Welcome to the 136th season of Cincinnati Reds baseball, it’s going to be a long one. If you’re a diehard Reds fan, you’re probably going to see a lot of bad baseball this season. If you’re a casual Reds fan, you’re probably going to see a lot of bad baseball this season.
Either way, your season will likely feature sides of two spectrums in either ear, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, because thanks to Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, everyone who has a barstool conversations has a to be on one end of a piping hot comment.
Listen, when you look at last year’s 68-94 finish, which was second-worst in all of baseball, considering 14 of 25 of the guys on this year’s roster weren’t on last season’s roster, 7 of which will be rookies, doubt is fair. When you consider the 350-1 World Series odds for the bunch, your skepticism is statistically justified.
However, when you look at this organization and think of what the future could hold, you can start to get a fresh scent of optimism. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a group of guys in this organization that could move the Reds out of the cellar from The Ring into their franchise’s sixth World Series title.
So, those two voices on either side of the spectrum are going to be telling you a lot this season, but let’s see what they have to say about their starting line-up:
Starting at first base, a 33-year-old man who’ll be making $22 million for playing a kids game, Joey Votto.
Thankfully for the Reds, first base will be occupied by a human hitting machine, who’s leadership ages like a fine wine.
Last season, Votto was seen missing the All-Star Game for the third straight season (I understand the last season part, but not the three straight part, because he’s the best player i the game at his position) in large part due to the fact that he couldn’t find a hit hit a metal detector.
However, he finished on an otherworldly tear, finishing with a .324 AVG, 29 HRs, 97 RBIs, 108 BBs, and a league-leading .434 OBP, which was only his third-best career total.
Many are going to argue that Votto is overpaid and too old to factor into what the Reds are doing. To hell with ’em.
Compared to other superstar contracts, such as Albert Pujols ($250 million/10 year), Alex Rodriguez ($275 million/10 year), or Prince Fielder ($217 million/9 year), Votto’s $225 million over 10 years looks resoundingly club friendly. It’s, simply put, a luxury in a small market, but at least it’s performing like a premium Ferrari and not like a broken 2001 Honda Accord.
Again, Votto is the best at his position in the game of baseball and is well over pace to be a member of the Hall of Fame when his still-strong career comes to a close. If he keeps doing what he’s done, it’s probably going to be one that ends up on the first ballot level.
At second will be a guy who was supposed to be the primer piece in a trade sent to the Dodgers to send ’em Aroldis Chapman, but ended up being a lesser piece in a trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox, a guy who was apparently worth somewhere between two and four prior All-Star appearances, Jose Peraza.
I get it, it’s not Brandon Phillips.
However, you have to understand that this organization can’t be in the business of paying $14 million to platoon a 35-year-old, who’s not a part of the club’s next window of success.
The guard has changed from the chronic highlight real that was the 4-time Gold Glover and 3-time All-Star. He signed his autograph for probably a million fans, but it was time for movement.
Peraza is a slick fielder cut from a similar rope to Phillips, but at 22 years of age and $507,500, the young second baseman, who hit an outstanding .324 and stole 24 bases in his 72 games in Cincinnati makes for a fantastic second hitter in the Reds order.
Even in the minors, the Reds have a promising youngster in Dilson Herrera, who’s stock could continue to improve as he gets more AAA at-bats in Louisville. His .215 professional batting average sends a slight shiver down my spine, but I’d rather pay him virtually no significant dollars to get better than pay Brandon Phillips more cash to get old in front of our eyes.
Playing shortstop will be a 6-year veteran who has NEVER hit better than .255 in a season, he’s fresh of an offseason where he was all but sent to the Seattle Mariners, but today, he’s your seven hitter, give it up for Zack! Cozart!
Really thought, Zack Cozart is not the biggest problem facing the city of Cincinnati right now, so let’s stop trying to sell him like snake oil salesmen.
Although he’s had ups and downs, his injuries, and his lack-of-excitement since his rookie season, Zack Cozart is capable of being as good or better when compared to an average major league shortstop.
This is another one of those examples where I get it; this is a town that’s still foaming at the mouth over one Barry Larkin, but guys, it’s been 13 years since Larkin played professional baseball. It’s time to move on.
Cozart had a solid +2.0 WAR (wins above replacement) last season with a 1.4 defensive WAR, which puts his roughly $2.9 million salary at a bargain for an above-average player.
He’s a solid roster piece through and through, plus the Reds have another guy getting ready if Cozart leaves town, as they swooped up last season’s #7 international prospect in 22-year-old Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez, who could develop into a solid everyday option if his predecessor doesn’t sign some sort of longterm agreement with the club.
Rounding out the infield and playing third base was a part of a trade for a starting pitcher who is currently out of the league, so maybe give the Reds a little credit for this one, he’s good, not great, at defense, but his name is
fun hard to say! LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Eugenio Suarez.
While all of the trades have gutted this team over the last few seasons, replacing recognizable names with guys who seem to magically appear, the swap that sent Alfredo Simon to the Detroit Tigers brought in a guy who seems to be a great piece in Eugenio Suarez.
I’ll get back to Suarez in a moment, but the top prospect in the Reds organization is last year’s #2 overall pick, Nick Senzel, who is tearing up minor league pitching and is on the trajectory to be in Cincinnati to occupy third base within the next two seasons.
Senzel has all the makings of a five-tool stand-out at third base when his name is called to his major league club. the 21-year-old hit .329 with 7 HRS, 36 RBIs, and 15 SBs in 58 games with High-A Dayton last season. He could be the first hitter from the draft class to crack a major league roster. Get excited.
On the other hand, Suarez is in all likelihood not going to have a longterm set starting position with the Reds, even though he’s been a regular ever since he was sent over from Detroit two seasons ago.
Suarez doesn’t provoke much fear into the heart of opposing pitchers as a .257 career hitter, but could be a guy who the Reds mold into a rotational piece, getting starts throughout the diamond, be it infield or outfield, as his career progresses.
He’s only 25 and isn’t too expensive, so you shouldn’t lose a lot of sleep over Suarez as your third basemen of the present.
Starting in right field will be another part of the trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox, but somehow brought only guys from the Dodgers to Cincinnati, a guy who even looks like he should be on the Dodgers, so really, how is he not on the Dodgers, it’s Scott Schebler.
I’d be lying if I told you I think Scott Schebler will be your starting left fielder in a month, when Jesse Winker, the Reds’ #3 prospect becomes more of an optimal option when his service time becomes club-friendly (it’s complicated and boring, so just trust me, the Cubs did it with Kris Bryant last season).
Schebler, who started off cold as ice, ended up hitting .265 with 9 HRs and 40 RBIs, playing 82 games as a Cincinnati Reds outfield substitute, then starter, last season.
The name Scott Schebler doesn’t exactly get a lot of emotion going, but like many other pieces on this roster, he’s fine; you’ll never see a stadium full of fans wearing his #43 jersey, but hey, it’s a body.
On the other hand, Jesse Winker jerseys pop-up as he makes his way into right field for the Cincinnati Reds, his #23 flip-flopping the countless #32 jerseys once draped over the backs of Jay Bruce fans (there were a lot, thanks to the famous dinger of 2010).
Winker was a .303 hitter last year in 108 games at the Triple-A level and will be due in Cincinnati literally as soon as late April, a much needed bat and hopefully a future stalemate in the outfield for a Reds roster that will need a lot of induce a lot coffee drinking to get through what will be an inevitably exhausting season.
Your kids wear his jersey, your ESPN highlight real is constantly trying to find a reason he’s not the fastest guy in baseball, so they’ll invent someone on the Cubs to do it later this season, but for now, ladies and gentlemen, Billy Hamilton!
Finally, we get to a guy that hasn’t been tremendously controversial with the fans during the course of his career. Hamilton, although involved in some VERY quiet trade talk at various points, is likely to be in Cincinnati for the foreseeable future.
Last season, the 26-year-old posted a 47-point jump in his on-base percentage (.274 in 2015 to .321 in 2016) which came with a career-high in walks (36) last season and probably would’ve lead the league in steals with 58, but was injured at the end of the season, thus playing 39 games less than Jonathan Villar of the Milwaukee Brewers, who finished atop the league with 62 swipes.
Although someone has probably created a metric to quantify it, it goes beyond my realm of statistical nerdability to tell you how much a stolen base can impact a game. It can drive a ton of momentum into the team who records one, but can give the other club even more when they catch someone stealing, which only happened 8 times to Hamilton in 2016; that’s pretty low for a guy who picked-up 58.
What the stats nerd in me can tell you is that “Big Play Bill“, as I just nicknamed him less than 30 seconds ago, can make huge outs on the defensive side, which has somehow garnered 0 Gold Gloves, but I have a feeling that will change.
In left field will be a man once traded away from the San Francisco Giants, but managed to come in second in the Home Run Derby and made the All-Star Game last year, but will almost definitely be traded for a relief pitcher and a never blossoming first base prospect, Adam Duvall.
Please don’t buy yourself an expensive Adam Duvall jersey. I saw them selling these at the mall the other day and was shocked, considering there’s little-to-no chance Duvall will be on this roster in a few years.
For the time being, however, Duvall has proven to have been a very exciting member of the Reds roster, providing an All-Star season in 2016, where he hit just .241, but launched a club-high 33 homeruns and 103 RBIs, which made him one of the lone run-drivers last season.
Duvall took over for Bruce as the full-time right fielder following the former’s move to the Mets at the deadline, quickly becoming a fine-and-dandy 150 game stater. This guy is going to be fine for now and I’m comfortable with him being a regular in the line-up.
He’s not the most exciting clean-up hitter in the league, but on a bottom-dwelling team, he could be plenty to get the job done.
One end of your battery will be a guy who your kids will love, but you will spend copious hours trying to figure out how he stumbled from his tree stand and made it behind the plate, it’s your catcher, Tucker Barnhart!
Remember when your organization signed Devin Mesoraco to a 4-year, $28 million extension that will run out at the end of next season only to have him make only 39 appearances through the first two seasons of the deal (23 in 2015, 16 in 2016)?
Well, he might be healthy this year, even though he’s starting out the season on the 10-day disabled list. The last time he played a full season, Mesoraco was an All-Star who hit 25 HRs and 103 RBIs in 114 games (catchers don’t play as many games as starters, sorry Johnny Bench).
Meanwhile, a new fan-favorite has cracked the roster.
Tucker Barnhart, a 26-year-old meant to be an easy option for a second-string option, much to the DNA of a guy like David Ross, had to catch 115 games in his first full season for the Reds.
Not only was likable, but he was downright serviceable. Hitting .257 with 7 HRs and 53 RBIs is plenty for a guy that’s supposed to be a back-up catcher; a lot of teams wouldn’t mind getting that kind of season from their number one option.
Pending Mesoraco’s health, the youth of the position and ability to be solid will do the club a lot of favors.
Rounding out the starters, wait is he a starter? But last year, he was a reliever all season for the Blue Jays? But he’s starting on Opening Day? Wasn’t this Johnny Cueto’s job like two weeks ago? Wow. This got out of control fast. Well, I guess it’s time to come alive for Scott Feldman.
Okay, Stephen A. Lutz, you’ve got me there.
The two best pitchers on the team, by contract and prestige, are on the DL to start the season, as Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey will rehab while their club starts regular play.
The five-man rotation will feature 4 guys that didn’t throw a pitch in a Reds uniform last season; two are veterans, two are prospects with plenty of upside, then there’s a guy who looks like a printer copy of a third starter, but will be the second arm for the Reds.
Old guys Scott Feldman and the homecoming-bound Bronson Arroyo are respectively the number one and number five starters, but the concept is that they’ll act as innings eaters.
Meanwhile, it’s the Reds #2 prospect, Amir Garrett, who will pitch on day number four, while their #9 prospect, Rookie Davis, will pitch third.
Then, Brandon Finnegan, the guy who was genetically designed to be a number three starter, will be pitching second. Oh well.
I don’t want to give you more of the oddities of this team’s pitching situation, because you’re just ready for Opening Day. You want to know that your team is going to bring home a trophy sooner rather then later; this isn’t the read that’s going to tell you that, but I do think it’s not as distant as you might imagine.
Maybe I’m a dreamer.
I’ve never seen a Cincinnati professional sports team advance in a playoff tree, because the last time either the Reds or Bengals did so was when Davey Johnson brought the 1995 Reds to the NLCS, losing to the Braves in a 4-0 sweep.
Then again, maybe I should shut up and let the Boss do the talking.
Happy Opening Day.