The 2016 MLB season was still young when it became apparent that, while the Cincinnati Reds had some big league-ready prospects and some pleasantly surprising talent in the wings, the team was in for a season of struggles and losses. That’s exactly what happened. At 68-94, the Reds finished 35.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, and finished tied for last in the National League with the San Diego Padres.
The organization is clearly in a hefty rebuilding process as it has slowly shed its core group of stars from the successful run at the start of the decade. Only Joey Votto will stick around on his historically lucrative contract. The club dealt Jay Bruce to the New York Mets for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell, traded John Lamb to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash, claimed former top prospect (who is still very young) Arismendy Alcantara, and signed Cuban prospects Alfredo Rodriguez and Vladimir Gutierrez to add even more depth to their ever-improving prospect pipeline. Even after all of that, the question still remains: What are the Cincinnati Reds offseason needs?
Cincinnati Reds 2016 Offseason Needs
Have an Exit Plan for the Remaining Trade Assets
The Reds have seen the writing on the wall and have sinde traded Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier, Marlon Byrd, Jonathan Broxton, Mat Latos, and Alfredo Simon for prospects, and have gotten solid returns. There are still two big items left on the table: Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart. The team had some pretty profitable deals in place for both veteran infielders, but failed to pull the trigger. It is unclear whether the demand for Phillips and Cozart will ever be near what it was when the Reds could’ve taken advantage of a desperate contender.
Given the timeline that Cincinnati is likely following and the infield prospects currently waiting in the wings, it seems fairly certain that neither Cozart nor Phillips is a part of the club’s vision for the future.
If the Reds are going to put the nail in the coffin and move on without any veteran trade assets in the current No-Man’s Land that is Cincinnati’s middle infield, they need to explore every option this offseason for possible destinations and prospect returns for Phillips and Cozart. If they face the music now, they are far less likely to miss a golden opportunity if one presents itself in 2017.
Be Decisive on Who Fits the Future
The glut of elite prospects at every position and at every level of the minor leagues, and some currently finding their rhythm in the majors, reminds us of a sobering fact: there is a limited amount of roster spots available. If the Reds don’t think that someone is the long-term man for the job, they should be ready to deal him to the highest bidder so that the real heir to the throne can start honing his MLB game. It may sound straight forward enough, but it is far from a simple problem.
Players like Homer Bailey and Devin Mesoraco have been All-Star caliber players in the recent past, and Aroldis Chapman-trade acquisition Caleb Cotham has shown past promise as a reliever. All may have more gifts to give, but all have been severely hampered by injury issues. Tony Cingrani, Dan Straily, Anthony DeSclafani, Tucker Barnhart, and Eugenio Suarez have all shown varying degrees of success and potential, but may not be the kind of top-shelf ability that the Cincinnati Reds are willing to lock in as the final pieces to a World Series puzzle.
Even highly successful young players like Billy Hamilton, Adam Duvall, and Brandon Finnegan are fighting an absolute onslaught of developing talent at their positions, despite the great skill and development they have demonstrated. With so much young competition, and potentially more on the way, there is no time for the Reds to sit around and be overly patient with players who may not have the ceiling that they are looking for. This offseason, Cincinnati must sit down each and every day, analyze all the evidence, and decide who stays and who goes.
If the Reds determine that, when the peak time of contention arrives, a player probably doesn’t belong on the roster they are going all-in with, then it’s time to trade that player or cut ties with him and use the money on an x-factor free agent to fill the potential gaps down the line. This is where the Reds front office should learn to stop being so sentimental, no matter how difficult it may be. That’s the professional and correct way to build a winning franchise.
Throw Them to the Sharks
The Reds must address their tendency as an organization to be tentative and harmfully hesitant with the promotion and real-world testing of its future stars.
There is nothing to be gained from allowing a player who won’t be a part of the final product to get playing time over a player who needs all of the top level competition he can get. If they get the playing time and they fail to develop into the best possible version of themselves, then its time to explore other options and pass the torch to the next guy in line.
Players who have been hovering back and forth at the Triple-A level, like Robert Stephenson, Jesse Winker, Amir Garrett, Jose Peraza, Herrera, Cody Reed, Scott Schebler, Jon Moscot, and Kyle Waldrop, have all had their paths repeatedly blocked by players who simply don’t offer what these players could offer a few years down the road. It’s time to find out who has the metal to be a contributor on a MLB contender.
It’s also time to find out who belongs in the rotation and who belongs in the bullpen. Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias are the makings of a top-tier relief core. Players can only reach their true potential if they are evaluated accurately and are working toward the correct niche. Conclusions like that can’t be made without getting a sample size of data by throwing the young prospects in with the sharks and finding out who is going to develop into the stars who can combine to resemble a combination of Anthony Rizzo–Kris Bryant–Javier Baez–Kyle Schwarber–Welington Castillo.
It’s time for the Reds to leave behind their past of being so hesitant to experiment with prospects at the MLB level, throw them in with the best competition in the world, let them fail and succeed, and paint an actual picture of what their future contender looks like. If this MLB/Triple-A level wave of talent doesn’t pan out ideally, there is no reason to panic. There is still Nick Senzel, Rodriguez, Gutierrez, Keury Mella, Tyler Mahle, Rookie Davis, Tyler Stephenson, Taylor Trammell, Chris Okey, T.J. Friedl, Antonio Santillan, Alex Blandino, Nick Travieso, Phil Ervin, Sal Romano, Blake Trahan, and Calten Daal. And that’s just this within this year’s top 20 prospects.