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Five biggest questions for the Cincinnati Reds heading into 2018

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I said ‘biggest’ since there are way more than just five questions.

San Diego Padres v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Reds are 96 games under .500 since their last winning season. With no real idea how to begin this particular article about planning for the future, I figured that’s one fact in particular worth emphasizing ad nauseam as 2018 looms, since the current offseason has featured just about as little transactional movement as I can remember during a winter.

Empirically, you’d think that a club fresh off a trio of 94+ loss seasons would be moving and shaking like a touchdown dance after all of that losing, but that’s not the current case with the Reds. Along that similar rationale, you’d also think that a team that’s so willing to stand pat to date would be one with very few things up in the air at the moment. The Reds, though, appear to be that rare bird bucking both trends, as they’ve been both quiet on the open market and possess a litany of questions surrounding the current state of affairs. It wouldn’t be Cincinnati if that wasn’t the case.

These five questions are the biggest ones still facing the Reds as 2018 smacks us in the face this weekend.

Anthony DeSclafani

Leave it to Red Reporter dot com to hype an article about questions and then lead with one that’s not a question at all. That’s unaccountability for ya, bud.

With Disco, though, it’s hard to frame just a single question. Is he healthy? That’s probably the biggest one, since we’ve not seen him ramp up for 2018 yet after missing the entire 2017 season with elbow issues. Can he stay healthy? That’s equally as big, since he reportedly entered both the 2016 and 2017 seasons ‘healthy’ yet lost half of one to an oblique injury and all last year with the ‘bow. Can he be a 130 ERA+ guy again? Can he anchor a staff? Is he a guy the Reds should try to extend on the cheap after down years? Can more than 17% of Reds Facebook comments spell his name correctly in 2018?

Anthony DeSclafani is an enigma wrapped in a Starter jacket sporting the logo of the now defunct Omaha Riddles. He could be the ace of a revamped staff, and knowing they’ll add an ace to a revamped staff in 2018 would totally justify the Reds’ inaction on the starting pitching front this offseason. Disco could also be out again, hurt again, and a thorn in Dick Williams’ side again in 2018. Given his upside talent, though, he’s the single biggest question for the Reds at this time, since adding pitchers of his ilk is exactly what every team in baseball aims to do as cheaply as possible.

Can Jose Peraza effectively be an everyday shortstop?

Zack Cozart is gone, gone, gone. But are the Reds worried, or are they sittin’ on top of the world?

When Cincinnati chased Jose Peraza two years back, they did so with quite the vigor. They initially wanted him in the Aroldis Chapman deal that fell apart, but then circled back to loop the Dodgers into the trade talks that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox just to make sure they landed Peraza at that point. The Cincinnati Reds like Jose Peraza, have liked Jose Peraza, and there’s not a whole lot that the opinions of prospect prognosticators can do to change that.

Despite having the chance to take the 2B job and run with it in 2017 (and falling flat), Peraza will now be tasked with a tougher everyday defensive assignment while fresh off posting a 63 OPS+ with the bat. Now, I’m firmly of the belief that your bat can be a wet noodle at shortstop if your glove is A+ at the position, but Peraza has yet to pass the eye-test or the wonky-defensive-metrics-test with the glove, something Cozart did even when he failed to hit at all in his early years. Peraza certainly has youth on his side and ample time to mature into a well-rounded infielder, but whether or not that happens in 2018 seems rather important given the club’s lack of ready-made depth at SS right now.

To trade Billy, or to not trade Billy - that is question three.

Billy Hamilton has been in trade rumors this entire winter. At times I feel that typing BILLY HAMILTON GIANTS is my own personal Field of Dreams - if we build it, it will come.

Whether or not the Reds choose to trade Billy isn’t even necessarily the point of making this question three, though. What to do about centerfield long-term is the question, since trading Hamilton leaves a void at a premium position that doesn’t have a ready-made heir apparent in the system at the moment. If Billy isn’t the answer now, next year, or three years from now in the eyes of Cincinnati’s GM, then move on...but if he isn’t, who the heck is?

Scott Schebler can play centerfield the way I can drive a NASCAR - I can hit the pedals and turn the wheel until oops sorry I wrecked at 200 MPH and took nine others with me. Phil Ervin somewhat fits that bill, too, and despite Jose Siri and Taylor Trammell showing great promise, they just wrapped a season in A-ball. Sooo...

When, where, and how do Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker play this year?

Two great prospect bats that do something we’ve not seen outside Joey Votto in a Cincinnati draftee in quite some time: get on base, and get on base often.

Unlike basketball or football or most any other damn sport on the planet, baseball doesn’t play against a clock. Each team gets a finite number of outs before their day is done, and the ability to not make one of those 27 each time you step in the batter’s box is incredibly important. Winker and Senzel have made meals on not making outs as they’ve climbed through the minors, and that’s something the Reds’ lineup has sorely missed year after year after year.

Where they’ll play, though, has yet to be resolved.

Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler are penciled in ahead of Winker as everyday corner outfielders. Senzel has Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza, and Scooter Gennett ahead of him at his primary infield positions. With the idea that ‘you don’t call up your best prospects just to sit them on the bench everyday’ in mind, getting those two playing time everyday in 2018 will require a yet to be determined juggle. Obviously, for Winker that will be needed as soon as possible whereas Senzel won’t be called up until mid-year, but there are a pair of logjams on the roster significant enough to impress Karl Hungus at the moment.

How does Michael Lorenzen bounce back?

Raisel Iglesias is incredible, and an anchor-arm any bullpen would love to have. Jared Hughes, we hope, will be a cromulent arm in the midst of the 2018 ‘pen. But as the market has shown league-wide this winter, teams are willing to shell out gargantuan contracts to relievers in attempts to build super-pens, and the Reds haven’t seemed inclined to join that trend despite obviously needing improvement there.

Mike Lorenzen once seemed destined to be a back of the bullpen dynamo, a guy capable of throwing his 98 mph fastball past you for more than a single inning (and doing so with a minuscule ERA in the process). The 149 ERA+ he posted in 2016 after returning from elbow issues showed exactly that, as did the 2.93 ERA he posted in 46 first half innings last year. After that, things completely fell apart for Lorenzen, and the 6.32 ERA he posted during the second half of 2017 left much to be desired.

If the Reds can lean on Lorenzen to be the guy that he’s been at his best, the revamping of the bullpen doesn’t need nearly as much augmentation as the year-end numbers would suggest. If not, well, the Reds will need someone completely out of the blue to emerge into the roll that other teams are paying upwards of $10 million for at the moment, which seems a tall task.