeat (lack of) performance. It’s understandable, from a public relations standpoint, that the new guy in charge wants fans to know he feels their pain and is taking steps to address it.
But don’t do it: Burke Badenhop, Kevin Gregg, Manny Parra, Steve Delabar, Ross Ohlendorf, Carlos Contreras, Caleb Cotham – should I go on? – Curtis Partch, Mike Lincoln, J.J. Hoover, even Sean Marshall.
Andrew Miller is a singular player and he isn’t walking through Cincinnati’s clubhouse door. Repeat, there are no other Andrew Millers. Quit staring at Cleveland. Besides, Cleveland hit more home runs than other teams in the postseason. Go get home run hitters.
Relievers are notorious for being erratic from year to year, making them terrible long-term commitments. You can count on two fingers the number of available bullpen arms who look to be solid, multi-year investments. One of those is Aroldis Chapman. It will take many more than two fingers to carry the briefcases full of money those rare players will be paid this winter. The Reds aren’t going to sign Kenley Jansen.
If Dick Williams wants to spend money on a long-term superstar relief pitcher, or gamble on a better-than-average middle reliever, do it next year, when all the benefits would accrue to contending Reds teams. Better yet, find relievers from internal places, cheap free agent pick ups or trade throw-ins. Relievers come from everywhere. But don’t worry about it for 2017.
Fans need to give the organization breathing space to not chase ephemeral bullpen help.
A Season for Every Purpose
The Reds may or may not already have the pieces they need to be a contender in 2018 and beyond. No one has the answer to that. No one. If it turns out the Reds need more players, they’ll consider major trades or free agent signings. Perhaps they’ll package young pitching for hitting. Because, braindead clichés aside, you can have too much pitching relative to hitting in an organization.
But this isn’t the season for those moves. It’s time for sorting what we have.
The front office must be fair-minded in their judgment of players they’ve acquired or developed the past few years. All those players won’t work out. Some will bust. Some will get hurt. Others will be too mediocre to start. The Reds have to give each one a fair and complete tryout and evaluate them objectively.
Dick Williams’ statements plainly confirm what was obvious when the Reds signed manager Bryan Price to a one-year extension: The club isn’t in go-for-it mode yet. But it will be eventually. For everything, a season.
That means a boring offseason though, other than saying goodbye to a couple veterans. Of course the Reds should stay open for business just in case. They should field offers for players beyond Cozart and Phillips. If another club is willing to pay full value for Adam Duvall’s 2016 home runs or Dan Straily’s 2016 ERA, the Reds should make those deals pronto.
And there’s no reason to begrudge a couple cheap, temporary fits to help the club find its way to a respectable record this year. For example, there’s talk of looking for a right-handed bench player. But holy cow, the front office needs to stay clear-eyed about the primary goal. They shouldn’t bring in players that will cost playing time for key assets. Focus on the main task at hand, not raising the win total from 75 to 78.
Instead, Dick Williams should pocket every bit of Bob Castellini’s money and save it to spend on the 2017 draft, international signings and, most important, future major league payroll.
A time to plant, a time to reap.