After five consecutive losing seasons, four consecutive years of losing 90+ games, and a seemingly endless amount of time since the Cincinnati Reds ever played a game with any sort of relevance, it seems somewhat of a fool’s errand to attempt to pen a season review piece about what went right this season. On the whole, of course, things haven’t been right, weren’t right this year, and don’t appear to be - on paper - fixed enough to project much pending right for next year.
That said, there were at least a few pertinent aspects of the team that stand out as concrete success stories from the 2018 season, and as we look back over the year as a whole, we’ll highlight those here.
The Reds finally addressed their bullpen issues via free agency, and it largely worked like a dream.
We’ll ignore that Yovani Gallardo was ever a Red here. Can we do that? Let’s just do that.
Gallardo debacle aside, the Reds sunk money into the free agent relief market for the second consecutive year, this time adding both David Hernandez and Jared Hughes on cheap, multi-year deals on the heels of the 1-year deal they doled out to Drew Storen prior to 2017. This time around, they got some wonderful production - and have both around and penciled in as big parts of their 2019 plans, too.
Hughes and Hernandez combined to allow just 35 ER in 142.2 IP - a sterling 2.21 ERA - and the Reds have both under team control for the 2019 season for a combined $4.625 million. Not bad for a duo that produced 5.1 bWAR total in 2018.
Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza, and Scooter Gennett hit the heck out of the ball.
Having depth and positional competition has long been something that teams have used as a motivating force, aside from its importance as an insurance policy. With Nick Senzel as the team’s top prospect - and the #4 prospect in all MLB according to Baseball America - knocking at the door in AAA getting time at 3B, 2B, and SS, it seems that might well have had a residual impact on the players in front of him at the big league level at those respective positions.
Eugenio Suarez brushed off an early stint on the DL to post career-best numbers in hits (149), homers (34), RBI (104), as well as posting a career-high .893 OPS and 135 OPS+. That’s the kind of production you can only hope to see from a franchise cornerstone in the first year of a 7 year, $66 million contract extension - and that’s exactly what the Reds got from Suarez in his age-26 season.
Scooter Gennett, meanwhile, hit the cover off the ball again in 2018, somewhat justifying the team’s insistence on keeping him around after striking gold with him on a low-cost waiver claim prior to 2017. He flirted with the NL batting title, ultimately hitting .310/.357/.490 in 584 PA and throwing the once-obvious future of the Cincinnati infield into question as he enters his final season of arbitration-eligibility and, for now, team control.
As for Jose Peraza, the failed 2B experiment with him in 2017 initially looked like it might be a similar outcome in 2018 as he took over for Zack Cozart at SS, but the 24 year old eventually put those fears to bed. Then, he kicked them the hell out of all of our minds with a brilliant finish to the season. His .742 OPS for the full season hardly tells the full story, too. Despite dipping to an ugly .250/.274/.330 season mark on May 20th, he knocked the cover off the ball for the final 110 games of his season, hitting .304/.347/.453 over 482 PA, his 12 dingers in that stretch a welcome surprise from a player who had been a bit punchless in his time before that span. That, hopefully, is just the tip of the iceberg for a player who is now the obvious SS of the present and future entering this offseason.
The Reds got Curt Casali for basically nothing - and he hit.
Curt Casali was ‘purchased’ by the Reds from the Tampa Bay Rays on May 31st, some three weeks after sending Devin Mesoraco to the New York Mets in the deal that landed Matt Harvey. From the start of June to the end of the season Casali proceeded to chip in with a .293/.355/.450 line in 156 PA, and the 29 year old - who is under team control through the 2021 season - now looks the part of a catching complement alongside Tucker Barnhart for the near future that’s capable of solid enough offensive and defensive contributions at what will be a pretty bargain-rate price considering both options are multi-year veterans.
That alone is a good thing to have. That it cost the Reds nothing but a tiny bucket of cash to make happen is that much better, and it’ll allow them to wait for former 1st round pick Tyler Stephenson to marinate slowly in the minors for as long as they need.
Before getting hurt, Jesse Winker was an offensive machine.
The start of the 2018 season was a rough one for Jesse Winker, and there’s not really any way to deny that. With the four-man outfield rotation largely a three-man rotation with Winker sprinkled in early on, it was clear that he was out of sync in the season’s early going.
Once May 23rd rolled around, however, Winker didn’t just hit the way most prospect wonks had predicted he would when he was coming up as a prospect - he hit that well and with power. Over the final 46 games he played, he posted a Joey Votto-like .349/.460/.541 line in 177 PA, and his per 162 games played pace during that sample was enough to make you drool at having him in the everyday Reds lineup going forward: 25 HR, 113 RBI, 103/78 BB/K - yes, 103/78 BB/K, not K/BB.
Obviously, the shoulder injury that ended his season will put a dent in his normal routine, and it hopefully won’t put a dent in the emerging power he began to display in that breakout. And, of course, that’s a cherry-picked sample that doesn’t show the struggles he dealt with at the beginning of the year. Still, his overall .298/.405/.431 rookie campaign (with more walks than strikeouts) fits the profile of the player who was hyped as a potential offensive force coming through the minors, and the trade of Adam Duvall this season has cleared a path for him to resume that role nearly everyday going forward.
(And for now, we’ll just leave his OF defense out of this for the time being.)