The Cincinnati Reds are coming off a bad season (64-98) but their record made sense based off their lack of talent. After trading away top starting pitchers Johnny Cueto (7 wins, 6 losses, 2.62 earned run average, 120 strikeouts in just under 131 innings pitched with Cincinnati) and Mike Leake (9-5, 3.56), the Reds had nothing left but rookie pitchers to toe the hill the rest of the way. They also traded away outfielder Marlon Byrd and his 19 Reds home runs (who is still a free agent, by the way), a pattern that would continue during the off season. The Reds traded two of their top impact players, star third baseman Todd Frazier (.255 batting average, 35 home runs, 89 runs batted in, .806 on base plus slugging) and left hand pitcher Aroldis Chapman (4-4, 1.63, 33 saves, 116 striksouts in just over 66 IP). Frazier went to the Chicago White Sox in a three team trade that netted then infielder Jose Peraza (.292, 4, 42, .694, 33 stolen bases in Triple- A) and outfielder Scott Schebler (27 minor league home runs in 2013 and 28 in 2014). Chapman went to the Yankees in exchange for four minor league players, most notably right hand pitcher Rookie Davis (8-7, 3.56, 129 Ks in just under 132 IP). The Reds also selected former Yankees minor league outfielder Jake Cave (.278, 2, 39, .698) in the Rule 5 draft.
Though the Reds have traded away a good amount of their talent, they still return first baseman Joey Votto (.314, 29, 80, 1.000), a National League Most Valuable Player finalist of a year ago. Right fielder Jay Bruce (.226, 26, 87, .729) was nearly traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, a deal that was destroyed by medicals. It is very likely that the Reds will eventually find a trade partner for Bruce who is on the last year of his contract and will be a free agent after the season. The same cannot be said about second baseman Brandon Phillips (.294, 12, 70, .723), a player the Reds have looked repeatedly to move. A trade involving the Washington Nationals was nixed by Phillips due to his ten- five rights, a provision which allows a player to reject a trade to any team if he has ten years of service time- at least five of which with his current team. Phillips' contract runs through 2017 but contains a lot of deferred money, an agreement between Phillips and the Reds.
The Reds will have also be returning catcher Devin Mesoraco, coming off a lost 2015 season which saw him play in just 23 games after hitting 25 home runs for the team in 2014. Center fielder Billy Hamilton stole 57 bases last season, but took steps back as an offensive player (.226, 4, 28, .563). Shortstop Zack Cozart (.258, 9, 28, .769) looks to stay healthy the entire season which would provide depth as Eugenio Suarez (.280, 13, 48, .761) filled in admirably for him in 2015. Suarez could be the starter at third base, but he will get some competition from Peraza, who looks to become the everyday second baseman after Phillips leaves. Ivan DeJesus Jr (.244, 4, 28, .684) will get some look both in the infield and the outfield ideally serving as the team's top utility guy. One of the bigger intrigues for the Reds in 2015 will be that of outfielder Adam Duvall, who hit five home runs in 64 at bats last season. Duvall came over in the trade for Leake from San Francisco and has hit a total of 57 home runs in the past two seasons in the minors. The ideal Reds lineup would look like this: Peraza 3B, Phillips 2B, Votto 1B, Bruce RF, Mesoraco C, Duvall LF, Suarez/ Cozart SS, Pitcher, Hamilton CF. Hamilton's value as an offensive player has dropped to the point where a decent hitting pitcher is a better hitting option. Look for the Reds to use DeJesus and even Peraza in center field to spell Hamilton if he continues to struggle to hit.
Schebler and Cave provide depth in the corner outfield, but neither are center fielders. Tyler Holt is a pure center field option, but he is unlikely to make the team unless there is an injury, trade or the Reds simply decide not to keep Cave. Of course, Cave has to be offered back to the Yankees if he does not make the Reds 25 man roster per Rule 5. Suarez or Cozart and DeJesus should round out the bench with Tucker Barnhart (.252, 3, 18 in 81 games) serving as the team's back up catcher.
The Reds remaining top starting pitcher just had Tommy John surgery last May. Homer Bailey is edging to come back as soon as possible but history shows that pitchers likely remain out for 15 months which would put Bailey on track to rejoin the Reds in August. Perhaps Bailey can defy the odds and return much sooner than that but that certainly leaves opening day out of the question. The Reds two top starters should be Anthony DeSclafani (9-13, 4.05, 151 Ks, less than 185 IP) and Raisel Iglesias (3-7, 4.15, 104 Ks, just over 95 IP). Iglesias should improve this season and could be the team's number one starter by mid season. The rest of the rotation is going to be a crap shoot with left handers John Lamb (1-5, 5.80, 58 Ks, less than 50 IP) and Brandon Finnegan (5-2, 3.56, 45 Ks in 48 IP) leading the charge. Both pitchers are highly respected and were the key pieces obtained in the deal that sent Cueto to Kansas City. Right hand pitcher Jon Moscot looked great in AAA last season and made a couple late season starts for the Reds in September. Keyvius Sampson and Michael Lorenzen should be in the mix as well.
The Reds will look to converted reliever Robert Stephenson to be their new closer replacing Chapman. Though he has made just one relief appearance in his four minor league seasons, Stephenson has accumulate 488 strikeouts in just under 450 minor league innings. JJ Hoover (8-2, 2.94), Jumbo Diaz (2-1, 4.18) and Carlos Contreras (0-0, 4.82) look to back up Stephenson from the right side with Tony Cingrani (0-3, 5.67) serving as their top left handed reliever. Rookie Davis, a right hander acquired in the Yankees deal for Chapman, is also becoming a full time reliever and could turn some heads with a solid spring. Veterans Ryan Matheus, JC Ramirez and Pedro Villarreal could all make the team and provide some leadership to a young and unproven bullpen.
Top outfield prospect Jesse Winkler should make his debut sometime in 2016. His plate discipline is something that the Reds value very much and he has the ceiling to be a 20 plus home run hitter. The Reds have four young pitcher to keep an eye on. Left hander Cody Reed (also acquired in the Cueto trade), Amir Garrett, Keury Mella and Nick Travieso- all of whom will have an opportunity to make an impact in the Reds starting rotation this season. All have plus stuff with Reed providing the highest ceiling.
The Reds seem like a team that is likely to get worse before it gets better. Perhaps it may be strange to see one pick the Reds to finish with a nine game improvement over 2015. First of all, I think Mesoraco can come back healthy and return to form. I also think the Reds of right now are a better team with both Bruce and Phillips in the mix for the rest of the season, which as of now seems likely. Peraza and Duvall should both put up numbers and Votto remains one of the best hitters in all of baseball. Yes, the pitching scares me. But it is not like I am picking the Reds to make the playoffs. I understand that the Reds are in a complete rebuilding effort, but I think there are other teams in a worse position. Las Vegas puts the Reds at 71, I have them getting slightly above that, 73-89, forth place in the National League Central division.