Analyzing The Reds’ Recent Upgrades: Do They Make The Reds Contenders?
by 28 December 2018, 3:28 PM
The Cincinnati Reds are looking to contend in 2019. Does their recent trade with the Dodgers make them a viable postseason contender?
It has been five years since the Cincinnati Reds have played postseason baseball. Five long, grueling years. Ever since their Wild Card Game loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, Cincinnati fans have been subjected to abysmal baseball. Their last five years—they won 76, 64, 68, 68, and 67 games, consistently occupying the National League Central cellar.
Great American Ballpark had never looked emptier. For the past few seasons, there has been a sea of red at Great American, but it wasn’t due to the fans wearing Reds gear—it was a sea of red-painted, unoccupied seats.
The Cincinnati Reds, throughout the rebuild, have struggled to attract fans to the ballpark. Source: https://itinerantfan.com/itinerary/great-american-ball-park/.
2018 resulted in the Reds’ lowest attendance numbers since 1984 when they played at Riverfront Stadium. The Reds drew 1,629,356 fans throughout their 81 home games, averaging 20,116 fans per game.
It was the first time the Reds failed to draw at least 1.8 million fans in a season since 2009. The team ranked 24th in overall attendance, only above the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, Chicago White Sox, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Cincinnati Reds fans have seen dark, tough times the last few years. Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar, The Enquirer.
The Reds’ declining attendance is emblematic of the current state of Cincinnati. Unlike most major cities in the United States, Cincinnati was one of few cities that was experiencing depopulation. A population that hovered close to 400,000 residents over 25 years ago, the city’s population dwindled due to a flailing economy, resulting in the population in the 2010s dipping under 300,000.
However, the city of Cincinnati is starting to recover from the tough economic times. Since 2010, the city’s population has seen a small 1.5% increase, and the city has now climbed back to a population over 300,000.
Like its home city, the Reds are hoping to start emerging from their rebuild with the hope that an increase in wins and fans will be the direct result. Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams is determined to be opportunistic this offseason. Like many Cincinnati fans, he is tired of losing and is ready to see the results of a long recovery.
“We feel like we’re entering that window of competitiveness,” Williams said, according to Cincinnati.com. “We have Joey (Votto) for a limited amount of time. We now have guys like (Eugenio) Suarez signed. We’ve got building blocks around the diamond. We don’t know how far it’ll take us, but this is a year where we’re going to try to get better with the resources we have.”
This means that when a good deal presents itself for Cincinnati, Williams will not hesitate to make a move.
“We’re trying to find the right time to strike, whether it’s a trade or free agent,” Williams said, according to Cincinnati.com. “It’s not that prices have to drop to rock bottom. We have some resources to do deals, but we have to find the right deals that’ll allow us to do multiple.”
Their recent blockbuster with the Dodgers confirms the Reds’ strategy.
The Reds aggressive approach to the offseason was one of the worst kept secrets during the Winter Meetings. If the Tanner Roark trade was any indicator, it signified that the Reds were looking to compete.
Who cares if the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers are all teams that are all projected to win 90 games next year? The Reds were eager to start reaping what they sow: by making deals to improve the club, the team is, as Reds general manager Nick Krall puts it, building towards a return to the postseason.
“I think the word ‘building’ is key though,” Krall said, according to Cincinnati.com. “You’re trying to build something and build yourself into a playoff contender. That’s what the goal of the rebuild is to build. We’re trying to build ourselves into a situation where you start taking steps forward.”
Their recent deal with the Dodgers will certainly be a step forward. In the deal, the Reds acquired two starting outfielders (Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp), one starting pitcher (Alex Wood), a backup catcher (Kyle Farmer), and $7 million on top of that.
The question now for the Reds is how much did they improve by.
Let’s start with Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and the new Cincinnati Reds outfield. In 2018, the club had an outfield crew of Billy Hamilton (who has left for the Royals), Scott Schebler, Phillip Ervin, Adam Duvall (before his trade to the Atlanta Braves), and Jesse Winker.
As the statistics show, the departures of Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton improved the Reds outfield before the trade with the Dodgers. Duvall regressed spectacularly offensively and was always a disaster defensively and while Hamilton’s speed made him one of the best defensive center fielders, his offense was so woeful that he was still barely playable.
With the Dodgers trade, it can be expected that Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp will in all likelihood receive the bulk of the playing time in right and left field respectively. That would leave Winker, Ervin, and Schebler competing for the starting center field spot.
Puig and Kemp should add two or three wins to the Reds outfield. For the past two seasons, the Reds outfielders compiled a 7.5 fWAR, fifth worst in the majors. What Kemp and Puig in particular bring to the club is much-needed power, something that the Reds outfield has not provided the team.
But both are only under contract with the Reds for one more year, leaving the team with flexibility starting the 2020 season. Puig, through arbitration, will make about $11 million and will reunite with his former hitting coach Turner Ward. Kemp, meanwhile, rejuvenated his career last year in Los Angeles. He was an All-Star last season and a two-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award-winning outfielder. He is due $21.75 million next year with the San Diego Padres paying $3.5 million of that.
It is very hard to argue that the Reds didn’t do well here. Their goal was to become more competitive, and one of their priorities was upgrading the power-hitting and athleticism in their outfield. Puig and Kemp accomplish that.
With the two of them in tow, the Reds lineup is under-the-radar solid.
It’s more likely that Puig will see most of the time in right, not center while Kemp will see the bulk of the playing time in left along with Winker. The Reds have options though and can be creative in their outfield alignment. Puig could see time in center to get Winker’s bat in the lineup. Phillip Ervin could also slot in center field while Schebler serves as a utility outfielder, filling in wherever the Reds need him on any particular day.
Either way, the additions of Puig and Kemp give the Reds a postseason-worthy outfield that has the necessary depth. And it does not hurt that the two of them had performed in clutch and big moments.
The next important piece of this trade was pitcher Alex Wood. One of the biggest issues with the Reds over the past few years was that their starting pitching staff was abysmal. The Reds had the second-worst ERA in 2018 (4.63), only better than the putrid Miami Marlins. Tanner Roark was a nice complementary rotation player that the Reds got, but with Alex Wood, they potentially have someone who could be a top-of-the-rotation starter.
The Reds are getting a pitcher who has shown that he can be brilliant. While his stats last year indicated that he could not replicate his fantastic 2017 campaign, he nonetheless produced solid numbers for a Dodgers team that had the best rotation in the National League by ERA.
Over his six-year career thus far, Alex Wood has functioned as a solid starting pitcher who rarely, if ever, resorts to using a four-seam fastball.
Source: Brooks Baseball
Without a fastball though, Wood remains an effective pitcher by fooling hitters with his sinker and circle changeup. Even in his worst season in the majors, Wood sported an ERA that was still better than the Reds’ in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Reds rotation figures to be Luis Castillo, Wood, Tanner Roark, Anthony DeSclafani, and Tyler Mahle. It is likely though that this rotation will not be the five the Reds trot out on Opening Day. The Reds have made it clear that upgrading their rotation is their top priority. It would not be a surprise to see another trade or free agent signing. Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, Mike Minor, and Danny Duffy are some names to keep an eye on as the offseason wears on.
Lastly, the Cincinnati Reds acquired a catcher to pair with Tucker Barnhart in Kyle Farmer. He will not be expected to get much playing time, but as long as Barnhart stays healthy he’ll get a spot start here or there. During the 2018 campaign, Farmer went 16-for-68 (.235 average) with five extra-base hits and nine RBIs.
In other words, there was little risk acquiring Farmer but there’s also likely to be little reward.
Meanwhile, from the Dodgers’ perspective, this was about money. In shipping off Alex Wood, Kyle Farmer, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig to Ohio, the club saves $17 million off of their luxury-tax payroll. The deal also allows them to clear up space in what was an expensive and crowded outfield.
“Where it leads us from here, I’m not sure,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said on a conference call Friday, according to ESPN.com. “But I do think we have some flexibility, and we’ll figure out what makes the most sense for us as we move forward.”
The biggest question that remains for the club now is what this means going forward for the Dodgers. What is the Dodgers’ main intention for shedding all of this salary? Does this mean the Dodgers will pursue Bryce Harper?
“We are in position right now where we still feel like we have a really good team, but I feel like we want to continue to add to it before we get to spring training,” Friedman said, according to ESPN.com. “What exactly that looks like, I’m not sure yet. But I do think we gained some flexibility, we strengthened our system, and we put us in position to kind of evaluate those things as they come up.”
Bryce Harper, according to many MLB analysts and insiders, is expected to seek a mega deal around 10 years and $350 million. With the Los Angeles Dodgers current payroll obligations even after the trade with the Reds, it remains uncertain to happen:
Meanwhile, the Reds are dead set on competing in 2019. While their new acquisitions probably do not vault them as immediate playoff contenders, the Reds hope that this trade is the start of something new and victorious for the city of Cincinnati. It represents a new commitment to winning.
“We’re not done yet,” Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams added, according to ESPN.com. “We still have resources to make this team better.”
In other words, we’re making it happen.
(All statistics and information originated from ESPN.com, FanGraphs.com, or Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted)
Edited by Brian Kang.
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