Fresh off of dropping 2 of 3 to the Texas Rangers at home over the weekend, the Cincinnati Reds are right back where they’ve spent the bulk of the last five seasons - last place in the National League Central. Their preponderance for losing close games repeatedly only to occasionally have their bats explode for a runaway victory has become something of a pattern, simultaneously showing us just often enough how good they can be while consistently mixing in frustration after frustration.
Fact is, they’re 31-38 on the season, and those numbers are getting big enough to suggest that pattern is less a pattern and more just who these guys are.
One guy who has not made his mark for the Reds in their 69 games played is Scooter Gennett, whose groin injury in spring training has cost him almost half the season to date. He, though, is hopefully about to put that to rest, as tonight he begins his rehab assignment, first with the Daytona Tortugas of the A+ Florida State League.
If Scooter is anything like the Scooter we’ve seen over the last two years, he’ll be a boon for these Reds, even though 2B has been far from the problem so far this season. Cumulatively, the Reds have picked up 1.6 fWAR from their 2B so far this season, tied with the Minnesota Twins for 10th best in baseball. Derek Dietrich, despite his brutal June slump, has largely helped pick up the slack in Scooter’s stead, but the likes of Jose Peraza and Kyle Farmer have also chipped in at key times, and the 27 dingers honked by Reds 2B is the second most from the position in all of baseball.
Fortunately, that trio of fill-ins offers a decent bit of versatility on the defensive side of the ball, something that Scooter, for all his positives, does not. That means manager David Bell should be able to still get plate appearances for Dietrich, in particular, more often than he’ll have to bench the May superstar, though even then things begin to get a bit murky. Dietrich is hell on RHP, but then again so are the people who play the non-2B positions in which he’d theoretically get some time against them: Jesse Winker in LF, and Yasiel Puig (with his career reverse platoon splits) in RF.
Trade season, as it is wont to do, is both just around the corner and the likely best answer for how this will all shake out. Perhaps the power surge we saw over the weekend from Puig is a sign that he’s finally emerging from his season-long slump into the slugger we all expected to see after his trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that might secure him both regular PA after Scooter’s return but also a ticket out the door prior to the July 31st trade deadline, seeing as his reputation and a summer hot streak would make the pending free agent a prime trade chip. Perhaps the burgeoning reputation of former Miami Marlins hitters as they’ve been shipped elsewhere and thrived will make the versatile Dietrich the Reds biggest trade chip, especially given his low salary this year and year of team control in 2020.
Or, perhaps the Reds choose the same stay the course route they’ve stuck with in recent seasons with their marketable veterans, holding on to them until season’s end to try to pick up wins where they can and establish some form of a culture of non-losing. It’s what we saw with Matt Harvey when the Reds couldn’t settle on a suitable place to dump him, as well as what played out with Zack Cozart despite him being in the midst of a career year.
Adding Scooter to this roster makes the Cincinnati Reds better, to be sure, but it will also force a number of decisions to be made that have so far been left up in the air. But whether or not there is enough time left in this season - or time left before trade deadline decisions send this season off the rails - remains to be seen, and it would certainly be nice to see the remaining Reds kick into a higher gear before his return to ensure that this season is still even remotely salvageable when their All Star 2B gets back.
At 31-38 and with the world-beating Houston Astros now in town for a 3 game set, that sure seems quite the ask at this point.