Some time back, a St. Louis Cardinals blog — wait, hear me out on this one — asked if we’d like to participate in a roundtable discussion about the upcoming Reds season. A bunch of Reds blogs participated, and you can go here to see everyone’s answers. It’s worth your time, methinks.
Anyway, I thought I would post my particular answers to the questions posed here at Redleg Nation. But definitely go over there and see what everyone else had to say.
1. Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?
I guess? This was a strange off-season for the Reds, as the club is at a point in the rebuilding process where they have accumulated a number of assets, and now they need to see where all the pieces fit. For example, the Reds have lots of young options in the infield — Jose Peraza, Dilson Herrera, Eugenio Suarez, Nick Senzel, Arismendy Alcantara, among others — and 2017 will be the season for these guys to prove where (or if) they belong in the club’s long-term plans. The situation with the young pitchers is similar. Over the coming months, the Reds will much more information at their disposal, and they’ll be able to make better decisions about where the roster is still weak.
And that’s the reason the team didn’t do much in the off-season; until they know with a little more certainty what the young guys can do, it didn’t make sense to dip into the free agent market. Cincinnati did sign two pitchers, Drew Storen and Scott Feldman, but — consistent with the goals of the rebuild — signed neither to long-term contracts. Storen will help shore up a bullpen that looks to be much improved over last year’s historically bad version. Feldman is likely a starter to begin the season. He might remain in the rotation all season, but the hope is that the young guys — Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett — will grab the brass ring and push Feldman to the bullpen.
The Reds made two significant trades in the off-season. First, they traded Dan Straily to the Marlins for three prospects, including two power arms (Luis Castillo and Austin Brice) who could be contributors to the next good Reds team. Straily is a great guy, and no one was excited to see him go, but this was a no-brainer. The Reds grabbed Straily off the waiver wire just before last year’s Opening Day, and he had an unexpectedly good season. But the analytics indicate that he’s exceedingly unlikely to repeat that performance, and Reds GM Dick Williams deserves kudos for selling high on Straily and getting a good return.
The other trade…well, see below.
2. Apparently Brandon Phillips blocked a trade to the Braves. Are you glad he’s sticking around (it’s not the first time he’s blocked one) or would you like to move on?
Phillips did block a trade (or three), but later reconsidered and he’s now in line to be the starting second baseman for his hometown Atlanta Braves. I wish him the best of luck.
It was time for Phillips to move on. The Reds have a glut of young infielders ready to play in the big leagues, and wasting time on a 36 year-old second baseman — even one who has had such a distinguished career — always seemed like a terrible idea given where the Reds are on the rebuild life-cycle. Peraza and Herrera will be the main beneficiaries of Phillips’ exit, and the Reds really need to find out whether those two kids can play (both were highly-rated prospects at one time). Phillips wasn’t going to be a member of the next good Reds team. Peraza or Herrera might be, but the Reds won’t know until they’re given a shot. They’ll get that shot in 2017.
While it was time for Phillips to move on, however, it’s bittersweet. Phillips was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner, and he spent 11 good years in a Reds uniform. He’s one of the best second basemen in the franchise’s history, and he’ll have a spot in the team Hall of Fame one day. As noted baseball analyst and historian Billy Shakespeare once said: “Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”
3. Who do you think will be the staff ace by the end of 2017?
I think it’ll be Anthony DeSclafani. Disco is coming off a very strong 2016 that saw him improve across the board. He’s striking out more batters while walking fewer, and his curveball and slider have each established themselves as huge swing-and-miss weapons (not to mention his outstanding four-seam fastball). The Reds hope that DeSclafani, who will be 27 this season, confirms that he’s the staff’s ace.
Over at FanGraphs, however, Eno Sarris made the bold prediction that Brandon Finnegan could establish himself as the Reds’ ace. There has been debate about whether Finnegan’s future is in the bullpen, but I’ve always been of the opinion that he had good enough stuff — above-average fastball, slider, and changeup — to be an effective starter. Over the last couple of months of last season, Finnegan was mostly brilliant, thanks in part to a new grip on his changeup that was taught to him by none other than Dan Straily.
I wouldn’t be surprised if DeSclafani and Finnegan both looked like solid #2 starters this year. If two of the three big pitching prospects — Reed, Stephenson, Garrett — pan out, by the end of 2017, the Reds could have four guys that are at least mid-rotation talents. (I think Reed and Garrett are poised to have breakout seasons, establishing themselves as solid big league starters.)
4. Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?
Arismendy Alcantara. The Reds claimed Alcantara off waivers from the A’s, and there are signs that this could be a steal. As recently as a couple of years ago, Baseball America rated Alcantara as the 33rd best prospect in baseball, so the pedigree is there. He hasn’t performed in brief trials in the big leagues, but he’s still just 25 and he can play a bunch of different positions. Just after he was signed, I noticed that Alcantara’s career track looks an awful lot like another former top prospect that the Reds once acquired at the age of 25: Brandon Phillips. (Others have noted that we all may be overlooking Alcantara, as well.)
I’m not saying that Alcantara will go on to have the career that Phillips carved out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he won the second base job in Cincinnati at some point this year. At the very least, I expect Alcantara to be a valuable utility guy, capable of hitting a little and playing credible defense at a number of positions.
5. What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?
I’m more optimistic than most (some would say delusional), but I predict 81-81 and third place. Something like 77-85 is probably more realistic, but I do expect the Reds to make significant gains. The young guys are starting to appear on the horizon, and I really believe the low point in the rebuilding process is behind us.
6. Who is your all-time favorite Red and why?
Barry Larkin, mostly because he spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Reds, and his career really took off during my formative years. But I really wanted to answer “Adam Dunn” to this question, because Adam Dunn is probably the greatest player in the history of the Cincinnati Reds. Probably.
Blame Chad for creating this mess.
Chad launched Redleg Nation in February 2005, and has been writing about the Reds ever since. His first book, “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds” is now available in bookstores and online, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. You can also find Chad’s musings about the Cincinnati Reds in the pages of Cincinnati Magazine.
You can email Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.