The go-go glory days that saw the Cincinnati Reds win NL Central titles in both 2010 and 2012 came with added baggage, a carry-on of sorts that ushered in something the franchise had not seen in quite some time: stability. A set rotation, a set infield, and the combination of youth and big-budget contract extensions meant the Reds had a predictable core of players one could expect to watch play baseball for years and years to come. It cost money to keep the band together, and arbitration raises and extensions pushed the payroll well into team record territory.
Obviously, the reboot has chucked that out the window, the losses on the field finally becoming too often to warrant the lost income on the bottom line. As things currently stand, stability is a hard thing to fathom, as the list of Reds under contract beyond the 2016 takes no time to name. Joey Votto is under contract long enough to crack a starting lineup along side Joey Votto, Jr., and the ill-fated Homer Bailey contract still has at least 4 years and a minimum of $86 million left in its life. Both Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips are controlled by the Reds for 2017 should they want them, yet one has been tangibly traded twice already this winter while the other's been publicly shopped since the 2015 trade deadline. That leaves talented righty Raisel Iglesias - who's under contract through 2020 and under team control beyond that - and perhaps the single most enigmatic player in all of baseball at the moment, Devin Mesoraco.
What the heck is Devin Mesoraco at this point? The Reds surely hope he's the .387 wOBA monster who hit 25 dingers in just 440 PA in 2014, the former top prospect who most felt would be a middle of the order bat for many years. It's the reason why they committed to him so heavily early in his career by trading away catching compatriots Yasmani Grandal and Ryan Hanigan, and again why they invested in him with a 4-year contract after his breakout 2014 season.
Counting on a replication of that breakout year was a lot to ask of Mes in the first place, yet now he's entering the lucrative years of his contract on the heels of a torn labrum in his hip, an impingement that needed surgery during a lost 2015 season. Despite the .631 combined OPS he owns in the four other non-2014 seasons he's been with the Reds, he enters the 2016 season as the one real big bat the team is expecting to park behind Joey Votto in a lineup that's otherwise aging or completely green.
For what its worth, Mes insists that he's healthy, feeling good, and poised to enter Spring Training ready to go when pitchers and catchers report later this month. But even if that's how things play out, temper the expectations a bit that he'll somehow morph back into the Mes who bashed and blasted his way through the rest of baseball early in 2014 in the midst of a hot streak he himself admitted he'd never been on before. He backed his otherworldly .500/.541/.870 start through his first 15 games of the season with a .236/.330/.479 line over his final 379 PA, the latter being a much more realistic thing to expect from him despite the cherry-picked samples. And, all told, an .809 OPS from a catcher who can squat for 120 games a season is a luxury most any team in baseball would love to have, especially when he's making just over $5 million in 2016.
That's the rub, though. On the rebuilding Reds - a team that's effectively admitted that the next two years aren't going to bear much winning fruit - a player who's guaranteed over $13 million in the final year of his contract in 2018 doesn't seem to mesh with the long term outlook. Especially not with hip issues and an age over 30 at that point while playing the most physically demanding position on the diamond. And since the Reds have shown their hand that each and every player on their roster is available during this reboot, it's probably worth questioning whether a hot (and healthy) start to the 2016 season for Devin Mesoraco would mean he'd be shopped just like the rest of his generation of Reds.
Long term speculation aside, the Reds will surely hope Mes rounds back into his 2014 form whether that's the difference in 72-76 wins in 2016 or not. It's the lone path for getting value from him while he's under contract, whether that's in games on the field in GABP or in another team's uniform in exchange for pieces for the next great run in Cincinnati. On Groundhog Day, here's to hoping Punxsutawney's own doesn't get stuck with a painful repeat of a lost 2015.