After the recent success of the early 2010s, the 2014 Cincinnati Reds had a season to forget. They had injuries at just about every part of the roster, with multiple starting pitchers missing significant time, and over half of the starting lineup spending time on the DL. Most of the same pieces are back in 2015, but plenty of questions still remain with the rest of the NL Central getting stronger.
So what's new from last year?
With 4/5 of the 2014 rotation reaching free agency after the 2015 season, the Reds had to make some moves to capitalize, and those were the biggest changes they made. They traded Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon for young players and prospects, and will rely on some of those young players to try to compete in 2015. As for position players, a healthy roster represents an upgrade from last season, but they did some work to improve bench depth and the left field position, bringing in the veteran Marlon Byrd to add some pop to a lethargic lineup.
So all those guys left? Who's going to start games for them?
Projected Opening Day rotation:
The Reds rotation will look a bit different this year than in years past, but will still be anchored by Johnny Cueto. He’s now the bona fide ace of the staff, and will look to build on a season where he was one of the few bright spots on a dismal team. Mike Leake also returns, fresh off of another solid season of innings-eating.
From there, things get a little hazy. With Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon gone, the pressure will likely shift to the newly acquired Anthony DeSclafani, who was the centerpiece of the Mat Latos trade. In a surprise twist, it looks like he'll be joined by Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias, who looked locked into a bullpen spot but will be starting games from here on out.
Homer Bailey will eventually take the last spot in the rotation, but he’s still recovering from forearm surgery and expected to miss at least his first few starts of 2015. There’s an open competition for that spot currently, with Jason Marquis as the current favorite, but Paul Maholm also in the mix.
What about the bullpen?
The Reds’ bullpen has been all about Aroldis Chapman, and will continue to be in 2015. Newly acquired Burke Badenhop should join Sam LeCure as the primary setup men, as well as the returning power righty Jumbo Diaz and lefty specialist Manny Parra. There have been rumblings that two of the Reds better starting pitching prospects may start the year in this year’s bullpen, including 2013 first round pick Michael Lorenzen. The other looks to surprisingly be Tony Cingrani, who looked primed for a rotation spot. All of these are subject to change, of course, with non-roster invitees like Kevin Gregg and Jose Mijares also in the mix.
The lineup looks pretty similar though, right?
Billy Hamilton CF
Joey Votto 1B
Todd Frazier 3B
Jay Bruce RF
Devin Mesoraco C
Marlon Byrd LF
Brandon Phillips 2B
Zack Cozart SS
The Reds’ infield will look like it has in the past few years, with a finally healthy Joey Votto rejoining Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, and Todd Frazier across the infield. Jay Bruce will be back in right, and Billy Hamilton will start his sophomore campaign in center, but the biggest change will be Marlon Byrd in left field. He replaces the underachieving Ryan Ludwick/Chris Heisey duo. Devin Mesoraco returns behind the plate after an all-star season and a new contract.
How about the bench?
Brayan Pena C
Skip Schumaker OF
Kris Negron IF
Brennan Boesch OF
Eugenio Suarez IF
There are still plenty of questions to be answered on the Reds’ bench, with backup catcher Brayan Pena and utility man Skip Schumaker the only two regulars returning. The Reds like Kris Negron for one of the infield spots, and we’ll likely see two of Eugenio Suarez, Brennan Boesch, and Chris Dominguez to round things out. You may remember Suarez from when he played for the Tigers.
Do they have any help coming from the farm system?
The Reds system is usually ranked as right in the middle of the road, but does boast some solid depth in the outfield and on the pitching end. That’s personified with their top two prospects, outfielder Jesse Winker and starter Robert Stephenson. They’re prospect 1a and 1b, depending on who you ask, and both could contribute to the 2015 team depending on how things play out.
Why isn’t this team full of players with established track record getting any respect?
The Reds haven’t been getting tons of respect nationally, and maybe rightly so. Most of their "upgrades" centered around getting their regulars healthy, while the rest of the division went out and made tangible upgrades.
So the Reds didn’t make any big moves. Should they have? Will they?
Reds fans have been waiting for big moves to happen for the past 3 seasons, and they finally got a taste of it with Mat Latos being dealt, but the deadline will be crucial for the Reds. They’ll have to play well early to put themselves in a position to be deadline buyers, where they can deal from their prospect depth to finally give themselves the upgrades they need to compete for the division. If they don’t win games in April and May, Johnny Cueto might find himself as the best available pitcher at the deadline, which could mean a few dismal years upcoming for Reds fans.
Was Mat Latos right about the Reds’ medical staff?
When Mat Latos left the Reds, he torched the medical staff and how they handled injuries in his tenure at GABP. There’s no denying that injuries played a huge part on the 2014 season, and the fact that Votto and Bruce had such a tough time recovering basically relegated the Reds to the cellar. They’ve already got Sean Marshall on the DL indefinitely (again) and Homer Bailey already banged up and Devin Mesoraco battling an early concussion. Time will tell, but the Reds will need all hands on deck if they hope to compete.
Will the starting rotation recover quickly enough?
Starting pitching has long been a major contributor to the Reds’ recent success, including a season in 2012 where the same 5 starters made 161 of the team’s 162 starts. After losing two of their stalwarts from last season, they’ll need the young pitching they’ve developed (and acquired) to step up and contribute. The Reds realistically have 4-5 guys that could step into that 5th starter role right now, but will one of them stick? That’s what they’ll need to answer.
Is Joey Votto healthy?
From most reports, yes. The Reds' first baseman is capable of MVP-type numbers when he's healthy, but he hasn't been for two seasons now. He's still one of the most cerebral hitters in the league and is able to contribute, but the Reds need him to carry the rest of the offense if they're going to be a major contender.
What should we expect from the Reds this year?
I think the Reds will be better than people are expecting, as long as they stay healthy. If all of the questions above get answered and the team is able to stay healthy, the offense will boast 6 former All-Stars who are capable of doing some real damage. Johnny Cueto will have to be Johnny Cueto, the rest of the rotation will need to provide solid innings, and the bullpen will need to be better than they have been, but the talent is here to win 90+ games.
However, given the state of the NL Central and the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs all improving, I'd project the Reds to finish somewhere around 3rd in the division unless they are able to provide massive upgrades around the deadline.