The Cincinnati Reds have not enjoyed a lot of good off-seasons. Not many good in-seasons, either. Perhaps you remember the winter they thought domestic violence was bad enough to Aroldis Chapman for peanuts. Maybe a pretzel. The way I remember it, the press they received for this decision was largely negative, criticizing the Reds for not getting more back from the Yankees, who received little if any negative press for their support of a domestic abuser. They Reds had obtained, among other pieces, a man whose last name looked strikingly similar to gigolo. Perhaps this was their error. Perhaps part III, if this transaction happened today, I hope the media would more readily praise that front office’s zero-tolerance stance on choking in the kitchen and gun-play in the garage.
Flash forward to this winter: the Reds traded Homer Bailey’s dead money for three All-Star caliber players. The early press was negative. I lied just there—not about the negative press but about the cost of Alex Wood, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig: it wasn’t just Homer-prone Bailey. The Reds had just drafted RHP Josiah Gray in 2018 and SS Jeter Downs in 2017. Neither asset figures to contribute to the major league club for quite some time, but this payment was deemed laughable by many in the baseball media: simply a sign the Reds don’t understand the direction of 21st Century baseball or the phrase “competitive window.”
My immediate reaction, on the other hand, was excitement. I am not a Reds fan. In fact, I was born into Cubs fandom thanks to grandparents who watched every day, and while the Cubs’ big-wigs have done everything in their power post World Series to make fandom a joyless, apocalyptic endeavor, the Reds have gone the other direction, piecing together a series of low-cost trades to upgrade their on-field product while protecting their shiniest future toys. It behooves all baseball fans to track what happens in Cincinnatti this year. If they’re successful, it seems a big win for the game itself—a sign that there might still be some surprising zigs in an algorithmic world of zags—a hope that the cheapest path is not always best.
So what could go right? Well, the pitching.
|RHP Sonny Gray
|LHP Alex Wood
|RHP Luis Castillo
|RHP Tanner Roark
|RHP Tony DisCo
These Reds will go as far as their arms can carry them. RHP Sonny Gray seems an odd fit in a ballpark geared toward homeruns after struggling with same in New York, but his reunion with college pitching coach and former Brewers guru Derrick Johnson provides hope. Johnson has a knack for pitch mixes, encouraging his guys to throw their best balls as often as possible, especially the bendy ones. “Pitching backwards” is an antiquated phrase, but baseball is an old game, and pitchers who’ve learned to lead with the fastball since their earliest days struggle to shake that conditioning. Johnson tends to remedy this Pavlovian default with processes he probably has to repeat time and again, and his pitchers benefit. Nobody has gotten more from less than Milwaukee during his tenure. His salary details are unknown to me, but he seems likely to earn every penny and more.
LHP Alex Wood has a cool name and a wacky delivery. In some organizations, he might’ve been a pitching staff pillar locked in to a long-term contract. On the Dodgers, he was expendable. I still struggle with the math on this trade. Seems to me the Reds could get an approximation of Downs and Gray for a hot Wood at the deadline if their all-in play falls flat. I mean who isn’t seeking hot wood come closing time? The Dodgers, I guess, are not, but everyone loves a lefty in the playoffs, and this lefty has displayed elite skills for longish stretches. I’m intrigued—both for his ability to jive with Johnson on a good Reds team and his potential with a different winner down the stretch.
RHP Tanner Roark is a soft-contact inducer and exactly the type of groundball specialist you’d want in the Great American Smallpark. He too leaves one homer-friendly arena for another and has walked a winding road these past few years. His best outcomes, it should be noted, have been good enough to land him in an All-Star game.
RHP Anthony Desclafani has a cool name. It’s not quite “Wood,” but I like Tony DisCo as a pseudonym. He seems the perfect type to benefit from the bendy-ball teachings of Johnson. If he can lean in and max out his off-speed stuff, DisCo’s balls might be dancing circle-changes around bats all season.
RHP Luis Castillo was everyone’s favorite sleeper last year. Dude was narcoleptic with it, and a few-round drop in his ADP has some experts reaching for the melatonin. With a season’s worth of innings and experience to go with a new guru, he’s a much, much better bet this year than last.
Throw in Cody Reed, Amir Garrett, Brandon Finnegan, Tony Santillan, and Robert Stephenson and what do you have? A pile of arms that gives Cincy a chance at its best starting staff since the Harangatang and his henchmen. Might just be enough to support one of the league’s strongest lineups.
|LF Jesse Winker
|3B Eugenio Suarez
|1B Joey Votto
|RF Yasiel Puig
|2B Scooter Gennett
|CF Nick Senzel
|SS Jose Peraza
|C Tucker Barnhart
And the bench ain’t half bad either:
|OF Matt Kemp
|OF Scott Schebler
|IF OF Derek Dietrich
C Tucker Barnhart: It’s fine. He’s fine. Catchers are fine. Let’s play two!
1B Joey Votto: I’m about the same age as Joey, and I feel older every day. Everything hurts. Hell, my fingers hurt just typing this. My neck, too. Very little chance I own Votto this season, in part because I had him last year. Fool me don’t get fooled again.
2B Scooter Gennett: I’m not underrated! YOU’RE underrated!! Scooter’s Steamer projections are the dumbest thing I’ve seen this week. Buy him, is what I’m saying, but make sure you’ve got speed coming in elsewhere. I’ll bet that neighbor kid has some Adderall he’d sell you.
3B Eugenio Suarez was excellent in 2018, punctuated by elite plate skills and contact rates, especially the hard rate, which is the good one. The most impressive part is the guy busted his wrist midseason and didn’t seem to care. That’s rare. And it rhymed. Draft Suarez anytime!
SS Jose Peraza surprised pretty much everyone last year by popping 14 homeruns and doubling his isolated slugging percentage—not to mention honing his plate skills, specifically shaving his already low strikeout rate to a fantastic 11 percent. He also swiped 23 bags and seems a decent enough bet for 25. If you’re not interested in a guy with 15 homers, 25 steals and RAZ in his name, I cannot help you.
OF Jesse Winker is making eyes at you. At all the ‘perts, really, giving a little shoulder-waggy smile to let you know he’s ready to roll. Pretty much everyone is telling you to draft this guy and/or openly rooting for a Matt Kemp collapse, but I’m wary of Winky. Shoulders are bad, mmmkay, and this house is crowded. In some variants like OBP and plate skills leagues, he’s worth a twirl, but in 5×5, the hype sounds louder than his bombs.
OF Yasiel Puig is floating. Helium is fun. Let’s swallow some and make funny voices. Puig has struggled against lefties. That’s an understatement and a fact: career .290 AVG with power against RHP and .250 against LHP with no power. His NL Central opponents have zero left handed starters outside Chicago. That’s a fact. Maybe it’s just small sample splitsville, but he’s been trending down against lefties for years and can’t be too miffed about facing all righties all the time. I’m not buying as his stock soars into the top 50, but I don’t fault you for taking the shot. Just, also buy Domingo Santana around 200. Might be the same dude but better.
OF Nick Senzel is eligible at second base. Say huh? Slow down, I’m getting dizzy. I watched slick Nick steal second the other day, so maybe that’s why he can play there in fantasy? And maybe the Spring defense was pretty indifferent, but dude looked super fast. Much quicker than I’d expected. His ADP (227) seems like an effort to split the baby. If I were King, I wouldn’t go around cutting babies in half. (I know it was just a test/threat, but that’s not my way.) What I would do, however, is draft Senzel in any league with enough roster space to wait a couple weeks. He’d cost hundreds in mid-April FAAB and could wind up going 20/20 with a .290 batting average.
OF Matt Kemp is also here. I hope he invites Rihanna. Kind of wrote my way into a wall here . . . so . . . coffee is for closers!
|RHP Rasiel Iglesias
|RHP Jared Hughes
The Reds say they’ll use Raisel Iglesias however they damn well please, and I like it! He’s got good enough stuff to go multiple innings. He might even approximate a Blake Treinen type season with a pile of wins. I wouldn’t pay a premium for that, but he’s being faded a bit due to the news, and I’m zagging. Or zigging? Which way are you going? Anywho, different pitchers respond in different ways. If they’re seriously going to use him across multiple innings and/or in tie games, that offense should hit some late game bombs that puts him in the winners circle.
Jared Hughes thinks projections are pretty dumb. He logged a 1.02 WHIP last year and a 1.22 the year before, largely based on his newfound focus on first-pitch strikes. Pretty bold for Steamer to suggest he’ll utterly forget how to pitch. If Raisel is going longer outings, he might get some extra rest days, making Hughes something of a streamer. And RP streamers are the wave of the future, dudes. Got some off days among droppable players? Check out the previous few days’ action in the relay pens. If a closer went multiple innings yesterday or multiple days in a row, scoop a rested set-up like Hughes.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be sharing strike-rate stuff in this space all season! Hope to see you around!