They say Rome was not built in a day; the same can be said for a baseball roster. The Cincinnati Reds are currently in year three of their rebuild. Following three playoff appearances earlier in the decade, the lack of funds to sign their stars brought a need to trade away their top talent in exchange for prospects. If not, the Reds were sure to lose them to free agency without getting anything in return. Gone are the stars we knew and loved, including Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips. In their places are names such as Eugenio Suarez, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza, Robert Stephenson, Michael Lorenzen, Jesse Winker, and Raisel Iglesias.
After nearly three full years, I would be lying if I said the Reds are where they need to be going into 2018. There are too many question marks, specifically on the pitching staff, to claim that the goal of a renewed run at the playoffs can happen in the 2018 season. While there are questions on the pitching staff, the strong offensive production, while hit or miss as of late, gives us quite a bit to get excited about moving forward. With mixed results thus far, some fans are questioning whether this team will ever compete with the likes of Lorenzen, Peraza, Duvall, and company.
With all of these mixed reviews, it is safe to say that fan interest is dwindling on this proud franchise. When you add in the rise of FC Cincinnati, which is rapidly drawing fans away from the struggling Reds, it is becoming increasingly difficult to pitch this team to Cincinnatians near and far as an investment for the future. Cincinnati is not a city where people get excited over the future instead the questions is generally “what have you done for me lately”.
I can say that the state of the rebuild is a complex subject to tackle, which will require much more than simple “this is good” or “this is bad” explanations.
LOOK AWAY, THIS IS PAINFUL TO WATCH
Several negative things have happened to this team over the span of the rebuild, from injuries to poor performances in the field and on the mound, it has been far from a smooth ride for the Reds as of late.
It all starts with pitching. What gave the Reds such a significant advantage during their playoff runs was their elite pitching staff, which included the likes of Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Jonathon Broxton, and a healthy Homer Bailey, who was able to throw not one, but two no-hitters during this stretch. Gone are all but Bailey, replaced by the likes of Tim Adelman, Sal Romano, Scott Feldman, along with a laundry list of have-been’s and never-will-be’s. The pitchers that were supposed to replace the stars, including the aforementioned Bailey, plus Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, Rookie Davis, Robert Stephenson, and Amir Garrett, have either been injured (Bailey, DeSclafani, Finnegan), are just not ready for the big leagues (Davis, Stephenson, and Garrett), or are simply their own worst enemy (looking at you, Cody).
If this team is going to improve, the pitching must become the focal point. In 2016, the bullpen was historically bad, and by that, I mean historically bad for all of baseball, not just for the Reds. In 2017, the roles have been reversed, as the starting rotation has been a revolving door of no-names, rookies, and career minor leaguers, while the bullpen has been impressive for the most part. Either way, only having half a pitching staff will get you nowhere in the National League.
If it feels as though I am being unfair to this pitching staff, pull up the stats for Reds pitching over the past two seasons. For perspective, a 4.00 ERA is considered decent, with lower numbers considered good and higher numbers considered poor. There are multiple pitchers on this year’s Reds pitching staff with an ERA over 7.00. An ERA that high typically results in a player no longer having a job in the majors. Sadly, the Reds are stuck running these pitchers out there night in and night out, with no other options due to inexperience and injuries. I am being completely fair in ridiculing this pitching staff, and I might even be taking it easy on them.
THESE GUYS ARE FUN TO WATCH
Despite all of my doom and gloom, there are positives to look at with the Cincinnati Reds. For one, you cannot talk about the Cincinnati Reds and not talk about Joey Votto, perhaps the greatest hitter in the history of the Reds, and that includes names such as Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan, all of whom are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Votto is on pace in 2017 to have his best season since he won the National League MVP Award in 2010, and this season may end up being a more productive year than 2010. Even with his personal success this season, Votto will not garner national attention for the MVP Award, which is not surprising given the award has not been won by a player on a last place team since the great Andre Dawson did in the 1980’s. If anyone could do it, though, it has to be Joey Votto.
In addition to Votto, the offense in general has seen varying degrees of success, with most of the position players excelling both at the plate and in the field. Adam Duvall and Zack Cozart have both gone to an All-Star Game, and both deserved their honors in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Guys like Eugenio Suarez, Scott Schebler, and Tucker Barnhart have seen their slumps, but have all exceeded my expectations at the plate. Suarez is on his way to scoring more runs, as well as driving in more runs, than in any season of his Major League career. Schebler already has 23 home runs, which nearly triples his career total for home runs. Finally, Barnhart is on pace to have his best batting average as a big leaguer, and he will do it in his first season as the primary catcher for the Reds. The Reds are a team that can easily put up runs in a hurry, and have shown that they are capable of doing that on any given night, no matter what team or what pitcher they are facing.
As I previously mentioned, not all of the pitchers have struggled. Notably, Raisel Iglesias has become a promising closer, just one year after beginning the season as the ace of the starting rotation. His ability to get people out late in games, and his willingness to pitch more than one inning, a rarity in the modern major leagues, has been invaluable for a Reds pitching staff that was desperate to find a new closer after the departure of now New York Yankee Aroldis Chapman. Look for Iglesias to continue as the bright spot of this bullpen as we move towards 2018.
HOPE IS POWERFUL….DON’T LOSE IT
After all of that, I could claim that the Reds are going to have to blow up their current rebuild within the next 12 months and start from scratch once again. At the same time, I could claim that the development of the offense, with the potential of the young pitching staff, could lead to a playoff appearance for the Reds within the next two years, with 2019 being the most likely culmination of the rebuild.
The roster in its current form makes me wonder if the Reds can win without consistent pitching, seeing as their offense has been as powerful as it has been. If anything, the offense, led by Joey Votto, will make things exciting in 2018. The Reds of the mid-2000’s were known for their powerful bats but weak pitching staff, and while there are some similarities to those Adam Dunn/Ken Griffey, Jr. teams, I believe the pitching staff of the current Reds can develop into a much more dynamic unit than that of the Reds teams of the mid 2000’s.
I am an optimist at heart. I look at Luis Castillo, a young flame-throwing pitcher, along with the further development of young pitchers Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson, and Rookie Davis, and I see a pitching staff that has the talent to become a dominant group once again. Like all good things, it will take time, and patience will be required.
Here is the overarching problem: Reds fans are running out of patience. The good faith of the rebuild is running thin, and success is becoming more of a requirement than a long-term goal. I am not one of those fans, but I know several that believe that the time must be now or never. That will not work, at least not in this case.
I believe that 2019 is the year the Reds return to the playoffs, and I believe strongly and without hesitation. In 2018, the development must continue, and fans will have to be patient.
The light is there at the end of the tunnel, and I can see it growing brighter with each passing day. The rebuild cannot be viewed as game-by-game, series by series, or even week by week. You have to look at the growth month by month, seeing the entire picture in the process. I can see the growth happening now. While it may be slow, the growth is there, and it will persist over the coming months.
You can say my optimistic view is delusional, but you would not be the first. Even with the struggles during the current rebuild, I am not afraid to say that the future is bright for the Cincinnati Reds.