‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
- from “Ozymandias,” by Percy Shelley
As recently as 2013, the Cincinnati Reds were a playoff baseball team, but their status now stands as a sad example of how quickly a high standing can crumble away. Whether they portend some doom for the Cubs in the future cannot be answered, but they are at least an apt reminder that when things fall, they can fall quickly.
Their place in the National League Central division in 2017 will almost certainly be at the bottom, but the sights for the Reds are better set on seasons that lie years away from now. C. Trent Rosecrans, who was kind enough to share a few thoughts via email for this piece, thinks that the climb back to the top is going to take longer than those in the organization might think.
“The team has been saying 2018, but I think that’s overly optimistic. I’d say 2019 if all goes right and 2020 if things mostly go right.” Rosecrans said.
Whether or not things do go right down the road, Cincinnati’s impact in the upcoming season will probably be felt most in how well they play against the Cubs and Cardinals. Though the Reds are not poised to win any significant number of games, they can still sway the outcome for St. Louis, in particular.
The Reds are projected to end 2017 at the bottom of the division with a 74-88 record. This would be a notable improvement from their 68-94 finish last season, so if things do turn out this way, the long-term projection of contending again in 2019 might not be far fetched.
At 33, Joey Votto’s days as one of the more dominant hitters in baseball are numbered, but he is still far away from losing high-tier productivity. PECOTA projects him to produce another sterling season to add to his collection. Last season he was worth 5.9 WARP, and he’s projected to be a 5 WARP player this year. Aside from his injury-marred 2014 campaign, Votto has not produced a WARP as low as that level since 2009, but with a projected TAv of .317, he will still be a potent piece of Cincinnati’s lineup.
With Votto, PECOTA projects only Adam Duvall (2.3 WARP) to play much more than one win above replacement level. Eugenio Suarez (1.4), Zack Cozart (1.1), Scott Schebler (1.5), and Billy Hamilton (1.7) are the only other players on the offense expected to make noteworthy contribution otherwise, and it’s a shallow pool to draw from after that.
The pitching projections are just as bleak, and not surprisingly, especially given the mighty struggles of Cincinnati’s bullpen in 2016. Anthony DeSclafini holds promise as a starter, if he can build on a mostly successful 2016 season. PECOTA is encouraging when it comes to DeSclafini, projecting 180 innings and 2.2 WARP.
Goals for 2017:
The upcoming season may reflect the 2014 Cubs’ season in some ways, as it will be an important time for Cincinnati to get looks at some of their up-and-coming talent. Rosecrans sees the need for this, saying, “The organization needs to see as much of its young players and make some hard decisions as possible.”
Those hard decisions will probably be in cashing in on Votto before it is too late to get real value in return, or potentially being willing to open the coffers for building around him before it is too late. Depending on how the future looks, it might all hinge on their first baseman.
For manager Bryan Price, he is under a one-year contract extension, so he will need to establish his place as the man for the job when the wins start coming again.
“Price should be looking to win as many games as possible, show he can lead the team and show some sort of improvement in the young pitching, since pitching has been his calling card.” Rosecrans said.
Long and short term needs:
If each season is a piece in building toward the future for the Reds, there are needs in the short term that must be clearly assessed before the long-term picture can get any clearer.
Rosecrans points out in particular that the team needs to develop its plan for how to best utilize the infield pieces.
“Where does Jose Peraza fit? The team has some middle infield depth in the system, but have both Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips for 2017.” Rosecrans said.
“At this point, they’d like to spin off both in trades, but Cozart fits only a specialty market (a team looking for a stop-gap at shortstop, but still close enough to contend not to go young/cheap—the best chance here is an injury in spring) and Phillips has repeatedly vetoed trades (Washington/Arizona last offseason, Atlanta this offseason). He’s still owed $14 million. They will take every opportunity to try to move him before they just eat $14 million.” Rosecrans said.
If the on-the-field happenings of the 2017 season lack great excitement for Reds fans, the questions being answered about their team’s future should provide enough fodder for interest. Contending again in the NL Central does not come easily, and fans are understandably anxious about their direction of their team. A shift at the top of the organization from Walt Jocketty to Dick Williams might be a positive move, but that remains unclear.
Off-the-radar players to watch:
“I don’t know if fans of other teams understand how good Anthony DeSclafani can be. Or Raisel Iglesias.” Rosecrans shared when asked about who should be on the radar of observers outside of Cincinnati.
The performance of Iglesias slipped from 2015 to 2016, and PECOTA projects him to dip further, but he has some standout peripherals and his secondary pitches (changeup, slider) pair well with his usual fastball, sinker combination. The reliever is a worthy bounce-back candidate for 2017.
Along with the pitchers, there is at least one name that might not be familiar yet, but should be.
“From Reds fans point of view, I think there is a thirst to see if the Jose Peraza that got a chance to play every day at the end of the season can do that over a full season.” Rosecrans said.
Peraza may not be showing defensive prowess yet (-3.6 FRAA last year), but the .355 batting average in the second half with three home runs, eight doubles, and two triples, bodes extremely well if he can produce at even near that level for a full season.
The last years of contention might feel distant in Cincinnati and the future unclear, but in the long term a change in the organization’s leadership poses to steer the team in a positive direction, and in the short term the roster questions should get at least a few answers.
Lead photo courtesy David Kohl—USA Today Sports