Over a 162-game season, many many more than 25 players will see action for any given baseball team. Just last season, the Reds employed 52 such individuals for at least one game. So while the official unveiling of the Opening Day 25-man roster is momentous in its symbolism, for all practical purposes it is no more important than an early-August spot-start by Tim Adelman.
But while the Opening Day roster is merely symbolic, it does give us one little morsel of value. See, it is the rare occasion where a team is forced to make a number of seemingly small but nevertheless interesting value judgments. With only 25 spots on the roster and over 30 ballplayers from which to choose, a team taking so-and-so rather than so-and-so gives us bloghole-dwellers a quick peek at how they view certain prospects, lineup construction, and pitcher usage. A few of these decisions are noteworthy this year, so I’d like to get out my GeoSafari Jr microscope and take a closer look at them.
Rookie Davis and Amir Garrett will be in the starting rotation and Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed will be in the bullpen
This here comes as quite a surprise. If you take a look at the prospect lists, Garrett, Stephenson, and Reed are clearly the three best young arms in the Reds’ system. Davis isn’t considered a notable prospect by any of the major outlets. He had a decent season in 2016, throwing 101 innings in AA with an ERA of 2.94. But he threw all of 24 innings in AAA and got beat around. Most anyone would assume he would spend 2017 in Louisville. But here he is, starting the third game of the season in the Reds’ rotation. And it isn’t like he drank up the sea down in Spring Training. He has thrown about 15 innings for an ERA around 4.00, which means nothing with some nothings on top. The Reds are saying he leapfrogged everyone.
The chalk bet woulda been Stephenson and Reed in the rotation. They both got a crack at it last year and both of them struggled (they both had ERAs higher than 6.00) but rookie struggles on a non-contending team don’t really matter much. Rookie and Garrett neither have any MLB experience, though.
I suppose this could mean a few things. Maybe it means the Reds feel like both Stephenson and Reed are better off in the bullpen. There have always been questions about both of them and their rotation stickability. So maybe that’s it. If that’s the case, I’m worried that maybe the Reds are jumping the gun on that decision. It’s not like either of them got legitimate chances to prove they weren’t rotation-worthy, and it’s not like there aren’t plenty of starts available for them on this rebuilding team.
So I dunno. My hunch is that we haven’t seen the last of either of them as starting pitchers, or maybe even something else entirely. But more on that later.
Bronson Arroyo is likely your fifth starter
On its face, this is all kinds of dumb. Like attempting to hold and defend the continent of Europe for five measly armies a turn in Risk dumb. Arroyo is 40 years old and hasn’t pitched the last two seasons. And the last time he pitched decently well was 2013, the last time he pitched for these here Reds. He is old and probably broken, which are two things few rebuilding teams want in a pitcher.
But you know, the more I think about it, the more this starts to make some sense. All of these young pitchers with whom the Reds are breaking camp can’t throw every inning. A team’s staff throws something like 1450 innings over the course of the season, and not a single one of these guys should be expected to throw 200 or so. I don’t expect Arroyo to do that either, of course. In fact, I kinda expect him to get his old worn-out ass handed to him.
So the Reds will need a few replacement-level arms just to get through the day-to-day. Bronson Arroyo might as well be one of them. He’s a familiar face after all, and maybe the old man could provide some pointers for these young fellas. I don’t think he is taking innings away from Stephenson and Reed. I think there are plenty of innings to go around this season. They might actually be well-served to get a few more Bronson Arroyos to help get through the long haul.
They claimed Scooter Gennett off waivers from the Brewers rather than keeping Desmond Jennings
In the flurry of moves yesterday, the Reds made the peculiar one of claiming Scooter Gennett. He’s a slightly-below-average hitter that plays a slightly-below-average second base. Apparently, he has also been working at third base and in the outfield this spring. The most interesting thing about him is that he has a dog’s name.
Jennings was a good player once upon a time. From 2012 to 2014, he averaged about 3 bWAR. He has always had problems staying healthy though, as he has never played 140 games in one season. The last two seasons, he has only gotten into 93 total games. Yeepers.
The talent is maybe still kinda there, but he got the squeeze because of the Reds’ unorthodox bench construction. It’s a good idea for a team’s 25-man to run three-deep at the premium defensive positions. You want a starter, a backup, and an emergency option. So with a four-man bench, you need a ton of versatility out of those four guys. And because one of them is your backup catcher, it’s really only three guys.
In those terms, Jennings’ value was his ability to backup in CF. But as it goes, the Reds are pretty well covered there without him. Billy Hamilton will be your starter, but there are plenty of fellas who can step in as a backup when needed. Arismendy Alcantara can handle it, as can Scott Schebler and even Jose Peraza. So while Jennings might have more upside than Scooter, he wasn’t absolutely necessary.
Scooter gives the Reds a bit more defensive versatility because he can play in the infield, but more importantly, he gives them a left-handed hitter. Jennings is a righty, of course. Alcantara can switch-hit and Kivlehan is also a righty.
All things being equal, I probably take Jennings over Scooter. But with this special bench they are putting together, I can see why they went the way they did.
They will go with a four-man bench and a nine(!!!)-man bullpen
To me, this here is the most fascinating development of the whole thing. The Reds have cobbled a stable of position players that boast some primo defensive versatility. Jose Peraza, Alcantara, Schebler, and Eugenio Suarez can all cover multiple premium positions, which affords them the ability to take one more pitcher and one fewer bench player.
My hunch is the Reds are really serious about this bullpen revolution thing. Every one of the nine guys they are carrying (aside from erstwhile closer Drew Storen) is capable of throwing multiple innings (and honestly I’m sure Storen could handle it, too). There are no specialists in this bullpen. There are no closers who feel entitled to pitch only in the ninth inning when the team is ahead. There are no lefty specialists who are incapable of retiring right-handed hitters. This is a large collection of generalists that can (hopefully) cover the last four innings or so of most any ballgame. See, nobody in this rotation is a classic workhorse ace who can routinely give you seven or more innings every time out. Aside from acquiring a bunch of classic workhorse aces, which is very expensive, a bullpen like this is probably the best way of solving that particular problem.
Look, this is probably not a good team. They are much more likely to lose 100 games than to win 100 games. But what these 25-man roster decisions tell me is that this team could be really, really interesting. I think these are the kinds of moves that an innovative and open-minded front office would make. Personally, I probably woulda put Reed and Stephenson in the rotation, but I’m willing to wait and see just how this bullpen is going to be used before I begin hollering too much.
Most importantly, I can see the logic behind every one of these moves and that logic makes at least a moderate amount of sense. And honestly, that’s more than I ever said about a lot of Walt Jocketty’s moves.