In the beginning stages of what appears to be a significant roster overhaul, the Reds enter the 2016 season with more questions than answers. After trading away Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake last summer to avoid losing them for only a draft pick, they followed suit this winter by dealing ace closer Aroldis Chapman, third baseman Todd Frazier, and attempting to trade both Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips.
That is to say, the Reds are nothing if they aren’t unstable. Such is life for a team that is rebuilding. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this is a team who is going to use a lot of players, likely make a number of trades involving some of their veteran players, and ultimately rely on unproven young players to get through the bulk of the 162 games they will play.
Joey Votto is still on the roster and until he isn’t, he’s going to be a problem for opposing pitchers. Last season, Votto struck out 135 times. At this point in time, for a slugger of Votto’s kind, that’s a pretty lean 19.4%. What makes that look even better is that he walked 158 times, both “unintentionally” and intentionally. It’s rare that a player who hits in the heart of a line-up like Votto does strikes out less than he walks over a full season (695 PAs). But Joey Votto is a special player.
After under-going Tommy John surgery last May, the Reds should get Homer Bailey back at some point early this season. After mid-season trades of Cueto and Leake, the Reds went to a “pitcher by committee” approach to finish the season…not unlike what the Cubs had done over the past few years where they, too, were trading 2 of their starters as they rebuilt their organization. Bailey should provide some stability when he returns, although he is just now to the point of throwing live batting practice, so it isn’t likely he returns until sometime in May at the earliest.
Don’t discount youth as a strength. Much like the period where the Cubs were rebuilding, they had players like Anthony Rizzo, among others attempting to establish themselves at the big league level. While it may not result in a lot of wins for the Reds this season, they will likely not be an easy team to play against as they have a lot of players trying to further their careers and prove that they can make it in The Show.
This is going to be a volatile season for the Reds. They will probably trade Jay Bruce. They will probably again try to trade Brandon Phillips. There is a good chance that they use a lot of players to get through the 2016 season as they continue to tear down their major league roster and supplement their system with young players. It remains to be seen if Brandon Phillips is willing at accept a trade at all, after nixing a deal to the Nationals this winter. If the Reds do try to move him again, his potential unwillingness will likely hover around the team in a similar way to Ryan Dempster‘s refusal to accept the trade to Atlanta in 2012. In the end, nobody on this roster is going to be untouchable as the Reds look to the future. That makes for volatility that is going to hurt them in the win column.
Aside from Joey Votto being an on-base God, the Reds are not good at it. Their .312 on-base percentage as a team last year was bolstered by Votto’s .459. That was good for 19th, in spite of being tied for 9th in walks, which bring us to…
BABIP. The Reds were 26th in MLB in BABIP last season. While some of that can be attributed to playing in a smaller ballpark and some bad luck being thrust upon them by the BABIP Gods, there is a healthy amount of it brought on by weak contact. The Reds hit a bunch of fly balls last season, and although they play in a park where that can help them, it also leads to a lot of pretty easy outs. For a team in the top ten in walks and the better half of the league in strike outs, a lack of consistent hard contact is a pretty big problem.
2016 Is a Success If…
They are able to trade Jay Bruce and/or Brandon Phillips to hasten their rebuilding effort. They are unlikely to make any real noise in the standings, so the Reds will consider this season a success if they can continue to sell off veteran pieces to continue gaining steam toward getting younger.
2016 Is a Failure If…
The young players they do have don’t take steps forward. Here’s looking your way, Billy Hamilton. For all of the talk about low on-base and weak contact, he’s one of the worst offenders. .226/.274/.289 isn’t going to cut it, regardless of how well he plays center field. Eugenio Suarez played 96 games for the Reds at short last year, and figures to fill in the hole left by the departed Todd Frazier. His defense is a work in progress, but he played consistently enough to merit some regular playing time on a rebuilding team.
It’s hard to say a team is going to lose 100 or win 100, so that isn’t going to happen here. But the Reds are clearly in the very early stages of tearing down what was their last contending club and are just now starting to work toward building for the future. For those reasons, it’s difficult not to imagine the Reds flirting with 100 losses. But, as stated earlier, that isn’t necessarily going to make 2016 a failure. If they can move on from veteran pieces to get younger and see some of their young players make positive steps forward, 2016 will be a success regardless of how many wins and losses the big league club ends with.