Welcome to Three Reds Questions (3RQ), a new feature at Redleg Nation. Each week, a group of our writers – and maybe an occasional special guest or select commenter – will answer three important questions concerning our Redlegs. This week, our panel of Reds obsessives includes Nick Carrington, Ashley Davis, Chad Dotson, Nick Kirby, Steve Mancuso and Matt Wilkes. We also want to read your answers in the comments section. Let’s get started:
Question One: Which of the Reds starting pitchers (age 25 or younger) do you expect to take the biggest step forward in 2018?
Nick C: This is really tough because young players vacillate between disappointment and effectiveness so frequently. There’s more growing to do with the youngsters than fans seem to believe. I’ll take Amir Garrett who I think was hampered some by injuries this season. If healthy, the velocity ticks up, and his athleticism allows him to adjust better than he did while injured in 2017. It’s easy to forget that Garrett wasn’t a full-time baseball player until 2014 because of his college basketball career, and he made huge strides immediately after giving up the lesser sport. The stuff is there, especially that nasty slider, but like most of the other young pitchers, Garrett struggles to consistently throw strikes. If given a real chance, Garrett’s walk rate dips, and he pitches more like a 4.00-4.50 FIP guy than the unsightly 7.39 he put up this season.
Ashley: Many fans want to write off Robert Stephenson as a bust, but they forget that he is still just 24 years old. Stephenson’s numbers may not reflect progress from 2016 to 2017 (4.68 ERA in 84.2 innings, with 53 walks and 86 strikeouts), but he looked like an improved pitcher in the second half of the season, particularly in the month of August when he had a 2.22 ERA in 24.1 innings and gave up just one home run with 13 walks. Building on that success, I think Stephenson takes the biggest step and starts to become what the Reds foresaw when they drafted him out of high school in 2012. While his BB% has remained steady, his K% rose by about four percentage points, and a reason for this is the addition of a slider to his pitch arsenal. If he can just keep improving the number of walks he allows, Stephenson could have a breakout season in 2018.
Chad: My money is on Tyler Mahle. He’s the youngest of the core group of young pitchers, but he has adjusted very well every time he’s bumped up a level in the system. Certainly, Mahle is likely to run into more struggles than he endured in the first four starts of his big league career, and he may never be a top of the rotation starter, but he can be Mike Leake…and that’s not nothing. (Fun fact: Tyler Mahle was second among all Reds starters in 2017 in bWAR.) Mahle may not be in the Reds rotation in April, but he will be in the majors for good by the end of the season.
Nick K: The pitcher I think will take the biggest leap in 2017 is Robert Stephenson. He had a 2.50 ERA over the last two months of the season (9 starts, 1 relief appearance). Stephenson has sort of been forgotten about after all the top prospect hype, but it is important to remember he is younger than Luis Castillo. He has got to find a way to cut down even more on the walks, but he is striking out a lot of hitters, and only allowed two home runs in his last 9 starts.
Steve: I can see a case for Amir Garrett because he was hurt in 2017 or Michael Lorenzen because his problems were mechanical and easily fixed. Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson have big room for improvement and I expect it from both of them. But the answer I’m going with is Luis Castillo, who turns 25 in December. Castillo showed marked improvement in August and September over June and July. Castillo had more strikeouts and fewer walks in the last two months and started to throw a pitch, classified as a sinker, on July 25. After that, his ERA dropped from 3.56 to 2.61, his FIP and xFIP (3.60 to 3.19) also showed big gains. Only five major league pitchers had a better xFIP (Kluber, Sale, Kershaw, Severino and Nelson). So I expect Castillo to be a top-tier starter in 2018, close to an ace.
Matt: The easy answer would be Luis Castillo, but I’ll go outside the box a little bit and say Sal Romano. He has a track record of throwing strikes (7.5 BB% for his minor-league career) and vastly improved his command as the season went on and he became more comfortable attacking MLB hitters. Over the last two months of the season, Romano walked only 7.1 percent of hitters he faced — a small sample size, yes, but a sign of growth after often overthrowing in prior starts. Perhaps the most encouraging part of Romano’s rookie campaign was the development of a third pitch, a change-up, as the season moved along. It’s still a work in progress (and I don’t know why he wasn’t told to start developing the pitch before he got to the majors), but a willingness to throw it at least gives batters another pitch to think about. Another important note: he’s a ground-ball pitcher (50.4 GB%), which is crucial in GABP and with home runs at an all-time high. Romano heads into the offseason with confidence he can pitch at the big-league level, and with more time to refine his change-up, I think he could emerge as the Reds’ No. 4 or 5 starter in 2018.
Question Two: What is the most important trade or free agent acquisition the Reds need to make before the 2018 season?
Nick C: I (slightly) prefer the Reds roll with their young starters for 2018 before potentially acquiring a difference making starter before 2019. I also think they have enough young arms to fill out the bullpen, though I expect them to bring in another veteran down there. Right now, they should focus on acquiring another shortstop to compete with Jose Peraza for a starting position. Maybe that’s Ketel Marte from the Diamondbacks who is still only 24 years old and had some success last season. I’m not sure what that would cost, but the Reds shouldn’t bank on Peraza being the answer with a risky position change for Eugenio Suarez as the fall back option. Don’t give up on Peraza, but the Reds need more depth and competition at that spot.
Ashley: Before the Reds can think about trades or free agent acquisitions, they need to know what will happen with Zack Cozart. They have about a week after the World Series ends to extend a qualifying offer or get an extension done. If the Reds can sign Cozart to a deal akin to 2 years/$30 million, it would help the team tremendously in 2018 and 2019. However, Cozart could decline anything the Reds offer, and that would leave the Reds with a hole at the shortstop position. I know what you’re thinking: what about Jose Peraza? Yes, Peraza is only 23, but I’m still not sold on him. Although Peraza did seem to improve at times in the second half of the season, he’s still a downgrade from Cozart. And of course, all of this hinges on what the Reds decide to do with Scooter Gennett, because Peraza also could play second base if Gennett is traded. That’s the other important decision they need to make. Do they sell high and trade Gennett for a mid-to-high level prospect? (We already know Dick Williams has had success with those kinds of trades. See: Dan Straily). Or do they decide to keep him as a valuable utility player and hope his 2017 success wasn’t limited to one year? Finally, where does Nick Senzel fit into the puzzle, if he’s forced to switch positions since Suarez is at third? As you can see, the Reds have some decisions to make when it comes to the middle infield, and these decisions will probably be made before the Reds start acquiring players via trade or free agency.
Chad: I don’t know if it’s realistic, but the more I think about Christian Yelich, the more I want the Reds to pursue him heavily this off-season. I hadn’t considered the possibility until reading Steve’s recent post, in which he suggested a Yelich for Raisel Iglesias/Billy Hamilton swap. Since then, there has been plenty of buzz that the Marlins are going to be shopping Yelich this off-season, and I dream of plugging Yelich into the Reds lineup. Now, I’m not eager to part with Iglesias. And you know I’m irrational when it comes to Hamilton. But Yelich has posted 9+ bWAR in his age 24/25 seasons. He’s a huge upgrade. I’m afraid the Reds would have to part with more than Iglesias/Hamilton, but I’d seriously consider it if I were GM Dick Williams. Yelich would look very good indeed in a red and white uniform.
Nick K: The Reds need a quality, established starting pitcher. If for anything else for our sanity. It would be nice if they made a big splash and showed commitment towards the rebuild ending with a guy like Yu Darvish, but a guy like Lance Lynn might do the trick too. The Reds could also try to acquire a SP via trade (looking at you, Chris Archer).
Steve: The Reds should wait another season to acquire a top-of-rotation starting pitcher. The better the young pitchers develop in 2018, the better trade for a top SP they can make. Both shortstop and centerfield are important player position upgrades. If I could only do one this year, it would be centerfield. If the Reds get stuck playing Jose Peraza at SS for most of 2018, it wouldn’t be a complete waste of time. He’s 23 and while I’m skeptical he’s going to improve much as a hitter, there’s a case to give him more time and hone his skills at SS. But if the Reds don’t make a move for a new CF, they’ll have to play Billy Hamilton the vast majority of games and he times out in 2019. His trade value is as high now as it’s likely ever to be. So move him and acquire his replacement. That might be one trade or two.
Matt: The most important trade the Reds should make this offseason is dealing Adam Duvall. Opening up consistent playing time for Jesse Winker — the team’s future leadoff hitter (hopefully) — is paramount. Not only is left field Winker’s primary position, but Duvall is the most expendable of the current outfielders. He’s already 29 years old, doesn’t have good plate discipline, and is coming off another dismal second half that killed his overall season production (98 wRC+). He’s streaky, and other teams know that, of course, but some club will chase the gaudy home run totals and solid defense, giving up a decent prospect or two in return.
Question Three: Who will be managing the Reds on Opening Day, 2019?
Nick C: Chad Dotson? He would be a good judge of player talent (thank you, thank you). I really don’t know. I doubt it’s Bryan Price, unless the Reds vastly over perform in 2018. I think Barry Larkin wants it, but he may not fit the profile for Dick Williams who seems more analytically inclined. That’s the biggest problem with forecasting a future manager: We don’t know what Williams values in a manager. I’m guessing they’ll go with a younger, up and coming coach from another organization like Alex Cora in Houston or Brandon Hyde from the Cubs. One of those guys will get a chance soon enough, and the Reds young roster might entice them to Cincinnati.
Ashley: I’ll tell you who it won’t be managing the Reds on Opening Day 2019: Barry Larkin, even though many fans have been clamoring for it. As for who will be managing, it could be Bryan Price or Jim Riggleman. If Price falters or doesn’t show any improvement in 2018, the Reds could promote Riggleman from bench coach to manager. He has the experience, managing for four clubs in the past, but doesn’t have a lot of success, with just a .445 winning percentage. The trend in MLB in recent years is to go with a younger manager, and with Dick Williams as the Reds GM, I could see that as a more likely scenario for the Reds.
Chad: I really want to say Bryan Price, because that would mean the Reds made real progress in 2018 (the Wild Card, perhaps?). While I’m optimistic the Reds can make strides — specifically in the win column — over the next twelve months, I think that Price will be on very thin ice next year. A slow start might mean a quick dismissal. If Barry Larkin wants the job, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he were named the next manager of the Reds. Does he want the job? He hasn’t in the past, according to reports, but that might have changed since the Reds are getting closer to being competitive. So — since I really don’t have any idea — I’m going to go ahead and predict that Bryan Price will be the manager in 2019. Not because I like Price, but because I want the Reds to be really good next year.
Nick K: Bryan Price. I think the Reds will be good enough in 2018 to keep him in 2019. I would still like to see Price improve, mainly with using platoons, but I don’t think he is as terrible as he is sometimes made out to be (maybe Dusty lowered my expectations so much).
Steve: The Reds won’t keep Bryan Price. Price may not even make it through 2018 if the Reds don’t get off to a quick start. Dick Williams will appease restless fans. In that case, Jim Riggleman will get his turn as the interim manager. But Williams will want a fresh face – his guy – to skipper the new team he’ll have built. I don’t see how the Reds can not hire Barry Larkin in 2019. Larkin is a former Reds player, Cincinnati native, familiar with the organization and recalls the glory of 1990. He’s a winner, was the N.L. MVP, 11-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glove recipient. Easy sell to ownership and fans. Larkin wouldn’t be my choice. Former players often have outdated views about baseball. Former stars don’t always work out as leaders. But it’s gonna be former University of Michigan shortstop, Barry Larkin. Straight inside job, homey. One person interviewed. #RedsWay
Matt: Unless the Reds have a surprisingly strong season in 2018, I don’t think it’ll be Bryan Price. While bringing him back next season doesn’t have much of an effect (unless he continues to play young players infrequently), there’s not much reason to believe he’s the manager who will lead the Reds back to the promised land, either. If 2019 is when we can realistically expect the club to be a contender again, I think the managerial search begins a year from now. I don’t have even the slightest clue who the Reds might go after — who knows what will happen with other managers and coaches over the next year — but I do know there needs to be a more thorough interviewing process this time around. Price was essentially the only person considered for the job in 2013. That can’t happen again. Dick Williams needs to talk to as many candidates as possible and find the best fit for the position, whether that person is already in the organization or not.