The Cincinnati Reds just reported to Goodyear, Arizona to begin their spring training work for the 2019 season. So, let’s talk about the 2020 Reds, shall we?
That’s the point anyway, right? The Reds just ‘invested’ five full seasons of abysmal play under the banner of ‘rebuilding’ so that we Reds fans could look forward to a winning franchise again at some point in the future that was, shall we say, sustainable. Not a one-time affair, not a single season where the front office and ownership pushed all of their chips into the middle of the table to chase a banner, but a club with good players who’ll be around for awhile at an affordable rate and in-house depth to bolster that for good.
Yasiel Puig is an excellent baseball player, an even better draw for fans, and is now a Cincinnati Red. Most average fans couldn’t pick Tanner Roark out of a lineup, but if they stared at the back of his baseball card for a quick second, they’d instantly be happy to know he’s now a Red, too. Matt Kemp has had a phenomenal career, and while there may not be a ton left in his tank, there should still be some mighty dingers, and he, too, is a Red for now. Alex Wood looks on paper to be the best left-handed starter the Reds have had in their fold for years. Even Scooter Gennett and David Hernandez are still around as Reds despite the front office’s M.O. of ‘trade veteran players as they enter their walk year’ that we’ve seen play out time and time again over previous years.
The 2019 Cincinnati Reds season is designed to be significantly better than the 2018 vintage - including its awful 3-18 start - and that’s a welcome respite from what we’ve endured watching them for a half-decade. But if you roll your memory all the way back to late November, you’ll remember that this was a club fresh off a 95 loss season thanks in large part to a young starting rotation that floundered egregiously all season long. Tyler Mahle, former top 100 prospect that he was, hit a wall mid-year and struggled after a brilliant start. Luis Castillo failed to live up to the expectations after a brilliant rookie campaign thanks largely to falling flat out of the gate for a month. Jesse Winker’s hot start was curtailed by a busted shoulder and season-ending surgery, and even top prospect Nick Senzel’s pending debut remained pending due to a season-ending surgery of his own.
What’s the absolute coolest part about the 2019 Reds being infinitely better on-paper than the 2018 Reds is that the 2018 Reds are all still around - almost every single one of them, especially the ones that were supposed to contribute to the 2019 Reds all along. Castillo and Mahle are still Reds, still pre-arb, and enter 2019 without the weight of the world on their shoulders to resurrect the morbid pitching staff. Sonny Gray, Wood, and Roark bought them an extra year to figure that out. Winker, too, is still around despite the additions to the outfield of Puig and Kemp, and is still under team control until 2024. The 2019 Reds brought in Puig, Kemp, Wood, Gray, and Roark, and did all of that without ever considering dealing Senzel, still the brightest piece of the rebuild’s future, or his cohort Taylor Trammell, who has jumped as high as #12 in rankings of the top prospects in all of baseball.
Dick Williams, Nick Krall, and the Reds front office made the rebuild much more fun for 2019, but they never deviated from the plan they embarked on four plus years ago. That’s still the plan, to build from within, and to one day turn in a lineup card with Winker, Senzel, Trammell, Suarez, Peraza, etc. on it almost every single day. It’s just that they finally realized that there might just be a way to make the product on the field and the number in the wins column bring a bit more joy to Reds fans in 2019 while still sticking to that overriding mantra.
If you think about it, the front office turned a pile of players from their franchise that weren’t ever going to contribute in 2019 - and weren’t the favorites at their positions to ever contribute as starters given the rest of the farm around them beyond 2019 - and picked up a pile of players that might well lead the contributions in 2019, and did so without dealing a single piece that projects to be a roster cog beyond this season. And, they did so without completely breaking the bank, as their payroll of just north of $120 million is still below league average and only a hair above the team record they set at some $118 million in 2014. In essence, they made each and every best possible move this winter while still staying firmly within the rebuild’s parameters.
It’s brilliant, really.
Assuming we see no Sonny Gray-esque extensions doled out, just look at what the 2020 Reds might look like. The infield core of Joey Votto, Jose Peraza, and Eugenio Suarez will all still be around, with Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali behind the plate. 2B still looks increasingly as if it’ll belong to Senzel long-term, but if he takes to CF in 2019 as well as we all hope, that just increases the roster flexibility the Reds will have beginning next season. The outfield should boast the talent of Winker, Trammell, and Scott Schebler even if Senzel returns to the infield, but a successful 2019 in the outfield for Cincinnati’s top prospect would only serve to provide an even greater option out there beyond this season for manager David Bell. A bullpen headlined by Raisel Iglesias, Jared Hughes, and Amir Garrett will still be around, while a rotation headlined by Gray, Castillo, Mahle will also be available, with the talented Tony Santillan poised to enter that fray alongside will-be veterans Sal Romano, Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, and the likes.
Then, factor in the nearly $63 million of payroll coming off the books. If any of those pieces who’ve been given a pressure-free 2019 season to mature still don’t look the part of regulars, there should be ample money available to chase better alternatives. The Reds have made themselves better in 2019, but have also built-in a significant roster overhaul for the 2020 season one way or another, whether it’s by again promoting from their in-house depth or by pursuing upgrades on the open market with money they’ve actively freed up. Almost to the tee, that’s the definition of a rebuild, though they’ve managed to stay on that course while hopefully, probably bringing a hell of a lot of fun back to the fans along the way.
You should be excited for these 2019 Reds, as they’re going to be a fun bunch while they’re around. But even if a large number of them predictably aren’t Reds beyond this year, the team has managed to still be building a core that’ll be a fun bunch in 2020 and beyond, too - and maybe, just maybe, be even better in those years than in this one.