It’s hard to write seriously about a “best-case scenario” without wandering into hyperbole. A pie-in-the-sky piece isn’t interesting or informative. “The best-case scenario for the Cincinnati Reds is winning the pennant!” Well, duh doy. That’s the best-case for all the teams, anywhere. And it’s not realistic.
But for the first time in several years, the Reds have enough pieces in place that, if things work out just right, they could surprise a lot of people around the league (not you all, though, because you read Red Reporter dot com). It used to be all projection, all future-tense prognostication. But this season, if you squint, it’s not difficult to imagine a team that actually competes.
And that’s what I want to dive into here. What if, God forbid, the Reds in 2018 actually get fortunate luck?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a realistic best-case scenario for the 2018 Cincinnati Reds.
Well, this one is easy. At age 33, Joey Votto had probably his best all around season in his entire career. He fell just short of winning the NL MVP, but the reigning NL MVP doesn’t play in the NL anymore. For my fight fans out there, I’ll just go ahead and crown Joey Votto interim-NL MVP, in that case.
We can’t expect Votto to play like this forever. And maybe the year 33 to year 34 is the “fall off the cliff” increment for Joey. But this isn’t that piece, and there’s not really any reason to believe that’s the case. It’s hard to believe that Votto could be any better at this point, though, so we’ll just call this one: the best-case for the 2018 Cincinnati Reds is that Joey Votto continues to be Joey Votto.
Anyone going to bet against that one?
The biggest difficulty here is trying to figure out how a pretty good 2017 lineup is going to replace the 5 WAR hole left by the departure of long time SS Zack Cozart (which, still feels kind of weird to type).
But there are enough moving parts here to see how the lineup, at least offensively, could actually be just as good or better.
This will be the season that perennial top prospect Jesse Winker starts and spends his season in MLB, and in his 2017 cup of coffee, he was pretty incredible. His .298/.375/.529 2017 line is probably a little aggressive, at least when it comes to expecting him to recreate it in his first full year at the ML level. And most would point to the power production; the 7 HRs he mashed at MLB was more than he’d ever hit at a season and a half at Louisville. But most would point at the power production and not mention that Winker has dealt with wrist injuries over the course of his minor league career, which has certainly sapped that potential. Given health, he’ll get to the power stroke. Trust that.
Regardless, there will be a book on Winker now, or at least soon. Which is why I won’t say he’ll recreate or out-produce his 2017 line. But even then, he doesn’t have to. Just his everyday presence makes the outfield better. All of those plate appearances that went to Patrick Kivlehan last year? Those, and more, should be Winker’s now. Remember when Scott Schebler injured his shoulder last season? Enter Jesse Winker instead of whoever the hell else they put out there. When Billy Hamilton inevitably injures himself Jesse Winker is there should they want to slide Scott Schebler into CF for a game or two. That defensive situation isn’t ideal, but now, all of the sudden, the entire outfield can punish you with the bat. Not to mention the platoon possibilities.
And if Winker DOES happen to match or surpass his 2017 line for the full 2018 season: Zack Cozart’s offense is essentially replaced. In one player.
Best-best-case? Jesse Winker looks like a pretty good candidate for Rookie of the Year.
I want to be more bullish on Scooter for this purpose, but really, “all” he needs to do is be as good as he was this year. Or, maybe better put, prove that 2017 wasn’t an outlandish fluke.
I make it sound easy, but of course it’s not.
Scooter was worth 2.5 bWAR last year, mainly from 2B. And he’ll have that position everyday in 2018. But that was the best he’s ever done. Best-case scenario for the Reds means he doesn’t revert closer to the guy that he was prior. It’s as simple as that.
Best-best-case scenario: Scooter is actually better in 2018, if you can imagine that. That equates to three infield positions playing at All-Star level.
This could be where we get silly.
Senzel won’t break camp with the Reds. He was never going to. And after getting most of his work in at SS in Goodyear, he’s going to be moving to 2B at Louisville.
And that’s great.
Because come May or June, when he’s raking the way we all think he’s going to be raking, the Reds can bring him up to play either position. He’s insurance for multiple positions across the infield. And since we’re talking about the best-case scenario, he could even push his way into the lineup at either position. Which either makes Scooter an excellent PH option in the right situation, or pushes Jose Peraza into a super-sub role that could actually help out the outfield, leveraging him and Billy Hamilton in CF.
And now everyone’s hitting everything.
Best-best-case scenario: Remember Cody Bellinger in 2017. Meet Nick Senzel, 2018. Not 40 HRs, but more premium positions.
Here’s where you make or break the 2018 Reds, obviously. Everything could break exactly the way I described above for the lineup. But we’ve already seen what a good lineup can do with an abysmal rotation.
The easiest but most realistic “best-case” for the 2018 Reds rotation is health. That’s both easy and stupid; every best-case for every team’s rotation is health because it just doesn’t happen. Pitchers pitch, which means pitchers get hurt. And we’ve already seen that this Spring, and we’ve seen it with the same guys. The Reds still don’t know how long Anthony DeSclafani is going to be out. Michael Lorenzen, too, is hurt, which should end his bid for the rotation. Oh, and Brandon Finnegan had to be yanked this Spring Training, too, but he’s throwing in games again and might be ready by the time the team needs a 5th starter.
Despite all of that shitty news, it doesn’t seem like the Reds are over a rail like in previous seasons. This isn’t a “throw Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed into the fire because we don’t have arms” situation. Nor is it a “Sure, we’ll break camp with Rookie Davis in the rotation” situation.
The Reds actually have pitchers with ML experience to turn to that aren’t 35+ years-old. They’re young arms. They’re good arms. They’re young and good arms!
Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle
Each has the potential to be as good or better than we all expect. But for the purposes of this exercise, what if all of them are better?
A lot of digital ink has been spilled on Luis Castillo. I don’t need to rehash it here. He was great last year. He has the potential to be great this year. He could (and maybe should?) be the Reds resident ace ASAP. Sal Romano has already been told he’ll make the team and had a 3.17 ERA in his last 50 IP or so last year (despite a 5 ER in 4 IP blow up to Boston). He’s also had a great Spring. It’s easy to project him as a back end starter... but what if he’s better?
And then there’s Tyler Mahle. Easily the most raw of the three, Mahle has ML experience with better production through the minor leagues. He’s always been pegged as a Mike Leake-type due to his pitchability. But what if he’s more of a Johnny Cueto-type?
These three, day-in and day-out, are already better than anything the Reds had throwing on a regular basis last year. And then, of course, there’s...
There are few best-case scenarios for the Reds that don’t end with Homer Bailey being productive, whether it’s from the rotation or a newfound home in the bullpen.
But we’re being optimistic here, and the Opening Day starter showed signs of resembling his old self toward the end of last season, pitching 4.28 ERA ball in his last 48 IP after a disastrous 10 ER outing against St. Louis.
The best-case for the Reds brass is that Homer Bailey returns to his 2012-2013 form. That’s almost certainly not going to happen; he probably wouldn’t be that good at this point and this age regardless. The game has changed. But luckily for the Reds, he doesn’t have to be. What he does have to be is a steady and good presence, whether that results in above-average league production in the rotation or a reliable piece in the bullpen. I’ll look for it being the former.
And we didn’t even talk about DeSclafani and Finnegan and what they can and will contribute to this rotation when healthy.
Historically bad pitching? Not in 2018.
The injury to Michael Lorenzen muddies this a bit, but the addition of Jared Hughes and David Hernandez accounts for an immediate upgrade over Drew Storen and Blake Wood. At the very least.
Raisel Iglesias is always great and assuming Wandy Peralta can recreate his solid 2017, or at the very least can lock down a lefty role, then the only huge question mark at this point is Lorenzen, but we all know what he can do when healthy.
Thing is, the Reds have some firepower at the farm that could help in the bullpen, too. Zack Weiss, who was a darkhorse to make the pen several years ago, is back and presumably healthy. Tanner Rainey is somewhat of my darkhorse this year.
But that’s the point. They have a whole host of talented, young pitchers who are now a year older and a year more experienced. Not even all of the starters can make the big league rotation, so they’re in the mix, too. It looks like, already, the Reds will be starting the year out with Amir Garrett in the pen. While the door isn’t shut on him starting, it’s not all that hard to imagine that after the Spring that he’s had (while also being fully recovered from 2017’s bum hip), he blossoms into a sort of Andrew Miller-lite for these Reds. Even if the rotation starts a fire or two, the Reds have more and better firefighters to turn to in 2018.
It’d be nearly impossible for this unit to be worse than they’ve been over the last couple of years. They’ll be better. But there’s a pretty good case to make that they’ll be a lot better.
Hell, I don’t know.
This piece is intentionally devoid of any actual “projection.” I’ll leave that to the people smarter than I.
But the point is that after a long, cold rebuild, the pieces are finally starting to be put in place. We saw flashes of it last season, as dismal as it was. There should be even more flashes of it this season. And with some fortunate luck, with several of the important pieces playing up to or even exceeding their expectations and talent, this team can make some noise.
Best-case? I could see the Reds in 2018 making a serious run at the second wild card. It won’t be easy; the secondary NL teams are still very good. The Nats, Cubs, and Dodgers are still favorites in their respective divisions. The Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Brewers are all still good and, in some places, better than last season. Hell, even the Phillies, who seemed to still be a step behind on their rebuild a year ago, made splashes this offseason that may set their timeline forward.
But baseball season are funny like that. They’re long and almost always provide us with several unexpected scenarios by September. Worse teams than this one have surprised before.
But still, if/when this team finds itself in the hunt down the stretch, try and act surprised.