The For the past four years, the Cincinnati Reds have occupied the cellar of the National League Central division. As a result, attendance and interest in the team have waivered. Word out of Reds’ camp is that the front office came into the season attempting to change the culture of the team, indicating they aren’t interested in rebuilding or being complacent. Their actions certainly suggest seriousness as the Reds made significant changes to their roster, and maybe more important, those changes allow Cincinnati’s front office tremendous financial flexibility moving forward while creating buzz, excitement, and hope in the Queen City unlike anything this fanbase has had in several years.
Not many teams in MLB made more changes to their roster than did the Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati generally hits well, but their pitching has been suspect for some time. The pitching additions made will solidify the starting rotation. In 2018, for example, the Reds’ starters pitched to a 5.02 ERA and 5.7 fWAR. Take Luis Castillo and Matt Harvey out of the equation and the rest of the starters came up with an awful 1.9 fWAR. With the addition of Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark, the team once referred to as the “Big Red Machine,” seeks to change that reality quickly.
Sonny Gray constitutes the most significant pitching addition. Coming over from the New York Yankees, the hope is he can find his way again. Once the ace of the Oakland Athletics, Gray found Yankee Stadium not to his liking. In 2018, he pitched to a 4.90 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, but his home and away splits were dichotomous in the extreme. Pitching in New York, he had an ERA of 6.98, a strike out to walk ratio of 1.29, a SLG against of .527 (he was getting crushed at home), an OPS against of .932, strike outs per 9 at 6.8, and a WHIP of 1.90. Compare that to how he pitched away from Yankee Stadium. His away splits were an ERA of 3.17, a strike out to walk ratio of 3.55, a SLG against of .320, an OPS against of .614, strike outs per 9 at 9.9, and a WHIP of 1.16.
Considering Sonny Gray's home/away splits that showed he was terrible in Yankee's Stadium (a major hitter's park) I can't really get too excited about him coming to Great American. pic.twitter.com/oE0e6TIXrV— Seeing Reds (@Seeing_Reds) January 18, 2019
Looking at the home/away splits around Gray, the promise of a number 2 or 3 starter is a manifest possibility. Pair him with former Brewers’ pitching coach, Derek Johnson, and the Reds obviously feel like they have something to invest in. In fact, Cincinnati extended Gray, as part of the trade, to a 3 year, $30.5 million. That is the only multi-year investment Cincinnati made, so they certainly believe in Sonny Gray.
The Reds also traded for Tanner Roark. The former Washington Nationals pitcher has only one more year before heading to free agency, so the Nationals sent him to the Reds in exchange for Tanner Rainey. Roark has proven to be a solid mid- to back-of-the-rotation starter. 2018 results were less than stellar and Cincinnati hopes last year was an anomaly as opposed to the beginning of a trend. Last year, the 32 year old pitched to a 4.34 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP across 180.1 innings. Whether he is in line for a resurgence or he is on the decline, Roark will be an innings eater the Reds.
The third staring pitcher acquired was Alex Wood. Wood came to Cincinnati from the Los Angles Dodgers along with Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Kyle Farmer as part of a swap for Homer Bailey, Jeter Downs, and Josiah Gray (this will not be the last time this trade is referenced in this article). Wood has had stretches where he looks like a front-of-the-rotation starter. For instance, in 2017 Wood finished with a 2.72 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. In fact, he has a career 3.29 ERA across 129 starts over six years. Injuries have played a significant role in Wood’s ability to stay on the field, however.
“It probably is a little bit early, but I think he has status to be a top-end guy...There’s no reason why he can’t fit at the top. Certainly he’s already pitched in the middle-to-the top end for a really good staff. I see him fitting in that role.”
While Gray gets most of the headlines, Wood might prove to be the best pitcher in the Reds’ rotation if he can stay healthy. He is already expected to be out of action until mid to late April.
Another pitching addition comes in the form of former Brewer, Zach Duke. Most of us remember that Duke parlayed a strong 2014 season with Milwaukee into a nice contract with the Chicago White Sox. Now Duke finds himself in the Cincinnati bullpen. He will offer an experienced left-handed reliever that once was pretty good. Trying to put 2018 behind him, the 36 year old will attempt the old player renaissance.
The most exciting addition to this team has to be Yasiel Puig. The Wild Horse will be galloping across the Great American Ballpark outfield, licking the barrel of baseball bats, flexing his biceps, admiring towering home runs as well as fly balls, and exposing his tongue in inappropriate ways and at inappropriate times to the initial delight of the Cincinnati faithful. He is certainly an exciting player, more for his God-given ability (and unrealized superstar potential) rather than his on-the-field and off-the-field antics. Possessing one of the best arms from the outfield in MLB, excellent speed and strength, and an aura of danger every time he comes to the plate, Cincinnati acquired a player that will get fans in the seats, and if they win more than they lose, will keep them in the seats. Expect Puig to tee-off at Great American, Miller Park, and Wrigley Field. More than 30 home runs and an over .500 SLG are certainly attainable outside of Dodger Stadium for the Cuban enigma.
Matt Kemp was the third player coming over in exchange for Homer Bailey plus others. During the Ryan Braun MVP season, Kemp felt slighted in coming in second for the award, and has suggested he be stripped of that honor. Braun and Kemp have had similar performance paths have they’ve grown older. Injury and PEDs impacted Braun in the negative, but he was able to realize decent success in recent years. Kemp is similar in that his performance suffered because of injury and lack of fitness, but he has had some success in the past couple of years, especially with the bat. Kemp will likely put up some decent numbers in 2019. Both Kemp and Puig are free agents at the end of 2019.
A couple of other players acquired on minor league contracts, and making the opening day roster were Jose Iglesias and Derek Dietrich. Iglesias is an elite defender at shortstop. He will likely serve in that role for the first couple of months of the season, moving Jose Peraza to second base as Scooter Gennett recovers from a groin injury. Derek Dietrich will serve as a super utility player and quality bat off the bench. He will find plenty of playing time, and look for his numbers to trend up playing in Cincinnati as opposed to Miami.
The biggest loss for the Reds was Matt Harvey. The Dark Knight pitched pretty well for Cincinnati in 2018, but he took his talents to Los Angles to play with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. The other pitching loss incurred was Homer Bailey. After tearing his UCL, Bailey was never the same pitcher, and he became a contract albatross for the Reds. Now the Bailey era ends as he looks to resurrect his career with the Kansas City Royals.
The biggest loss for the Reds from a Brewers’ perspective is Billy Hamilton. Hamilton always seemed to create havoc for the Brew Crew. With electrifying speed that can have game changing impact as well as elite defense only rivaled by Lorenzo Cain, he causes coaches and front office officials to fantasize about what he could be. What he has been is an exceptional athlete that fails to get on base enough to justify a roster spot that would have paid the speedster $6-7 million for 2019. Instead the Royals will see what they can get out of Hamilton. We know what he has done. Kansas City might get something more. Nonetheless, he is no longer patrolling center field for Cincinnati so a few more hard hit shots to the gaps of left and right center field might drop for extra base hits for Milwaukee in 2019. With all the upgrades made via the above additions, the outfield defense comes with a significant downgrade with the loss of Hamilton.
The infield looked set in stone nearing the end of Spring Training. Joey Votto would continue to be the fixture at first base. Third base would be manned by Eugenio Suarez. Shortstop would go to Jose Peraza, and second base would be played by former Brewer Scooter Gennett. Things changed quickly for the All-Star, as he injured his groin making a play against Milwakee in a Spring Training game. Votto and Suarez will continue to play the corners, but the Gennett injury caused a shuffle in the middle of the infield.
Jose Peraza will move from shortstop to second base, and Jose Iglesias will take over at shortstop. Iglesias has been one of the best defenders at his position in all of MLB. Moving Peraza to second with Iglesias at short improves the defense up the middle. Gennett’s bat(2018 slash .310/.357/.490 with a 125 wRC+) will be sorely missed as Iglesias (2018 slash .269/.310/.389 with a 90 wRC+) is below average with the bat, and Peraza is just around average (2018 slash .288/.326/.416 with a 97 wRC+).
When Eugenio Suarez signed his 7-year, $66 million contract extension there was some thought that he would block talented prospects like Nick Senzel from playing time. The fact is, Suarez is one of the most underrated players in MLB with some experts expecting regression from the third baseman. The 27 year old is in his prime and is an elite hitter that the Brewers’ pitching staffs will have to contend with for years to come. We should expect a 2019 season similar to 2018 where he slashed .283/.366/.526 with an wRC+ of 135. This extension was an initial demonstration of a front office ready to make shrewd and effective moves to improve their team. As the Cubs’ and Cardinals’ front offices continue to operate from another era (5-10 years ago), the Reds might challenge the Brewers as the most progressive and shrewd team in the NL Central. If they do, we could look to the Suarez extension as the first major move that signaled it.
Of course we have Joey Votto. Votto is a future Hall of Famer. He is an on base machine like no other. He always hits for average and power, except for 2018. In that year he slashed .284/.417/.419 with just 12 home runs. He did have a wRC+ of 131, but 2018 was not a Joey Votto year. He will turn 36 prior to the end of the season. Are we seeing the decline of Joey Votto. Most likely we are, but would you take a decline that sees the player getting on base at better than a .400 OBP and posting a wRC+ around 130. I would. He also might be able to tap into a little bit of the power that he failed to show in 2018, but I would not expect another season like he had in 2017 where he hit 36 home runs and slashed .320/.454/.578 with a 164 wRC+.
Others contributing to the infield will be aforementioned Derek Dietrich. With the injury to Gennett, Nick Senzel might get playing time in the infield, although the thinking was he would compete for the center field job after Cincinnati manipulates his service time. Kyle Farmer, who was the fourth player included in the Hormer Bailey trade, might find some playing time as well.
As mentioned previously, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp will play in the outfield for the Reds in 2019. Puig should be the everyday right fielder, although there is a chance he plays some or a lot in center field. He should prove strong defensively, if in right field, while making defensive lapses from time-to-time. The bat should really play. For the Dodgers in 2018, he slashed .267/.327/.494 with a 123 wRC+. Expect those numbers to go up across the board along with 30 plus home runs, especially since he will remain with his hitting coach and kissing buddy from the Dodgers, Turner Ward.
Matt Kemp will play (mostly in left field unless Puig plays center), but probably not everyday. In 2018, he hit 21 home runs while slashing .290/.338/.481 and a wRC+ of 122. At 34, he is in decline. How many plate appearances he gets is also a question. He is a liability on defense and on the base paths, so the coaching staff will have to take that into consideration when making out the line up card. He has shown there to be more in the tank over the past two years, but how much more will be a question mark, especially if not adequately motivated.
Jesse Winker will challenge Kemp for playing time (if not be the everyday starter in left), because he is younger, a better defender in left field (although he does not have a good arm), has very good bat-to-ball skills, gets on base, runs the bases well, and deserves the chance to play regularly. The only thing Kemp is better at right now is power. Winker’s slash in 2018 was .299/.405/.431 with a wRC+ of 128 over 334 plate appearances, and he walks at a 15% clip. He hasn’t realized any type of power output yet, but he could be a tremendous table setter for the Reds moving forward. To get everyone playing time, Winker may get time in center field although that would not be ideal.
Scott Schebler will patrol center field, at least for the first part of the 2019 season. He has shown flashes of strong defensive acumen at the corner outfield positions, and the Reds’ coaching staff feel he can make the transition. He is no slouch offensively either, especially with power. He was hurt for much of 2018, but he still hit 17 home runs. In 2017, he hit 30 home runs with a .233/.307/.484 slash.
The Reds top prospect is also an option in center field as well. Nick Senzel will start the year in AAA as he is cheated out of potential free agents earnings due to service time manipulation, but he should get a chance latter in the year to make an impact. More about Senzel in the prospects section of this article. Phillip Ervin should see time in the outfield as well, but will be blocked for the most part by the others making up this list.
While there was rumor about the Reds being in on J.T. Realmuto they will go into 2019 with Tucker Barnhart. Barnhart is not terrible with the bat slashing .248/.328/.372 in 2018. However, Barnhart might have a framing problem. Barnhart ranked #113 of a possible 117 in terms of pitch framing in 2018. Yet he must be doing something right defensively as he won a Gold Glove in 2017. Curt Casali and Kyle Farmer will back up Barnhart.
As mentioned earlier, the Reds’ rotation promises to be more competent than in recent past. Luis Castillo was announced as the opening day starter for the Red Legs. Castillo has flashed top end stuff over the past couple of years, but has yet to harness into top-of-the-rotation stuff. The Reds hope he makes that leap in 2019. That leap will have to be a big one as he pitched to a 4.32 ERA and a 4.30 FIP in 2018. One of things he will have to do is keep the ball in the ballpark. He gave up 28 home runs in 169.2 innings last year.
Again, Gray, Roark, and Wood will make up the middle of the rotation for Cincinnati. Gray’s woes as a Yankee have been discussed, but over his six year career, he has pitched to a solid 3.79 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. Roark is also coming off a poor season by his standards, but his career 3.91 ERA and 1.21 WHIP are similarly solid. Wood may offer the most upside as he has posted some great pitching stats with really good clubs (ERA+ 154 in 2017). As is always the concern with Wood, keeping him healthy is key, and he is already beginning the season on the IL.
The fifth pitcher slated into the rotation is Anthony DeSclafani. He pitched relatively well over 20 starts in 2018 posting a 3.28 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. While Wood is on the mend anyone of Tyler Mahle, Matt Wisler, or Brandon Finnegan could fill in. This rotation will prove at least competent and may become an asset to the team. That would be a welcome change to the Reds, and not so much for the Brewers, because it has been fun watching the Brewers crush Reds’ pitching. Eric Thames in particular may be upset.
Raisel Iglesias anchors the Reds bullpen, and he is a very good anchor to have. He has posted an ERA below 2.50 and 28 and 30 saves over the past two years. The problem is that the next two best bullpen pieces might just be former Brewers; Jared Hughes and Zach Duke. Both are good, but they are not what you would think of as pitching high leverage situations in latter part of ball games. Although Hughes did have an excellent year last season doing just that, pitching to a 1.94 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. Duke did not have as a good year pitching to a 4.15 ERA with two different teams.
For the bullpen to take a step Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, and Robert Stephenson have to pitch better. Lorenzen (3.11 ERA and 1.38 WHIP) and Garrett (4.29 ERA and 1.27 WHIP) were not terrible, but need to be better. Garrett has the most potential of the two. Stephenson barely pitched in 2018, but pitched quite a bit in 2017. He just was not very good. Mahle, Wisler, and Finnegan will pitch out the bullpen as well and possibly be decent. Others that might contribute include Sal Ramano, Wandy Peralta, Cody Reed, and Lucas Sims. None of that group strikes much fear into anybody’s heart.
Cincinnati has a pretty good farm system, especially at the top, and ranks #9 on MLB.com’s farm system rankings. Nick Senzel is the top prospect in the Reds’ system. He projects to be an outstanding hitter getting a 65 grade and an overall grade of 65. With Scooter Gennett injured, he may have an opening for playing time at second base early in the season, but the more likely place for him will be centerfield. MLB.com scouting report included the following about him: “When healthy, Senzel uses a combination of strength and bat speed, along with an advanced approach at the plate, to be an extremely dangerous hitter from the right side. He makes consistent hard contact, doesn’t strike out a lot and draws walks, which points to a future of hitting over .300 and perhaps competing for batting titles. He could debut as an everyday utility player until a permanent spot opens for him.”
While Senzel will likely debut in 2019, Taylor Trammel, Hunter Greene, and Jonathan India are further away. All three are ranked in the top 100 according to MLB.com. Trammel is an elite athlete with elite speed. He may amount to strong defender in centerfield. Greene can hit 102 mph on the radar gun. The question was would he pitch or play shortstop. With that kind of velocity as his calling card, there was really only small debate about it. Early on, he had trouble repeating his delivery which led to command and control problems. He showed improvement in that regard in 2018. India is touted to have an advanced approach at the plate with excellent plate discipline. Finding a spot for him to play may prove problematic once he is ready. With a 2021 ETA, the Reds have time to think on it. Other prospects of interest include: Tony Santillan, Tyler Stepheson, and Vladimir Gutierrez.
The Reds will be a much improved team coming into 2019. Cincinnati won 67 games in 2018. To make the playoffs, they would have to pick up 20-25 wins. That will be difficult to do even with all of the additions. Believe it or not Matt Harvey and Billy Hamilton will be fairly large losses. Harvey’s production will be replaced, but they still with Gray maybe, but do Wood and Roark enhance the team enough to pick up enough wins from the starting pitching group. Billy Hamilton saved a ton of would be runs with his defense. More hits will fall for the opposition because he is not patrolling the outfield. The key to picking up enough of those 20-25 wins has to come from Puig and Kemp. Both a good players, but they are not that good. The Scooter Gennett injury will impact this team as well. The Reds will stick around for awhile, but will fall back into the pack as the season wears on. They just don’t have the depth to compete with Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Chicago. Expect a much better season however, with much to be optimistic about. Cincinnati will win 80 games and come in fourth place in the NL Central.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference