In my first Redleg Nation post during spring training, I posed the question “Is a better tomorrow for the Reds here yet?”. The answer clearly has been no. But have the Reds at least taken steps forward in answering the questions about a building better tomorrow which confronted them this spring? What new questions do they face heading into the off season? Let’s take a look back and ahead.
This spring the Reds were seen as relatively settled at the corner infield and outfield positions; and, the performances of the corner position players during 2017 have generally met and often exceeded expectations. Accordingly while there are still some issues to be addressed at corners, we will follow the baseball adage that winning teams are built “up the middle of the field” and focus on the middle of the diamond.
The Reds catching was seen as a significant question mark in spring training. The dominant issue was the status of Devin Mesoraco who was coming off two seasons missed with hip and shoulder surgeries. Could he return to the 4.8 bWAR form he flashed in 2014 to earn his current contract? What would the Reds do if Mesoraco was a bust for the third straight season? Unfortunately for Mesoraco and the Reds, once again in 2017 he has had trouble staying on the field and understandably he has never quite found his offensive mojo in limited playing time this season.
However, all is not on the downside for the Reds where catching is concerned. Thrust into the full time starter’s role by necessity yet again, Tucker Barnhart has matured into a legitimate everyday catcher. He currently stands at 2.3 bWAR for 2017 after earning only 1 net bWAR for his career prior to this season.
The catching questions looking forward start with what role Mesoraco will fill in 2018, the final year of his contract. Will Mesoraco be capable of working in a tandem arrangement with Barnhart; or, should the Reds look to acquire someone else for that task? And where does Stuart Turner, free of Rule 5 limitations and now optionable, fit in if at all?
How soon Zack Cozart would be traded was the first in a series of cascading questions for the Reds middle infield during the spring. It was presumed that when (not if) Cozart was traded, Jose Peraza would be installed at shortstop for an extended trial; but, who would play 2B, Dilson Herrera? Then Scooter Gennett happened; the Reds never got around to trading Cozart; and, shortly after mid season Peraza was benched. At AAA, Herrera’s suspect shoulder required season ending surgery.
Zack Cozart is eligible for free agency. The Reds control Scooter Gennett through the 2019 season if they are willing to pay the arbitration piper. Jose Peraza’s offense and defense, at SS at least, are both questionable. Middle infield is still more of a question mark than a work in progress.
We wondered about Billy Hamilton’s health this spring following offseason shoulder surgery. Also, would BHam continue the surge in offensive production he experienced in the second half of 2016 as evidenced by his .369 OBP for that period compared to his career .297 OBP? The good news is that Hamilton has stayed healthy and on the field this season. The less favorable news is his offense has regressed. His current 2017 OPB is back at his career level, .297. His oRAR (offensive Runs Above Replacement) rate has fallen from 13 in 2016 to just 1 so far in 2017. His bWAR has also taken a big hit, dropping from 2.8 in 2016 to 0.1 to date in 2017. Two years into arbitration, BHam is becoming expensive. Is he the Reds centerfielder for 2018 and beyond?
Then there is the pitching. At the beginning of spring training, the question was which young Reds prospects might pitch their way into a projected rotation comprised of Anthony Desclafani, Brandon Finnegan, Scott Feldman, and by early May at the latest, Homer Bailey. Before spring training ended, Desclafani and Bailey were out with arm woes; and, less than a month into the season, Finnegan joined them. The chaos which ensued, beyond detailing here, persisted most of the season. While Bailey returned in late June; Disclafani and Finnegan remain sidelined. Feldman joined them in August. Only in the last month has a semblance of order appeared to emerge with the Reds rotation.
Can the Reds sustain and grow the rotation progress of the last month into 2018 and beyond relying only on arms already in the organization; or, should the team spend resources, be that talent, money or both to bring in one or two established middle of the rotation starting pitchers for 2018? How the Reds proceed here may be the canary in the coal mine indicating the organizational view of the 2018 season, a time to be competitive or yet another sorting season?
The Reds bullpen core seemed set in spring training. The belief was that one or two players falling out of the starting rotation competition would fill out the staff; and, hopefully the woes of 2017 would be forgotten. Things didn’t work out that way. Raisel Iglesias has been all one could hope for. Wandy Peralta and Michael Lorenzen have been brilliant at times and struggled at times. Drew Storen has remained on relatively even keel. Otherwise the bullpen has not performed well as a myriad of want to be and never quite were guys endlessly cycled through.
The top two bullpen questions for the Reds in the offseason involve Iglesias and Lorenzen. Is Iglesias’ greatest value to the Reds pitching in their 2108 bullpen or as a trade piece who could bring significant top talent in return? Should Lorenzen be given another shot at the rotation? Given the full stable of young potential starting pitcher prospects the Reds have, finding arms to fill the gaps might not be all that difficult.
Back in the spring I concluded the Reds lacked enough quality players to be competitive in 2017. Sadly, that turned out to be correct. Of more concern to me now is that while the corner positions, both infield and outfield have performed well this season and are good enough for a competitive team, the progress up the middle of the diamond has been erratic and minimal. Even where players have done well, i.e. Tucker Barnhart and Zack Cozart, depth remains a serious issue, especially if Cozart leaves as a free agent. Despite the recent upturn in the rotation, the future pitching is still unsettled due to injuries and performance issues.
Given the recent news that Bryan Price will return as manager in 2018, I suspect the Reds share my opinions and see next year as more of the same as this year although with enough improvement and stability in the pitching to post a marked step forward in their record. However, the tomorrow I hoped for is still likely further into the future.
Data and stats courtesy of Baseball Reference