Much like last season, the Reds are in the midst of an expansive rebuilding project. Jay Bruce is gone. Brandon Phillips is gone. Zack Cozart will probably be gone soon. Homer Bailey would be out the door soon if his elbow would stay healthy.
There isn’t a lot of positive on the field to talk about for the Reds. They finished 2016 at 68-94, tied with the Padres, Rays, and Braves for the second worst record in MLB. Statistically, they were a team fitting of their terrible record. They were no-hit by Jake Arrieta, ending a run of 7,109 games that spanned almost 45 years. It was an ugly year for the Reds, and 2017 figures to be just as bad…or worse.
Well, Joey Votto is awesome. Devin Mesoraco is pretty good when he’s healthy. They have some promising young pitchers, like Amir Garrett, Brandon Finnegan, Robert Stephenson, and Raisel Iglesias. But finding strength in a team that has just now torn down most of what it was when it was competitive a few years back is difficult. They haven’t yet even built their farm system into anything to gloat about. With that said, OF Jesse Winker should debut this season, and he could provide some left handed pop in the hole that was left behind when they traded Jay Bruce. And if those arms stay healthy, they could be pretty good.
In 2016, the Reds were 2nd in MLB with 139 stolen bases. They were middle of the pack as far as striking out is concerned. And defensively, they were strong, and that figures to remain true. With Billy Hamilton patrolling center field and as long as Zack Cozart is the short stop, defense up the middle will still be one of this teams’s few strengths.
This could feel like kicking a team while it’s down. After all, Scott Feldman is starting on Opening Day. They led MLB with 3.97 BB/9 in 2016, which may improve this season with some improved health and performance from younger pitchers. They also had MLB’s worst FIP at 5.24. And were the only team in MLB with a negative fWAR among it’s entire pitching staff (-0.5). But as was already stated, there does appear to be some help on the way with some refreshing younger arms. Frankly, it’s hard to see it getting any worse.
2017 Is a Success If…
The Reds make shrewd trades that improve their farm system. This is pretty obvious. Working Scott Feldman into a workable prospect would be a huge win for them. Getting Homer Bailey healthy, getting him enough starts to show that he can be something resembling the pitcher with two no hitters, and moving him would be another massive victory for a smaller market team who can’t afford to pay a guy to continue rehabbing. Former Cubs prospect Arismendy Alcantara is with the Reds now, too. If they can tap into his unrealized potential to either make him a piece to build with or to trade for pieces to build with, it would be well worth the waiver claim flyer they took on him.
Where the rubber could meet the road for the Reds is if they can convince a now 33 year old Joey Votto to waive his no trade clause and trade him to a team who is in the hunt. Votto is under contract through 2023 (with a 2024 option) at a cost of $25M per year after 2017. They would almost certainly have to eat a pretty big chunk of that, but sending Votto to an AL team who could use him as a DH as he ages could be the massive move that propels their rebuilding project forward. Votto’s patient approach and willingness to take walks if teams don’t throw strikes will probably survive as he ages. Going to a team like the Red Sox, who would be willing to pay at least a portion of his salary while having the prospects to move to acquire him makes sense for both sides. In no way is this scenario likely because of the amount of money and prospects that have to be discussed, but it is an intriguing possibility that could be a win for everyone involved.
2017 Is a Failure If…
There is no forward momentum. By the end of this season, there should be something resembling a foundation for this team moving forward. If we look back at the Cubs at the end of 2012, they had Anthony Rizzo on the roster and playing everyday. There was a clear path forward for them at that point. That’s where the Reds need to be at the end of this season, and if they don’t get there, it’ll be a lost year. For a team who figures to be really bad this season, lost years are miserable failures. They have parts that they can move to help build a foundation. If those parts are still Reds in 6 months, it’ll be the worst of possible outcomes.
Projected Record: 65-97
It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if the Reds lost 100 games this year, but projecting it to happen is just too difficult. They have enough players of actual value that they could fall backwards into some wins, but this team is out-manned by a huge degree by not only every other team in the division, but quite possibly every other team in the National League. It’ll be a long year of playing in an empty ballpark for the Reds. But their record and what they do on the field is meaningless when the games that matter are going to be played on the phones in the front office.