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Was this Reds season a success?

How should fans feel as the 2016 season draws to a close?

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For a number of fans, the answer to the question posed in the title of this article boils down to wins and losses. "You play to win the game" (thanks Herm Edwards). Yet at the end of the day most should realize this is a fairly disappointing way to live. Only one team is going to win a championship each season which means twenty-nine franchises failed. If that is your only standard of success then this Reds season has to be a failure.

Realistically there are ways for a team to be successful without actually winning it all. Each season there are a handful of teams who have little chance competing from the beginning. Everyone but the most optimistic of fans (they primarily reside on Facebook) would have put the Reds in this category prior to the 2016 season. For those teams success can be defined by taking the steps necessary in order to experience long-term, sustained competitiveness.

Did the Reds take those steps this season? Are they in a better position in September then they were in April? Let's assess that question with a handful of other questions.

Was this Cincinnati Reds season a success?

1. Did they take advantage of their most valuable trade chips?

For the sake of this discussion we'll consider any trade that the organization made following the conclusion of the 2015 season. With that time frame in mind (mid-October 2015 to now), how has the front office leveraged their veteran players with trade value?

  • Traded Todd Frazier to the White Sox, who sent Michae Johnson, Frankie Montas, and Trayce Thompson to the Dodgers. The Dodgers sent Brandon Dixon, Jose Peraza, and Scott Schebler to the Reds.
  • Traded Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees for Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, and Tony Renda.
  • Traded Jay Bruce to the Mets for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell.
As it stands, these are the three established players the Reds were able to flip for prospects. It's still too early to fully assess any of these moves, but for now the Frazier deal appears to be the most successful. At the time the Frazier trade was announced there were a number of fans discouraged by the return (this is probably true of any trade). On paper it looked like the Dodgers might have received the prospects with the most upside. Fans were left to wonder if this was another example of Cincinnati looking for low-risk/lower-upside prospects.

However, the past few months have done a lot to change the perception of this deal. While Todd Frazier has hit 38 HR this season, he sits at average major league production by wRC+ (100). His .221 batting average is a career low, and he was no doubt impacted by a surprising .226 BABIP. Todd Frazier was a 2 win (fWAR) player for the White Sox this season which is a significant drop from his back-to-back 4 win+ seasons with the Reds.

In his place, the Reds (primarily) received Jose Peraza who they will control through the 2021 season. While no one can expect him to keep his recent production up over an entire season, he has shown the ability to be a top-of-the-order hitter. Not only that, Peraza should be a fixture in the middle of the Reds infield over the next handful of seasons. A cost controlled top of the order hitter who will play at least league average defense is exactly the kind of piece a contending team needs. This doesn't even account for the good things the team has seen from Scott Schebler. While it's unlikely he's the long term answer in a corner outfield spot, he's shown enough skills to have some value to a major league roster.

The other trades are much harder to assess for various reasons. The issues surrounding the Aroldis Chapman trade have been well discussed. It's hard to fault the team for what they received in return given the legal issues surrounding the closer at the time. No doubt the haul the Yankees received from the Cubs for Chapman just a few months later soured fans on this deal even more. While it's hard to fault the front office for the return, it's easier to take issue with the team not trading him prior the 2015 trade deadline.

It will probably be a year or two before we can really assess the success of the Jay Bruce trade. For now just about any return would appear to be a success given Bruce's struggles in New York. It's probably safe to say the Reds made the right call by hanging on to Bruce, letting him play the first half of this season in Cincinnati, and flipping him once he showed progress from two disappointing seasons. It's doubtful the return the Reds could get for Bruce would ever be much higher than this. The rumors surrounding Bruce at the deadline were't all that compelling, and it seemed like most teams were fairly low on his value. At the end of the day the Reds were able to acquire a player who hit .274/.335/.456 in Triple-A this season and should be able to competently man a middle infield spot. As with others, he might not be the long term answer, but he's helped the team make a step in the right direction.

As of now the biggest question mark surrounds the players that could still fit into this category. Brandon Phillips had an above average second half at the plate, and with only one year remaining on his contract other teams might be willing to roll the dice on him (if he's willing to go). The Reds could still trying to trade Zack Cozart, but given his production and price it's hard to think this could amount to much.

Of course the wild card in all of this is the mythical Joey Votto trade. With how well he's playing he could bring back a franchise altering return given a host of factors (how much money the Reds are willing to eat of his remaining contract).

The Frazier trade appears to be a success, the Chapman return is disappointing but understandable, and the Bruce trade is uncertain for now (I'm cautiously optimistic).

Conclusion: Slight success

2. Have the prospects developed? Are they closer to making a major league impact?

Few things will speed up a rebuild like the development of home grown talent. In this regard the Reds had a bit of a mixed bag in 2016. Probably the most concerning developments surround the two prospects most familiar to Reds fans: Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winker.

In 24 starts at Triple-A Louisville Stephenson had a 4.41 ERA, and he continued to struggle with his control. His struggles got to the point where he was on the receiving end of public criticism from Triple-A manager Delino DeShields. His time at the major league level has been more of the same. In this past three major league starts he's given up 4 ER in each, and he's failed to make it to the sixth inning of any of those games. At one point Stephenson was held up at the prized pitching prospect int he Reds organization, but it's hard to say that he's done much to warrant that acclaim in 2016.

Jesse Winker endured a slow start to the season, but has definitely come around as the year progressed. The lingering question around Winker is his diminished power. He's only connected on 3 HR in 106 games at Triple-A, although he did battle a wrist injury for part of the season. For the past few seasons fans penciled in Winker's name as the Reds future left fielder. However, that projection isn't as certain today. The emergence of Adam Duvall was unexpected, and the aforementioned Schebler will push for playing time in the short term. Throw a pretty clearly never catching again Devin Mesoraco in the mix and you're quickly running out of innings for a high-contact, low-power corner outfielder.

Given those two cases there are still things to be really excited about on the player development front. Several young players clearly took steps forward this season. Brandon Finnegan looks like a different pitcher thanks to a mechanical tweek. Amir Garrett tore through Double-A and looks poised for big league innings sooner rather than later. The team is admittedly excitedly about the development of Tyler Mahle, and several position players showed clear signs of improvement (e.g. Shed Long).

One player worthy of attention who just recently entered the system is Nick Senzel. With only a few months to make an assessment, it's hard not to be excited about the Reds top 2016 draft pick. The twenty-one-year-old excelled against Single-A pitching (.329/.415/.567), and could rapidly advance through the system.

The list could go on-an-on with players who had productive seasons in the minors. There are reasons for optimism here, but casual fans might not see it because of the struggles of well known prospects (Cody Reed could be thrown into this mix). Every farm system will ultimately be a mixed bag of hits and misses. It's fair to say that's where the Reds find themselves with prominent prospects right now. Some are poised for success, others look lost, and which two of those sides win out could determine a lot about the near future.

Conclusion: Push

3. Have they set themselves up for success in the future?

If we allow ourselves to dream a little dream, what could the Cincinnati Reds lineup look like in the middle of next season? Here is one analysts opinion:

There are one or two things you might quibble with here (Winker in LF or Mesoraco at C), but on the whole this is probably right. While this probably isn't a lineup that will compete for a World Series, it is an upgrade from 2016. The lineup mentioned above is younger than the previous two seasons, and contains a handful of players who could be on the next contending Reds team.

What about the rotation?

Next season it will likely be some combination of Bailey, DeSclafani, Finnegan, Straily, and Stephenson/Reed (maybe even Garrett).

At first glance this feels much more uncertain then the future roster. Until Homer Bailey can put together a full season there will continue to be questions surrounding his health. Straily was a nice surprise this season, but it's hard to know if he can repeat that performance. Finnegan looked solid, and made some changes that could lead to sustained success. DeSclafani did his thing and ended the season as the Reds best starter by ERA+.

That's four potentially solid options in the rotation. The biggest question (outside of Bailey) is whether or not Reed, Garrett, or Stephenson can develop into a top of the rotation starter. For now it's hard to imagine that from Stephenson. Reed struggled in his major league performances this season, but he's shown enough "stuff" to still think it could fall into place. Garrett seems to be the pitching prospect people are highest on as the 2016 season comes to a close. If two of these three can turn into above average major league regulars...that would be a good thing.

Even though there are still major question marks, I think you can say the Reds have taken steps toward a more competitive lineup and rotation in 2017. We haven't even mentioned how the bullpen figures to be more competitive with a full season of Iglesias and Lorenzen.

Conclusion: In the short term the team has set itself up for more success. In the long term...we'll have to wait and see.

Before bringing this discussion to a close there is one more question I want to ask. Not so much about the team, but about our experience as fans.

4. Was this season entertaining?

The following quote comes from Sam Miller on the Effectively Wild podcast.

"[T]he point is to entertain people, and make them forget that we are all dying right in front of each other. That this is just this horrible, rotten slog to rigor mortis. That we are going to lose everybody we know, we are going to lose everything we have and the only way to distract ourselves is by separating our day into distractions."

This quote was clearly a bit tongue-in-cheek, and it presents a pretty pessimistic view of the course of human history. Yet, maybe there is some truth to this. Baseball is meant to be entertaining. We follow this team because we enjoy it. At the end of the day the on the field success of a major league franchise does little to change our every day lives. However, the enjoyment, relationships, conversation, and yes...distraction baseball brings is welcome.

Given this criteria I have to say the 2016 Reds season was definitely a success. There are few things as enjoyable as watching Joey Votto hit or Billy Hamilton run. Even in the misery of early season losses, a depressing bullpen, and an unwanted home run record there was some joy in the shared commiseration we experienced together. At the end of the day I have to remember that I have the kind of life that allows me to be concerned about, in detail, the development of a professional baseball team. For the new friends I've made, enjoyable conversations I've had, and joy I've found in specific moments this season was definitely a success.