Without question, the Cincinnati Reds have improved their outlook for the 2019 season tremendously this offseason. At the moment, they look like the most improved team heading into the upcoming season, adding names like Tanner Roark, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Sonny Gray. Add in the thought of top prospect Nick Senzel possibly getting some playing time, along with underrated outfielder Jesse Winker coming back from injury, and you have an undoubtedly better squad.
This active offseason has the rebuilding Reds now looking like dark-horse contenders for an NL Wild Card spot, as their projected 81-81 record (per FanGraphs) has them pinned as the third place finishers in the NL Central and just marked outside one of the two NL Wild Card spots.
To the shock of nobody, the Reds were not a good baseball team in 2018. As a team, they sat roughly middle of the pack in wRC+, their starters collectively had the sixth highest ERA in baseball, while the bullpen also sat in the middle. And the once elite-level defensive group they housed a few years ago had fallen to the bottom-third of the league in most defensive metrics. A 67-95 record wasn’t going to rise to a contending-level without some major moves.
Luckily, they did just that, easily being one of the most restless teams of the offseason. The moves as a whole look great at the moment, too.
Going across the board, starting with catcher, Tucker Barnhart and the rest of the catching group are projected to see a slight increase in production. At first base, 2018 Joey Votto and 2019 Joey Votto are essentially the same.
Second base is interesting, as this was really the only position group projected to see a decline in production, as there isn’t a lot of faith that Scooter Gennett’s 4.5 fWAR season is sustainable. Shortstop and third base production saw no changes.
The outfield as a whole looks to be substantially better with Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler, and Yasiel Puig getting the majority of plate appearances there. Starting pitching sees a dramatic increase with the additions of Tanner Roark, Sonny Gray, and Alex Wood, along with projected improvement from Luis Castillo. The bullpen still needs some work.
Adding up all these positive changes show in the team projections. Looking at run differential, not one team has improved more than the Reds.
So at the current time, the Reds look like fringe contenders— a couple breaks away from stumbling into the NL Wild Card game or a couple mishaps away from not contending at all. But with the Cubs projected to only be six wins better and the Cardinals five, why not mess around and make a run at a division title? They really aren’t that far way.
To be fair, the Reds have added significant payroll for 2019 (jumping more than $20 million from 2018), mostly in the form of taking on contracts. In a time of teams not willing to get aggressive with money, that is appreciated. The whole base of their roster improvement has been worked through phone calls with opposing GM’s. They’re one of four teams this offseason to not sign a major league free agent deal (Orioles, Marlins, and Indians being the others). Why not make a move to sign Dallas Keuchel and fill out the rotation? Making a splash by adding Craig Kimbrel to an eyebrow-raising bullpen would be fun. If not that, at least add some short-term relievers.
The Reds have bettered their roster tremendously throughout the course of the past few months. However, there are still some bumps that need to be roughed out. A free agent signing or two could help that, finishing off a great offseason.