The Reds have reached something of a make-or-break point in their rebuild. All of their major tradeable pieces have been traded and the bulk of their young core has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. As a fan of this particular baseball team (they are my favorite team, actually), I’m really anxious.
They have some really big and important decisions to make. If, as is planned, this team is going to compete next season, they need to get some stuff straightened out. Here’s how I, Charlie Scrabbles, would do it if I was the one in charge.
Sorting Out the Rotation
Bryan Price commented sometime in the past week or so that he believes if the Reds had some consistency out of the rotation, they’d be a competitive team. And I don’t think he’s wrong. The rotation’s ERA so far is nearly 6.00. Regardless of how good the rest of the team is (and the rest of the team is good), that isn’t going to get you where you would like to be.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Reds will pitch Tim Adleman, Luis Castillo, Homer Bailey, Scott Feldman, and Sal Romano. Considering how banged up, ineffective, injured, bad, and not pitching all good the rotation has been thus far this season (and all the way back into last season), there really isn’t anything to complain about here. These are the five guys who are currently able to pitch. So they’ll pitch.
Hopefully, this rotation is temporary. Neither Scott Feldman nor Tim Adleman should be in the Reds long-term plans. I assume that as the trade deadline approaches, a handful of teams will be interested in trading for Feldman. He has proved to be a durable and reliable starter this year (by far the best among the Reds), so they should be able to get a not-insignificant return in trade.
As for Adleman, I like him. He’s a good story, a decent pitcher, and one dogged sumbitch. But as this season has progressed, he hasn’t. He is giving up a lot of home runs and he has run his FIP up to an unsightly 5.61. He has been there when the Reds needed him, and I certainly appreciate it. But he isn’t the answer to the Reds’ rotation question.
None of their young prospects has taken advantage of any of his many opportunities, but that doesn’t mean any of them shouldn’t get more chances. Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, and Robert Stephenson are opening the second half in Louisville, but they should be given plenty of starts in Cincinnati before the season is over. Same goes for Sal Romano, as well as Rookie Davis and Anthony DeSclafani when they are healthy again.
The Reds’ young hitters have hit about as well as the young pitchers have thrown poorly. Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler, neither of them highly touted prospects, like ever, have developed into extra-base hit machines. Eugenio Suarez started the season burning like comet, but he has cooled. Still, he is getting on base at a .358 clip, which is well above average. Zack Cozart and Joey Votto are All-Stars. These fellas can score some runs.
There have been, however, a few weak spots that could use some attention. As stupendous a runner and outfielder as Billy Hamilton is, it might be about time to admit that maybe he shouldn’t be a full-time player. I love him, like he is one of my favorite players in all of baseball, but his OBP for his career - nearly 2000 PAs now - is only .297. I’m not ready to give up on him, but there is also the issue of young Jesse Winker. I think they can make a workable outfield rotation with Duvall, Schebler, and Winker playing in the corners, Billy starting most of the time in CF, and Schebler covering center when Billy sits. They can all get about 75% playing time over the rest of the season, which I think is pretty fair. At the very least, Billy cannot lead off any more.
Another weak spot is Jose Peraza at second base. I like him a lot too, but he is hitting even worse than Billy is. He is still only 23 so I’m still a few years away from giving up on him, but Scooter Gennett, Galaxy Decimator, is making things really interesting. Price has done a really good job of getting him at bats, whether he is pinch-hitting, playing 2B, or roaming the OF. But I think Scooter needs to start every game at 2B when the opposing pitcher is right-handed. He is crushing righties this year, but he has a pitiful .617 OPS against lefties. Still, he should get the bulk of the playing time at second.
As fun as it has been watching Zack Cozart shellac the baseball on his way to starting the All-Star Game, the Reds need to move on. There has been some chatter about signing him to a contract extension, but that is really not a good idea. As delighted as I am to see Zack put together a season like this, it’s not something I think he can keep up. Fortunately, I don’t think the Reds are willing to offer him anything close to what he can expect to get on the free agent market, so that might take care of itself. Fortunately, Jose Peraza needs plate appearances and shortstop is his native home.
The bullpen has fortunately fared much better than the rotation. Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen have established themselves as high-quality relievers. Tony Cingrani has been very effective when healthy, and Wandy Peralta and Ariel Hernandez have been impressive in their rookie seasons.
Drew Storen and Blake Wood have pitched well enough to be potential trade candidates. Storen signed a low-cost one-year deal this winter for just this purpose. He has proved himself again capable of getting big-league hitters out and he is likely hoping to get some long-term contract offers after this season. Wood hasn’t pitched as well as Storen, but he has a few more years of team control left and the Reds can easily do without him. They may not find a suitable trade for him, which would be just fine. All told, I think the bullpen is in decent shape. And when you consider that more than one of their quality starting prospects will likely end up in the ‘pen, it looks even stronger.
Bryan Price took over the reigns of this team at pretty much to wrong time. He was promoted to manager after the 2013 season when the Reds lost the Wild Card play-in game in Pittsburgh. Since then, the Reds’ winning percentage is only .430. He has been at the wheel through the entire rebuilding period, and now the Reds have a one-year option to consider for him for next year.
Does he deserve to keep his job? If you are measuring the quality of the manager by looking at team performance, then absolutely not. But of course, that’s a reductionist and naive way of looking at it. The Reds need to determine how much his players respect him, how comfortable they are working with him, and how well all of these young players have matured under his watch. These things aren’t so easy to measure. But if it were up to me, I’d stick with him. I’m puzzled as to why he so quickly gave up on his radical bullpen experiment, but that aside, I think he has shown enough to deserve it and at the end of the day, it’s only a one-year extension. Next year is the really important one, so make the big decision then.
What heartens me the most about the team’s position and this process is that I can’t really look back over the last few years and say “Christ, that was a really dumb idea.” There have been no two-year contracts for Willy Taveras or trades of two regulars for a pair of broken bullpen arms. Pretty much every major decision the Reds have made has been defensible (Well, the Chapman trade was kinda frustrating.) So I’m really excited right now, you guys. This is going to be fun.