Many Cincinnati Reds fans of my generation have a limited memory of their favorite club’s success, but of what they remember of it, the fruit was just about as sweet as any could possibly taste.
Sure, we recall the dog days of Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, and Aaron Harang, but have grown fond with the Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, and Aroldis Chapman rosters, which under manger Dusty Baker reached the playoffs three times in four years.
Although there are some similar names, reference Votto above, in addition to the return of fan-favorite Bronson Arroyo, the components and content of the 2017 Cincinnati Reds, under the leadership of manager Bryan Price and head-braintrust-turned-general-manager Dick Williams, are fundamentally different units.
With a certain level of comfort, I can almost guarantee that this club will not be mounting any sort of October baseball run; not while the division opponent Cubs, who the Reds will face 19 times, have A) arguably the best manager in baseball B) 4 MVP Candidates C) 15 All-Star caliber players D) Two Cy Young contenders and D) an immeasurable amount of “fans” who will make road trips represent homestyle vacations.
Even though for the Cubs, success means World Series or bust, in most respects, that doesn’t mean is that the Reds can’t have their own success without cracking even 75 wins (although for the love of all things Skyline Chili, please crack 75 wins).
Now, I understand that with Opening Day in the frontal lobe of Reds fans, where the slate is clean and hope is high, it’s extremely unpopular to propose the notion of losing, if seen as a necessity for growth.
In 2016, the Cincinnati Reds used 32 different pitchers, which includes the inning thrown by center fielder, Tyler Holt. What they didn’t get from that set of 32 was anything to prove the team could win with the unit, as 18 of these arms (56.3%) are no longer members of the team. Reflective of that, Reds pitching allowed league-highs in home runs (258), batters hit by a pitch (78), and were third-worst in team ERA (4.91)… or, to put it in simple terms, Reds pitching got punked on a regular basis.
Credit the organization with this nugget through all of the sifting: they’re hanging on to guys they believe will make the team better when their time comes.
Remaining on the team are pro guys who are learning new roles like Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, and Blake Wood.
Remaining on the team are prospects who yet to blossom like Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, and Brandon Finnegan.
Remaining on the team are veterans who, when the time is right, will provide valuable innings like Homer Bailey, Tony Cingrani, and Anthony DeSclafani.
In all likelihood, losing now will be important, as the Reds continue to tinker with the buckets of young talent tinkering in their organization, even guys that may or may not have been on their professional-level radar when they were drafted.
Granted, we saw some of those guys last year who didn’t pan out, but you don’t know what you have until you’re up by two runs in the eight inning, with a man on second, and Buster Posey staring you down in the batters box. Simply put, the minors don’t have a talent equvilancy that you can truly use to project professional success.
Fortunately for Dick Williams and his Reds, the team saw some flashes from young talent in the spring semester of “fake real” baseball. 23-year-old RHP Sal Romano posted a 3.15 ERA over 20.0 innings, 23-year-old RHP Rookie Davis posted a 4.02 ERA over 15.2 innings, and a personal favorite 24-year-old
St. Johns forward LHP Amir Garrett posted a 4.22 ERA over 21.1 innings with 14 strikeouts.
Maybe it’s a personal thing, but I would much rather lose with a cluster of pitchers from the under-25 crowd than middle-out with a punch of 30-year-old one-off starters and relievers (don’t get me started on Scott Feldman). It’s okay to develop your talent; look around the league and you’ll start to see a surprising amount of homegrown stars.
In the idea of a sort of youth-but-lose movement, it serves in the Reds best interest to keep the line-up rotating, so in respects to injury, position player, outside of those named Joey Votto, shouldn’t play more than 135 games. After all, there’s a 162 per year and there’s going to be a lot of guys coming in-and-out of Cincinnati, hopefully for more than a “cup of coffee”.
When you stink, it’s again in the interest of not only your organization, but the guys IN your organization to get big league at-bats.
Last year, 52 different batters went to the batters box in a Reds uniform, pitchers included. Exluded from that list were the 12 hitting prospects listed on MLB’s Top 30. Included on that list are the #44 prospect in the game of baseball, Nick Senzel and the #53 prospect on the same list, Jesse Winker.
It’s easy to understand the lack of ABs for Senzel, who was drafted less than a year ago and remains in High-A Dayton. On the other hand, Winker, who played 106 games at the Triple-A level, he needs to start getting hacks against professional pitching.
One of the things Reds fans were subjected to last season were the struggles of Robert Stephenson, who spent seemingly a decade in the minors as a “great hope” for Cincinnati pitching, but struggled to a 2-3 record with a 6.08 ERA in his underwhelming/troubling 8 starts at the professional level; getting these guys reps early on goes a long way when you’re going to suck anyway.
Also, what the heck, at this point, why not push Senzel along and get him some swings when roster size jumps from 25 to 40 in September?
While a youth movement was greatly needed in Cincinnati following the collapse of the Dusty Baker era, it’s in their current interest to play with what they have as opposed to making any trades which would toy in the unknown.
There are a lot of temptations to trade names like the perpetually injured Homer Bailey, the invaluable Joey Votto, or the run-of-the-mill study shortstop Zack Cozart.
Don’t blow up what you have or you might not have it for a while; there’s things to like with this team, even if it’s going to take until 2018. There’s a reason Chicago hoisted it’s first World Series trophy in 107 years last fall.