For the first time since I can remember, conjuring up predictions about the Cincinnati Reds has been a complicated task. In each of the winters that preceded inevitable last-place finishes during this deep, dark rebuild, the writing was more or less on the wall.
You knew which players were going to play all the time, and pretty well knew how they’d hit. You knew the pitchers that were going to pitch, and had seen their ERAs and walk rates spike to comical levels in previous seasons. The cast was the same for each and every production, if you will.
This year, though, we’ve got an entirely different case.
With the influx of outside talent, new management, and early injuries (and service-time controversy) all already impacting the roster, it’s a bit hard to pinpoint which players are actually going to be on the field most of the time as the 2019 season begins. On top of that, so damn many of them are pending free agents - read: trade bait - that it’s hard to even figure out in which scenario the Reds will finish the season post July 31.
But here we are. The dumbitude continues, even if there’s a lot less conviction in my predictions this year than before. That’s the fun part anyway, right?
Jesse Winker hits 25 dingers in .300/.400/.500 campaign
You have to go all the way back to the 2017 Louisville Bats season to see that Jesse Winker hit a grand total of 2 - two - dingers in his 347 PA there, slugging a whopping .408 in that time. That backed up a 2016 season spent almost entirely at the AAA level in which he socked 3 dingers in 448 PA for Louisville as part of a lovely .384 slugging season.
All the makings of a power bat, right?
Well, Winker long fought wrist issues, had surgery to help fix those, and then dealt with a shoulder injury (and surgery) that derailed what had the look of a brilliant rookie campaign last year. Before going down, he posted a .299/.405/.431 line that looks more typical of what you might expect from him, but that also featured a torrent final 45 games stretch where he hit a blistering .348/.459/.546 with 7 dingers.
I say he’s healthy, he says he’s healthy, and I think the power stroke he’s flirted with at times in his younger, healthier days in the minors shines through this year. Pair that with his excellent strike zone management and innate ability as a hitter, and I think he’s in-line for one of the more bang-up, Votto-esque offensive seasons we’ve seen in a Reds uniform.
Joey Votto walks 150 times
In his Hall of Fame caliber career, Joey Votto has done many incredible things. He’s belted as many as 37 dingers in a single season, led the NL in OPS and OPS+, and walked as many as 51 times more often in a single season than he struck out.
Never, though, has he topped 143 walks in a season. That changes this year.
In part due to his increasing age and apparently diminishing power, I think his batting approach continues to become a bit more defensive, albeit with the positive caveat that he’s just not going to strike out at a prolific rate. Pair that with him hitting 2nd in the most potent lineup he’s been a part of in years, and I think he turns in a season in which he has one of the most prolific walk totals in MLB history.
Keep in mind a player has only crossed the 150 walk threshold eleven times in MLB history, with Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams accounting for nine of those seasons themselves.
No Reds reliever tops 15 saves
I just drafted Raisel Iglesias in the Red Reporter fantasy draft last night. What the hell was I thinking, I wonder, now that I actually start to think...
We’ve been given lip service largely to the idea that the bullpen won’t be based on 7th, 8th, and 9th inning roles anymore, and that they’ll be based on leverage situations. Iglesias is hands down the best reliever the Reds have, which means he’ll be up against the 3/4/5 hitters in the opposing lineup of close games whether that’s in the 9th inning or not, and that could potentially put a dent into his ‘save’ numbers while actually increasing his value.
I believe under David Bell and Derek Johnson that we actually see that put in place, meaning the Reds bullpen this year might operate a lot like - and hopefully as successful as - the Milwaukee bullpen from last year. That bullpen saw a the trio of Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, and Josh Hader divvy up saves depending on scenario, and I think that’ll end up happening with the Reds in a similar way. None of that trio, for the record, topped 16 saves last year.
Iggy will get some. So, too, will David Hernandez, Jared Hughes, and Amir Garrett. But none of them will top 15.
Sonny Gray gives the Reds a legitimate ace-esque season
It’s clear the Reds are tying their hopes to Gray in a big, big way going forward. Heck, he can earn as much as $50 million from them over the next five years if things go completely as planned, which is a commitment that itself shows the team thinks his 4.90 ERA as a member of the New York Yankees last year was completely out of character.
Gray, you’ll remember, has flashed ace-esque talent in the past, his 208 innings of 143 ERA+ ball in 2015 earning him a 3rd place finish in the AL Cy Young voting. I think he gets back to that level of brilliance, albeit with a tad fewer innings on his ledger at the end of the day. He is playing NL ball now, of course.
I’ll say he fires 186 innings of precisely, exactly 3.17 ERA ball. No more, no less. That’ll come with a K/9 of nearly a punch-out per inning and a 1.18 WHIP, in case you want every single detail I can come up with. To get to that point, his HR/FB% will have to drop from the absurd level it was in Yankee Stadium to a level more in-line with how he pitched on the road last year, and I think that will be the primary driver of his improvement, GABP’s diminsions be damned.
Welcome back to acehood, Sonny.
The Reds are two games over .500 at the July 31st trade deadline
And hoo boy, I have almost zero idea what the hell is going to happen at that juncture. Do they trade Tanner Roark and Alex Wood because they’re both going to be free agents that aren’t quite prominent enough to extend a Qualifying Offer to? Do they trade pending free agent Yasiel Puig even though he’s already clubbed 30 dingers as a Red? Do they cash-in on free agents to-be Zach Duke and David Hernandez because they’re both complete bargains at the back of the bullpen?
What about Scooter Gennett?
For as big as the ‘how good can these revamped Reds be’ questions really are, the ‘what the hell do they do with everyone if they’re good’ question is still the one that’s my biggest bugaboo. Do they dismantle this thing if their trade chips look shiny and polished if they’re actually winning games in a hyper-competitive NL Central? Man, that’s so incredibly tough to say.
I’ll say this - these Reds are going to be on the cusp of something come late July, but they’re still going to trade away a few major pieces. Cash-in on them, if you will. Those specific pieces: Tanner Roark, Matt Kemp, and Alex Wood, all of whom I think get shipped out even if they, and the Reds, are playing brilliant ball. Each of Yasiel Puig and Scooter Gennett will stay Reds until the end of the season, though, since I’ve got a sneaking suspicion each is going to stick around Cincinnati beyond just the 2019 season.
And to tie a bow on this, and the entire predictions, I think that success to July 31st and the decisions to hold on to other assets pays off at least a bit, as these Reds will continue to win just enough to keep things interesting into September. The optimist - the dumb optimist, mind you - says these Reds finish with their first winning record in millenia, at 83-79.