The Cincinnati Reds have not made the postseason in three years, and have gotten progressively worse since. The top of the NL Central is more or less locked up for the next couple years, so the only option available to Walt Jocketty and co. has been to pivot and begin the rebuild. At the same time, that project hasn’t looked quite as rosy as it has in other cities where a teardown went into full effect. What have the Reds done so far, and how much longer will it take for them to challenge for the postseason?
Since their last postseason appearance, the Reds have traded Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier (all three probably a little later than they should have been), Mike Leake, and Jay Bruce, receiving prospects in return, and jumpstarting their look to the future.
A case could be made that the Reds have not acquired the type of impact prospects they should have in the aforementioned deals. If you go by MLB.com’s top prospects list, the best player acquired in those trades was Rookie Davis, picked up from the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman deal. Davis, 23, is projected to be a mid-rotation starter and he may see time at the big league level in 2017. In 2016, he pitched mostly at Double-A and carried a 2.94 ERA, 5.5 K/9, and 2.7 BB/9 in 101 innings. Davis will more than likely begin the 2017 season in Triple-A, where he had a brief stay to end 2016, throwing 24 innings to a 7.50 ERA.
Dilson Herrera is another player the Reds acquired in their rebuild efforts. Herrera came over from the Mets in the Jay Bruce deal and could see time at the major league level in 2017. Herrera was thought to be the second baseman of the future for the Mets until he was traded to Cincinnati and now shares that title with José Peraza for the Reds. However, Peraza saw time in left field and center field for Cincinnati in 2016, so he provides them with added versatility. Both are currently blocked by Brandon Phillips, but Herrera could be an additional option at shortstop. Herrera played there before the Mets acquired him, but was shifted to second base out of necessity. He hasn’t played there since 2014, but if the Reds want him to play there as well as second then more time in Triple-A may be necessary.
There has been talk over this winter about dealing just about every player on the current roster, particularly Phillips, Billy Hamilton, Zack Cozart, and even Joey Votto. Personally, I would be surprised if the Reds found a taker for Votto. The first baseman is still on the hook for another $175 million through 2023, when he will be 39 years old. There is a team option for the 2024 season worth $20 million or a $7 million buyout. While his contract will no doubt handicap a small market team like the Reds, they may be stuck with him playing first base, and in a few years, his talent won’t likely match up with his salary.
Phillips, on the other hand, must be traded. Peraza and Herrera should be on the field every day next season; the team needs to gain a proper evaluation of both as major leaguers. The biggest roadblock to a Phillips trade is his unwillingness to waive his no-trade clause, evidenced by blocking a move to the Nationals last winter. If the Reds are able to get him to waive his no-trade clause, then they may have to bite the bullet and take less in return just so they can get Peraza and Herrera on the diamond.
Another key to the foundation of any team, be it contending or rebuilding, is their pitching staff. The Reds have some young arms — Robert Stephenson, Brandon Finnegan, and Amir Garrett — who will more than likely see time in the club’s rotation in 2017, continuing Cincinnati’s recent habit of developing their starters at the major league level. Anthony DeSclafani and Dan Straily will provide the Reds with innings and could be used as trade chips in July. T
Their biggest trade piece, should he stay healthy, is Homer Bailey. Bailey has had his share of injures over the past few seasons, from Tommy John surgery to a biceps injury late in 2016. Bailey is a frontline starter when healthy, and if he can stay on the field next year, then the Reds have to think seriously about trading him for prospects at the deadline. Should they get a full season of health from him in 2017, then the Reds can shop him next winter with two full seasons of control plus a mutual option for the 2020 season.
If the prospects the Reds recently traded for didn’t exactly light up the headlines, then they addressed those farm system questions in last year’s draft. The Reds had the second overall selection and chose Nick Senzel, a third baseman from the University of Tennessee. Personally, I think Senzel may move quickly through the minor leagues and be called up to the big club sooner rather than later, especially considering the team’s need for a third baseman.
Last year’s impressive draft haul also included Chris Okey, one of the top catchers in the draft, and Taylor Trammell, a high school outfielder with plus speed. Okey gives the Reds depth at catcher in their farm system, after Devin Mesoraco dealt with various injuries. Tyler Stephenson could be another future option behind the plate. Stephenson has had a slow start to his professional career — in two seasons he has accrued 395 plate appearances with a slash line of .249/.326/.357 in Rookie and A-ball. Most troubling, he has tallied 94 strikeouts to only 36 walks. Best-case scenario, the Reds develop two young catchers in Stephenson and Okey who can play every day at the Major League level; if they hit on only one of them, they’ll still be making progress.
Taylor Trammell is nowhere close to seeing time at Great American Ballpark, but if he develops as hoped, then the Reds may have a special talent in their outfield. Early reports indicate Trammell projects as a center fielder and profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter with his speed. I think he has the potential to be better than Billy Hamilton if all breaks right, but he is still too raw to know for sure.
There are a lot more question marks surrounding the Reds of the future than other rebuilding squads of the recent past. Take the Cubs and the Mets, for example—two teams that rebuilt in different but successful ways. The Cubs built their team through impact position player prospects like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Amora Jr., Addison Russell, and Anthony Rizzo. The Mets, meanwhile, built their team through elite rotation arms like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler. While there were other players drafted, signed, or traded for by the Cubs and Mets during their rebuild, these are the core examples. If we compare them to where the Reds are, then there is a stark contrast. Both the Cubs and Mets not only had prospects, but the above players would fall into the “impact” prospect category, something the Reds are currently lacking. If we look at the Reds’ pitching and position player prospects, the only player I project as an “impact” prospect is Nick Senzel. While it took the Cubs and Mets a few seasons to get back to playoff contention through their rebuild, the process was quickened by “hitting” on the right type of prospects, an area on which the Reds have thus far fallen short.
The earliest season for the Reds to contend, in my estimation, is 2019. At that point, the Reds will hopefully have a young core worth building around, but in the meantime there is room for improvement in the farm system. The Reds need to add some more young arms to their crop of prospects and hopefully they can turn some current assets into future value in the coming seasons. A lot has been said about the Reds’ lack of signing Major League contracts this offseason, and I can see their reasoning based on the fact they do not plan on contending next season. If they can add a relief pitcher (Joe Blanton or Santiago Casilla) or another potential asset, and then flip them at the trade deadline, they can expand their farm system even further.
If the Red have a baseline for contention in 2019, then fans in southern Ohio can really start dreaming. Even though they are a small market team, the Reds could be looking to whip out their wallets for the 2018-19 free agent class. You may have heard about that group. They will certainly not be in line for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, but with so much talent on the market, could someone fall into their lap the same way Edwin Encarnación did to Cleveland this winter? Time will tell for all that to happen, but the Reds are off to a nice start, but they still a lot of work left for them to get back to the top of the National League Central.
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Carl Triano is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Minor League Ball.