A few weeks ago at a social gathering filled with awkward small talk and eventual exhaustion, I was forced to make conversation with a group of people, only one of whom I knew beforehand. Where the situation could have so easily turned to the weather or music tastes or staring at your shoes during the uncomfortable silences while waiting for someone to bring up the weather or music tastes, it instead turned to “what role would you play in a bank heist?” Don’t ask me how or why the conversation got here, just take solace knowing that it did.
I use that preface because the Reds having to select their Opening Day roster is a bit like a band of criminals selecting their heist team. You need your leader (captain), brawn (home run hitter), getaway driver (speed), and various other miscellaneous roles that fill out the baseball field.
However, the Reds having to select their Opening Day roster is also nothing like a band of criminals selecting their heist team because all the interesting jobs have already been taken. Filling out the Opening Day roster is just choosing the most eye-catching names to list and make the whole enterprise sound a lot cooler than it is. “Hey Bonnie, who should we get as our third?” “Find me Terrible Ted Walters, Clyde. He’ll up our credibility.”
At this point in the season though, all anyone wants to know about are the Terrible Teds even though they’ll be riding the bench while Bonnie and Clyde make off with the cash. So I’ll try to appease you and fill out the rest of the Reds’ Opening Day roster.
So the Reds have invited 61 players to Spring Training in order to fill 25 active roster spots. After coming through those 61 players, I decided that there are really only 11 roster spots because 14 of those players could spend all of Spring Training using real cactuses for bats and grapefruits for balls and still make the team. In order to trim the remaining 47 down to 11 though, I — like the Reds front office — must make some exceedingly easy decisions followed by maybe two hard ones.
1. Players who are locks to make the team despite me not including them in the original “Locks to make the team category”
Tony Cingrani, Scott Feldman, Scott Schebler, and Jose Peraza are going to be on the 25-man roster without a doubt. Cingrani will fill the role he has for the last two years in the bullpen until management decides to trade him or he walks out the door on his own. Scott Feldman was paid too much to be a moderately useful old guy in the minors, and he does have the whole moderately useful thing going for him. Scott Schebler is the new Jay Bruce, and Jose Peraza just deserves to be on the roster, plain and simple.
You could maybe put Dilson Herrera in this category as well, but the Reds might want to leave him in AAA for some seasoning until Brandon Phillips makes a mental note to pack his bags.
2. Players who have no shot, not even if they start dating Dick Williams daughter the day Spring Training starts (Valentine’s Day FYI)
Any 40-man roster stashed prospects, any catchers not on the 40-man, and any starting pitcher not named Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Bronson Arroyo, or Amir Garrett.
Don’t get me wrong, Keury Mella, Jackson Stephens, and Nick Travieso still have aspirations to contribute to the Reds one day–that day just won’t be in April 2017. The same goes for Sal Romano and Aristides Aquino. The Reds value these guys too much to take them off the 40-man roster, but they just aren’t quite ready for the big leagues.
As for the catchers and the starting pitchers, there simply isn’t enough room on the bench for them. Stuart Turner would be the only backstop put on the 25-man roster if the Reds do want a third field captain, but the organization won’t risk losing someone off the 40-man for one of the other three names. On the pitchers’ side, the competition for the fifth spot has already been narrowed down to those four names above. Some of the other starters could make a 25-man appearance in the bullpen, but there are also probably better options on the list.
Well, with the seventeen easy guys out of the way, the remaining 30 are a eclectic mix of serviceable vets, high risk young guys, and veteran young guys who feel like they’ve been in the minors forever. It’s these decisions that really get your blood pumping.
Basically, the front office has three big decisions to make and one insignificant decision: Who’s the fifth starter, who’s in the bullpen, who are the bench bats, and do we need a third catcher? To go ahead and answer the last question–no, not unless Devin Mesoraco pulls another Humpty Dumpty routine but that’s a problem for the future Reds. Bye Stuart Turner, hope we don’t see you too soon.
Question 1: Who’s the fifth starter?
Options: Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Bronson Arroyo
My heart wants Garrett, but my brain is telling me Reed. Despite pitching decently well in AAA at the end of last season, Amir Garrett won’t be rushed to the majors by a front office with nothing to lose this season. He’ll warm up in Louisville, make his debut around July or August, and be in it for the long haul next year.
As for Stephenson and Reed, both have had their issues (re: playing well), but the organization has given Reed more of shot so far (re: contracts and player control), so I don’t entirely anticipate that changing. If Reed does falter early on, expect Stephenson to be called upon, hopefully with a desire not to give the spot up.
Where does that leave Bronson Arroyo you ask? Well, there is always the option of the organization prioritizing well-loved veterans over up-and-coming young guys to the detriment of the club’s future potential, but the Reds have never been prone to such tomfoolery. Seriously, Arroyo shouldn’t take the fifth spot unless he unseats Feldman, but that’s unlikely. Bronson is just back to provide some guidance, a few laughs, and some eye candy for spectators down in Goodyear.
Question 2: Who’s in the bullpen?
Options: Barrett Astin, Austin Brice, Rookie Davis, Jumbo Diaz, Wandy Peralta, Blake Wood, Alejandro Chacin, Vladimir Gutierrez, Jimmy Herget, Evan Mitchell, Kevin Shackelford, Lucas Luetge, Nick Routt, Louis Coleman
Leave it to the Reds to make their bullpen the most competitive and least exciting component of the entire Spring Training ordeal.
The Reds usually go with a five man bench out of Spring Training, so there are likely only three bullpen spots available. Granted, injuries will always change that dynamic and will inevitably occur, but let’s pretend we can ignore those pesky things for the time being.
Doing a quick run through of the above list, you can sort the relievers into three categories and then basically pick one from each list, dust off your hands, and call it a day.
The Reds have actually optimally positioned themselves here because they have a bunch of young guys getting exposure amongst a few guys who have been around the block and some more seasoned, hungry players their age. Go Reds.
As for who’s going to make the roster, my hunch is Rookie Davis, Austin Brice, and Jumbo Diaz.
Davis makes the most sense for the immediate longterm, 2018, to become accustomed to high leverage situations. Brice has a decent upside and has gotten Major League exposure before, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Shackelford beat him out. (Gutierrez profiles as a late reliever–I think the Reds have a type–but I imagine the organization will test him out as a starter at the lower levels before sending him to the pen.) As for Jumbo Diaz, he’s a familiar face and is objectively better than Blake Wood. Luetge and Coleman’s stats don’t send out any flares of excitement, but who knows, maybe they’ll turn into the new Kevin Gregg. (Does Jumbo sound better now?)
Question 3: Who’s on the bench?
Options: Arismendy Alcantara, Phillip Ervin, Dilson Herrera, Jesse Winker, Tony Renda, Hernan Iribarren, Sebastian Elizalde, Gabriel Guerrero, Patrick Kivlehan, Zack Vincej, Brandon Dixon
With three open bench spots and no obvious takers, maybe I ruled out Stuart Turner too early. Arismendy Alcantara has the experience. Dilson Herrera and Jesse Winker have the hype. Everyone else has a first and last name.
This decision is another spot where the 40-man roster will quite easily play a factor. Unless one of the non-roster invitees just absolutely steals the show (you thought I forgot the theme of this post, didn’t you?), there’s no way the Reds will drop someone off the 40-man to make room for them. So that rules out Dixon, Renda, Vincej, Elizalde, Guerrero, Iribarren, and Kivlehan.
As much as I’d love to see Phillip Ervin make the team out of camp, he hit under .240 at AA last year, which could be overlooked given his OBP if he was at the Major League level, but he’s not so it cannot. The Reds also probably want to see the outfielder at AAA before taking any chances on his weak bat at the highest level.
Leaving us with Arismendy Alcantara, Dilson Herrera, and Jesse Winker–a fearsome back of the bench if I’ve ever seen one. Hopefully, Winker takes the season to blossom and Herrera can find some playing time somewhere as 2017 is shaping up to be one big learning experience.
On paper though, this Reds 2017 Opening Day roster couldn’t even rob their own pockets.