Let’s take a trip back in time. I’m talking about going way, way back to June 8th – some twelve long days ago. If you’ll remember, back on June 8th, the Reds were putting the finishing touches on a four game sweep of the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Sitting at 29-30, just one game under .500 and into the month of June, fans throughout Reds Country were starting to allow themselves to dream about what the rest of the summer might have in store. Could the rebuild be ahead of schedule? Could we be looking at the core of the next contending team?
Well…to answer these questions as politely as possible, not quite. Perhaps, in a salute to the Mamas and Papas of yesteryear, the Reds went out west and were “California Dreamin”. Their run of nine games against teams from California ended on Sunday (Father’s Day no less) with zero wins and nine losses. A respectable and dare I say it, hopeful, record of 29-30 had quickly turned into 29-39 and last place in the sluggish National League Central. With an upcoming schedule leading into the All Star Break containing contending and division leading clubs such as the Nationals, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Yankees, and Cubs, it’s easy to think that things may get worse before they get any better.
Here’s one way to attempt to describe the current state of affairs. If the Reds were a house, they’d have a completely finished basement (the offense), with recently refurbished hardwood floors (the bullpen), but with a leaky roof containing so many holes you don’t know where to start (the starting rotation). The first 59 games of the season allowed each of us to dream just a little, but the reality of the current situation is here to smack us in the face – the time has come to start thinking about 2018.
Now I realize that turning the focus to 2018 in the middle of June might not sit well with the most enthusiastic and hopeful of us – but hear me out on this one. Going back to spring training, the prevailing message and thought throughout the organization was that 2017 was the year to throw things at the wall and see what would stick. This was the year to take an organizational inventory to start determining who might be a member of the next contending Reds team.
In an earlier article I wrote about Adam Duvall and whether or not he was a core piece or a tradable asset. Opinions varied. Other questions from spring training that may be starting to be answered include: Can Billy Hamilton build on last year and hit enough to continue being considered a regular? Is Jose Peraza a piece of the future starting middle infield or simply a spare piece? What do they have with Scott Schebler? What do they have with Eugenio Suarez? Who from the young arms would rise up and stick in the rotation?
While it may be too early to answer definitively some of these questions, I’m willing to bet that quite a few of you are already forming your opinions (and so too are the powers that be within the organization).
The 2017 season is, was, and will continue to be about building for sustained success in 2018 and beyond. Already along the way we’ve seen promise from an offense that not only never quits, but one that is never out of any game. We’ve seen a revamped bullpen complete a 180-degree turn from what we witnessed (like in a crime) in 2016. Some of the players mentioned above are already making tremendous positive strides. Suarez with his developing, dangerous bat and improved defensive comfort zone. Schebler currently sitting among the league leaders in home runs. But on the flip-side of that spectrum, we’ve seen much of the same Billy Hamilton that we’ve seen the previous couple of seasons. The jury is still out on the ceiling for Jose Peraza. And the starting rotation (until recently) was being (loosely) held together by the likes of Scott Feldman, Bronson Arroyo, Tim Adelman, and Asher Wojciechowski.
Going forward throughout the summer, one of the things I expect to see is a dramatically different starting rotation. The rotation should include a healthy Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan (and maybe Anthony Desclafani in August), a continued open audition among the likes of youngsters Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, and Sal Romano, and perhaps a glimpse or two of hot-shot young right handers Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo.
Additionally, this summer should include the full-time return of one Jesse Winker. Having made his debut earlier this year, Winker’s return to Cincinnati into a regular outfield rotation (which may or may not be at the expense of Hamilton) will allow another piece of the future to be evaluated. Will his return shift Schebler into spending more time in center field? Is it time to consider a trade? What’s the market?
And finally, during this current period of franchise history, the summer of 2017 would not be complete without a watchful eye on those who may very well be on their way to Cincinnati at some point in the future (Mahle, Castillo, Shed Long, Nick Senzel, etc.) and those who may soon be on their way out of Cincinnati (Zack Cozart, Feldman, Storen, and perhaps someone we’re not expecting?).
As Pete Rose stated so enthusiastically on Saturday, “the Reds don’t re-build, they re-load.” Well, while the re-load continues, it’s quite likely that the 2018 season is about to begin…