by Willie Lutz
Cincinnati, Oh.- Three of the last four seasons, the Reds have anchored their spot in the MLB Playoffs, only to fall short in the first round of each year’s pairing. In 2010, the Reds made their first playoff appearance since 1995, a huge 15-season gap in Cincinnati playoff baseball. The series against the Phillies was, to put it nicely, dreadful. In fact, as many Reds fans recall, future Hall of Famer, Roy Halladay, threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the first game of the series to set the momentum. Then, the Reds were poised for a World Series run by boasting the best pitching staff in all of baseball, including the “lights-out” closer Aroldis Chapman.
The Reds went to San Francisco and took the first two from the Giants. Then, the Reds came back to Cincinnati with a simple task: win one game. The Giants ended up winning all three games in Cincinnati, advancing to the next round, and eventually winning the World Series. Then, the most pathetic play-off appearance of them all against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds struggles with injuries to key players all season, so they were forced to play in the Wild Card round; a one game playoff to define a whole season of baseball. The Reds started their wounded ace, Johnny Cueto, who had been battling an injured hamstring for the entirety of the season. The Pirate crowd was so motivated and so loud, that at one point, they intimidated Johnny Cueto so much, that he dropped the baseball. A symbol in which he might as well have said “I’m frustrated and nervous”.
. . .
All of the failure is now behind them. The team has a great compilation of young talent and veteran leaders, a mixture every great MLB team needs. The Reds have the best pure hitter in the game wearing number 19 and playing first base, and the Reds need him to hit for power again like he did back in 2010, the season where he won the MVP. In 2012, Votto injured his left knee, thus, removing a lot of power from his swing. The power isn’t really gone from Votto, it’s more about how much confidence in the knee he has. If the confidence returns to Votto, fans should be ready for another MVP from the first baseman.
Another key component to any ball club is the starting rotation, and the Reds have the best in all of baseball. Many will make an argument for the Detroit Tigers and their rotation, but if I were managing a game, I would much rather have the Reds starting five pitching on my side. The Reds have five guys that can go out to a mound and dictate the outcome of each and every baseball game. It starts with the dual-aces of the staff, Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos. They are the perfect combination of fire and ice. Most of Johnny Cueto’s game deals with deception of the opposing hitter, while Latos’s approach is to simply over power the opposing line-up. When Cueto toes the rubber, he is doing everything in his power to make the opposing hitter walk back to the dugout baffled. Meanwhile, Latos will make you swing the bat. He will throw a fastball anywhere he wants and will make you miss.
The rest of the rotation rounds off with Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani. Mike Leake really doesn’t have much to impress a fan. He’s the kind of pitcher who will go out every fifth day and do whatever it takes to get the job done. The other two pitchers, however, have the raw ability to be the ace of many pitching staffs around the MLB. Last season, the 27 year-old Homer Bailey finally emerged as the pitcher the organization had always expected him to be. Meanwhile, Tony Cingrani emerged last season as a future star for the Reds when he came up to the major leagues with a rocket-fire fastball and a baffling change up. The Reds rotation will be the key component to the title run.
. . .
If you haven’t heard of this next guy, you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years. The Reds will optimally bring up a man who since 2009, has stolen 395 bases in the minor leagues, as well as 13 in 13 games in the major leagues. This man signed to play college football at Mississippi State as a wide receiver, but instead, pursued a career in baseball. This man is Billy Hamilton. As it stands now, Billy Hamilton will be the Opening Day starting centerfielder for the Reds. Hamilton has the potential to be the x-factor for the Cincinnati Reds, but all of that lies on one key factor: will Billy Hamilton be able to hit? Hamilton struggled in Triple-A Louisville last season hitting only .256, but that doesn’t scare me away one bit. Hamilton is 23 years old and still has plenty of time to mature into a solid lead-off hitter. In the future, fans should defiantly look forward to Billy Hamilton starting every game in center field.
However, before the offseason ends, the Reds should take a long, hard look at a potential blockbuster trade for Dodgers’ centerfielder, Matt Kemp for Brandon Phillips, Homer Bailey and Phil Ervin. To clear any confusion up, Phil Ervin is currently ranked as the number for prospect in the Reds organization. Ervin was the Reds’ first round pick in 2013 and was named the Cape Cod League Most Valuable Player in 2013. For those who don’t know, the Cape Cod league is the first time many of the MLB’s top prospects compete with a wood bat. For many scouts, it’s much more honest to the hitters and pitchers, because an aluminum bat gives much more pop than a wood bat.
Matt Kemp would fit in with the Reds exquisitely. In reality, Kemp could realistically fit in anywhere, but he would provide the perfect element to an already top-notch Reds line-up. Kemp has the tools every player wish they had; he can hit for contact, hit for power, has a great arm, is a great fielder, and he can steal upwards of 30 bases a season. Kemp also fits the Reds future plan financially. He will annually make around $21 million. Phillips will make about $11 million a season until 2017 and Homer Bailey will eventually be making about $10-11 million a season when he receives an extension. In reality, if the Reds wanted to keep Homer Bailey, they would likely be forced to overpay. Right now, the Reds must trade Bailey, otherwise, they will lose the talent Bailey brings.
If the Reds do trade and acquire Kemp, the line-up will look something like this: 1. Zach Cozart, Shortstop, 2. Skip Shumaker, second base, 3. Joey Votto, first base, 4. Jay Bruce, right field 5. Matt Kemp, left field, 6. Todd Frazier, third base, 7. Devin Mesoraco, catcher, 8. Billy Hamilton, center fielder, 9. Pitcher. This line-up, if all the players stay healthy, can easily pound their way to the World Series.
Matt Kemp does come at a steep price, so the Reds could also look other routes this offseason. One trade that would be marvelous for Cincinnati would involve a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason, although this one would have much steeper values. The Tampa Bay Rays have been looking to trade David Price for the entirety of the 2013-2014 offseason, with no real resolution so far. Although the Reds already have a surplus of pitching talent, Price brings a whole new dynamic to the rotation. The 28 year-old Price already has quite the track record in the MLB, with a career 71-39 record, 3.19 ERA, 3 All-Star appearances, and the 2012 Cy Young all on his slate, Price could give the Reds the best rotation in the history of the game. They would have a rotation of Price, Latos, Cueto, Leake, and Cingrani to opposing hitters.
The price for David Price could be less than Kemp, plus, the Reds could pick up more talent. Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey will once again be the highlights of the deal from the Reds’ side of things, but this time, instead of Phil Ervin, the Reds should throw in first base prospect, Neftali Soto. It’s obvious the Reds won’t need a new first baseman for a very long time. The 2010 MVP, Joey Votto, is entering the third year of a 12-year, $251 million deal that won’t expire until after the 2024 season, when Votto will turn 41. For the Rays, if the season started today, the Rays would be forced to go with Sean Rodriugez at first. Rodruigez has played only 31 out of 563 career games at the position, making him quite the oddball at the position.
The Reds should make a push for the talented Rays second baseman, Ben Zobrist. Zobrist made his second All-Star apperence in 2013, a season where he batted .275 and batted in 71 runs. The 32 year-old Zobrist is one of the few players the Reds truly need. Zobrist is a hard-nosed, humble ball player that wants to win and will do anything for the team. He showed this in 2013 when he played five different positions. In his career, Zobrist has played every position on the field with the exception of catcher and pitcher. This could really help the Reds fight for a title, sort of the way the Red Sox did last year, with players who want a championship more than money or fame.
. . .
A final move the Reds could do this offseason, and I don’t think this is likely or safe, is to sign a two to three year deal with former Rangers outfielder, Nelson Cruz. Cruz was suspended a season ago for PEDs, something that has scared off a lot of teams this season, but that’s not the scariest part. In the MLB, great defense wins championships. Over the years, Nelson Cruz has been taking a steady decline as a fielder, which makes most people believe that he will likely be more of a target for an American League team, where he would be plugged in as a designated hitter. What could be a routine fly ball for a fielder like Ryan Ludwick or Chris Heisey may be a very difficult catch for Cruz. The pressing question here for a team like the Reds’ is: will Cruz’s power be able to match his lack of fielding ability?
The Reds will have to make some sort of big move this offseason in order to hold their own against division rivals such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals, both of which topped the Reds in the NL Central a season ago. All that being said, the Reds still have a very solid team. If the Reds can stay healthy, the team could be very dangerous.