Dusty Baker finally won his World Series over the weekend, leading the behemoth Houston Astros past the Philadelphia Phillies and tying a bow onto his Hall of Fame resume.
The Major League Baseball calendar is dead. Long live the Major League Baseball calendar!
Though we have reached the point of the year in which the most amount of time possible now exists before then next MLB game, that’s by no means an indication that baseball, or even Major League Baseball, is now dormant. Arizona Fall League play is still cooking, as are games across the Carribbean, and the transactional fury that is the offseason has already begun in full force. There will be rumors. There will be Winter Meetings. The Cincinnati Reds, even, might do something.
As we enter into season two - or is it three? - of this iteration of Red Rebuilding, there are a number of key questions the Reds must address, the most important of which I’ll try to highlight here. Keep in mind I used the verb ‘address’ specifically, as I do not expect the Reds to actively answer some of these in a way reflecting an adequate, legitimate MLB club, but that doesn’t mean they won’t slap a swath of duct tape on it and wait another year to get back to it.
These are not ranked in any particular order of importance. I’ll let you do that in the comments, should you choose.
Can the Reds trust Jose Barrero? Where?
Though the last 2.5 years have done a number on everyone’s ability to tell time, it does seem incredible, in hindsight, that just one calendar year ago the excitement for Jose Barrero was nearly at the level of that of Elly De La Cruz right now. He’d blasted his way through both AA and AAA to a combined .919 OPS clip, swatted 19 homers in just 89 games at those levels, risen to be ranked among the Top 20 prospects in all of baseball by some publications, and did it all while playing plus defense at shortstop.
A busted hamate bone and lost 2022 season later, and it seems so many have already moved on from him as a key part of this rebuild altogether.
Yes, he was abysmal in 2022. No, he has never hit a breaking ball at the big league level. Still, as of writing this today he’s roughly 3.5 months older than Jonathan India was on the day India made his big league debut, and at 24 still has all the tools in the world - if he can figure some of them out again.
Whether he’s a shortsop, 3B, 2B, or moved to the threadbare OF mix, seeing if he can rediscover the magic of his 2021 campaign is a vital part of this current rebuild.
Finding the right innings-chomper for the rotation
Mike Minor was the guy the Reds found to chomp innings in 2022. There are thousands of more profane ways to say ‘that didn’t work out at all,’ and since I’ve not yet had coffee this morning, I’ll let you say those.
While Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, and Graham Ashcraft all have tantalizing talent, they’re still young, mostly unproven, and all three battled injuries of varying severity in 2022. Simply hoping they stay healthy alongside Connor Overton and Justin Dunn - two other inexperienced starting arms with both promise and lengthy injury histories - ain’t how you build a rotation, even if simply ‘getting through 162 games while rebuilding’ is your goal instead of ‘win games.’
The starting pitching market is once again going to be robust this winter, and the Reds should be dipping into it even in their ghastly frugality. Minor, though he did not work out, was still a significant expenditure. While Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom are clearly out of the question, there will still be a tier of established SP with experience and upside out there, and hitting on a good one could go a long way towards taking the pressure off the rest of the emerging core during was still figures to be a trying 2022 season overall.
The outfield of the Cincinnati Reds in 2022 wasn’t just poor, it was predictable. Even during the first big wave of rebuilding, you’d like to hope there would have been someone, something out there that you could watch be poor yet say ‘yeah, but he’s just getting his feet wet - there’s more to come from him there!’
Aside from the little bit we eventually got to see from Jake Fraley - who’ll already be in his age 28 season in 2023 - there was none of that. Nick Senzel is what he is, and it ain’t much. Aristides Aquino ran into every 29th pitch he saw, and that one pitch went far. TJ Friedl showed some late life, which was nice, but color me less than overwhelmed with excitement from the idea of we might have found our next 4th outfielder!
The outfield needs work. Extensive work. Their collective 86 wRC+ was tied for 3rd worst in all of baseball, just a hair above bottom-feeding Texas (83) and Miami (85). And unless Barrero (or Spencer Steer, or another infielder) gets moved to a completely new position, there isn’t anything in-house coming up from the minors to help the cause.
Tommy Pham was not a ‘home run’ signing, but even he compared favorably to the rest of the unit from last season. Finding help out there will be key to giving the lineup some depth, taking pressure off the other bats, and giving fans of the Reds literally anything worth being enthusiastic about, all of which would be nice.
Is it a pillow deal for Michael Conforto? A splurge to sign hometown kid Andrew Benintendi? Will they really be so cheap as to say here’s Travis Jankowski and you’re going to like it?
Kyle Farmer will turn 33 during the 2023 season, is likely to be owed about $6 million in arbitration for that season, and is just fine as a baseball player. He’s not a bad baseball player. He’s not a great baseball player. If Kyle Farmer is your, I dunno, 7th or 8th best baseball player, you’ve probably got a half-decent baseball club.
This is a 62-100 baseball club who is allergic to spending money, and has perhaps the most electric shortstop prospect in the world in Elly De La Cruz knocking on the door. I already covered the Jose Barrero side of the shortstop equation, too. For a Reds club that seemingly drew a line in the sand about their intentions and directions, keeping Farmer around at that cost to play shortstop again doesn’t exactly fall in line with everything else they’re doing, even though the basic concept of ‘pay $6 million for a guy who can do what Kyle Farmer does’ is a completely normal, acceptable piece of general MLB business.
Will they get creative with his versatility again? Play him at 3B, at 2B, at 1B...or even a bit behind the plate again? Will they deal him? Or, will they stubbornly keep him at short and move their future pieces all over the place to accommodate him still being on the roster?
I’d keep him, play him everywhere, and get him 475 PA again, which is literally the article linked in the paragraph above this one for all you who did not click it. The Reds, though, are often irrational.
Mike Moustakas, team-record free agent signing
It’s a storyline, and a big one (from a bottom-line perspective). Sadly, though, I don’t think there’s a ton of plot to this one.
The Reds owe him a pile of money. He’s going to get it whether the Reds cut him, or find some other bad contract to take back in a swap of stinky deals. Either way, don’t expect the 20-sum million that’s being spent for the player or the other player to significantly impact the play of the 2023 Cincinnati Reds.
Future Hall of Famer Joseph Daniel Votto
My back hurts when I wake most mornings. The idea of plucking the occasional gray hair has come and gone, outweighed by the realization that they will simply continue to emerge.
The discourse about doling out a contract extension large enough to warrant keeping around the National League Most Valuable Player was one of the finest in which I’ve engaged on the baseball internet, discourse that looped-in stud prospect Yonder Alonso and his eventual ascension to the 3rd spot in the Reds batting order. That era of Reds baseball, and of Red Reporter, is what got me behind the keyboard on a daily basis to begin with.
That the 2023 season will be the final guaranteed year of the deal signed to keep Joey Votto as a Red drops a very, very large time-stamp on my own existence. A decade of brilliant baseball from an unparalleled baseball force, sadly spent languishing on the roster of a team with little interest in pairing him with much else. We watched the Reds waste Joey Votto, and rather than getting the Disney ending of ‘they finally gave him one good team,’ we’re going to watch the Reds austerity outlast even Joey.
That he’ll be rolling into Goodyear this spring for what’s almost certainly the final time with a completely rebuilt arm/shoulder/bicep/swing only adds the the intrigue - barring a medical miracle, we’ll likely never see even the old Votto again. That’s not to say he’s got nothing left, of course, as he’s reinvented himself time and time again to achieve the Hall of Fame heights, but how quickly he’ll get to that reinvented level of excellence remains to be seen. After all, even in some of his most brilliant seasons in Cincinnati, hitting the ground running on Opening Day hasn’t exactly been his forte, and those seasons didn’t come on the heels of major surgery.
How the Reds approach the looming legacy of perhaps the best offensive player in their modern history will be watched with a powerful microscope here. They let their broadcaster emeritus flatulate all over him for much of his career, and anything approaching that will get middle finger after middle finger from us.
Is it a delicate situation? Sure it is - Votto’s got an option for 2024, and while the frugal Reds picking it up is a pipe-dream, the idea that Votto’s simply going to hang up his spikes after 2023 because of a contract is pretty laughable. The guy did destroy the pitching world as recently as 2021, after all. So, to publicly begin the sayings of goodbye to a player who might still bop and bash ‘til Nelson Cruz’s age would be egg-on-face, but so, too, would be failing to acknowledge Votto while he’s still around.
I don’t know the best way to navigate that, in all honesty, but we’re about to get to watch one team try.