Baseball is a sport built on things that shouldn't happen. That's why making predictions is both great fun and hilariously futile. It's also why, if you're going to bother making predictions, you might as well come up with some crazy shit.
Back in March, it was no fun reading, "The 2016 Cincinnati Reds will be a bad baseball team." Not just because, as Reds fans, it's tough having that drilled into your skull with every season preview you read, but also because it was incredibly obvious. The team had just traded arguably two of its three biggest stars in the winter, and that was after trading four starting pitchers over the previous calendar year. Everyone knew the Reds would be bad. And here we are, at the exact halfway point in the season, with a team that is more than halfway to 100 losses.
The fun stuff lies beyond those obvious cases. The fun stuff is saying, "Guess what? 38-year-old David Ortiz is gonna be a legitimate triple crown threat in his final season." The problem is, when you say that, people start yelling and throwing things at you. Your mom walks behind you, watches what you're typing, and says "God, that's so stupid I'm kicking you out of the basement." Now you're homeless, and can't even watch to see if Ortiz proves you right.
And God, does it being right feel good. It would have taken a lot of thinking to be right about much of the Reds' 2016 season. It would have taken being bold. But mostly, it would have taken just being plain dumb.
So let's pretend I'm that dumb. Well, I am dumb, but that variety of dumb. Let's pretend it's March 1st, spring training is about to start, and I'm frickin' Redstradamus. Here's a few things we would have predicted, that would have been mind-numbingly stupid, and would have been 100% accurate:
1. Joey Votto is going to have the worst offensive season of his career
Oh hell yeah. I'm starting this list off hot. Joey Votto, or as he's known around here, "Jesus", is heralded in every corner of the known and unknown universe as the best hitter in the Reds' lineup by a wide margin. The Reds have just traded away the only other legitimate offensive threat from 2015's lineup, leaving Votto sandwiched in the order by the likes of Eugenio Suarez and Brandon Phillips. This means no one should ever want to pitch to Votto, and when they do, he'll be able to use the lost season to hone in on his own skills, sharpening his abilities' even more. His OBP could be over .500! He could be Barry Bonds with one third the home runs!
Instead, he's gonna have the worst season of his career.
I'm serious! It'll start with three hideous, atrocious-looking strikeouts on Opening Day against Jeremy gosh-damn Hellickson of all people. The career-worst strikeout rate won't let up from there, and the batting average is pretty much gonna stagnate in Todd Frazier-territory (who will actually see his own batting average fall into Jay Bruce-territory). He'll still be above-average, with an OPS+ around 115, but he won't be at the level we're so used to seeing from Joey Damn Votto. Oh, and he'll be a nightmare on defense, at least according to bWAR. So much for everyone's one reason to watch the Reds this year. I guess it's a damn good thing that...
2. Adam Duvall will become the most fearsome left field bat in baseball
Yeah, that throw-in we got from the Giants for two months of Mike Leake? He's gonna wrap up the first half of the season with more home runs than Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Davis, and everyone else you can come up with who isn't Mark Trumbo or that Frazier character. He'll strike out a bunch, just like all of you knew he would, but he's somehow going to buoy his batting average over the .250 mark despite all of those missed swings. Every at-bat will be an event, and every time you think he's going to slow down, he's just going to press the pedal further into the floor.
His bat will be so impressive, you won't even need to think about his defense in left, which will... also garner the highest value of anyone at his position in the major leagues. With these two combined, he'll be the most valuable player on the Reds through the first half. I swear I'm not on drugs. This will happen.
3. The Reds only free agent signing of the winter will actually prove to be pretty important
Show of hands, who knew who Blake Wood was three months ago? Who is just now seeing his name for the first time here on March 1st? That's fine, you'll learn to love him soon, because he's gonna end up being the hot, sticky glue that holds the bullpen together.
Because this bullpen will.... actually, never mind. You can't know. If there were an asteroid heading towards earth, primed to kill everyone on it, I wouldn't want to know. I'd prefer to just in my apartment and eat my waffles in sweet, ignorant bliss until it hits. So that's what I'm going to gift you guys. Sit there and eat your waffles. Everything's fine. Blake Wood's 3.20 ERA does not lead the bullpen. His 3.44 FIP will not leave every other arm far, far behind. The announcement that he is entering a game will not sound like news that the fire department has arrived at the scene of a house fire. Waffles are good and everything's fine.
4. Brandon Finnegan will outlast Raisel Iglesias in the starting rotation
HEAR ME OUT! These are both guys who's scouting reports have long pegged as a reliever long-term. Relatively few people outside our corner saw this pair as anything other than a neat eighth and ninth inning relief combo. The idea of one of them going to the bullpen halfway through the 2016 season would not be a big surprise.
The one that sticks in the rotation just won't be the guy who struck out ten or more hitters in three straight games last season. It won't be the guy who some people think might be the replacement for Johnny Cueto as the Reds' dominant top of the rotation arm. No, it'll be Brandon Finnegan that will be on pace for almost 200 innings (not that the Reds' front office will allow this to happen) when the season reaches its half-way point.
There's two ways to look at this. On one hand, Iglesias might not be able to be what everyone is currently hoping he will be. On the other, the Reds have gotten a 23-year old left-hander to show enough stuff to give the Reds a chance to win on most nights he pitches, while showing enough growth to be legitimately excited about his future. He's also not pitching on June 30th. In fact, the Reds don't even play, so don't bother looking for them on TV. Just keep eating those waffles.
5. Jay Bruce will out-OPS everyone on the team
Hey wait, we actually predicted that already!
5. Zack Cozart will be the second most valuable player on the Reds, by far the best shortstop available at the trade deadline, and will almost certainly bring back a disappointing return
Zack Cozart had all of us pretty excited before his gruesome knee injury in 2015. He was hitting better than he ever had, by a considerable margin, and was still his ultra-reliable self on defense. One of the biggest questions about the Reds' 2016 season is whether he'll be able to bounce back and contribute at close to the level he did before the injury, and if it might be enough to make him a viable trade candidate.
Well, I've got good news and bad news.
Cozart's gonna be better in 2016. Better than 2015, or any year before that. He's gonna be on pace for 20 homers and 40 doubles, carry a high average, and do it all out of the leadoff spot while being worth a good two wins on defense. This will make him easily not just the best available shortstop, but probably the best infielder available in July. This will be huge for the rebuilding Reds, whose phones will begin ringing off the hook from teams like...
Look, the time for the Reds' grand rebuild has come a few years too late. Everyone here knows that already. Now more than ever, even contending teams are highly protective of their young talent. Sure, you've got your random Dave Stewart thrown into the mix every once and a while, but for the most part, the Addison Russell's and Noah Syndergaard's of the world just aren't up for grabs anymore. It takes a premium player to fetch a premium prospect, and even then it isn't an easy sell.
There's also the fact that most contending teams are strong up the middle. It's relatively rare to have a 2015 Mets team come along that is winning at break-neck pace while simultaneously having like five holes to plug in their lineup. There's no one like that in baseball this year (especially with the White Sox being butt again), which means anyone who wants Cozart likely isn't desperate for his services, nor are they desperate to keep him away from a rival.
All of this means that the second most valuable player on the Reds is not all that likely to bring back a prospect that would even crack the Reds' top ten list when he arrives. This could motivate the Reds to hold onto Cozart and his $3 million salary until the winter, when teams are going to be more willing to do significant reshuffling to their lineup, which would probably work out fine. After all, how many players can you think of from last summer that had a massive drop-off in value in the last two months of the season?
.....I'm sorry. I'll leave you to your waffles.