Hey everyone, I am a new face over here at Armchair MLB, so I thought I would give a quick intro before getting to this week’s article. Normally you can find me over at Armchair Big Ten Recruiting, but now I will be putting out a baseball article each week as well. I played baseball my whole life and have been studying sabermetrics and baseball operations for years, so that is what I will focus on each week. I am a Cincinnati native and die-hard Reds fan, so I thought it proper to start with the Reds in my first article. This week, I will be taking a look at what the 2018 Cincinnati Reds need to do to complete the rebuild and attempt to compete in the National League Central.
Statistics to reference
FanGraphs has an excellent database of different metrics and what they mean. On top of being a statistical database, FanGraphs also provides statistical projections for the 2018 season. Here are a few stats that I will be referencing regularly.
WAR: Wins Above Replacement. A general overview of how important/contributive a player is to their team in terms of wins.
wOBA: Weighted On-Base Average. wOBA measures a player’s offensive value by assigning a value to each possible outcome of a plate appearance.
wRC+: Weighted Runs Created Plus. This metric measures a player’s offensive production in terms of runs. wRC+ is also adjusted for park effects.
.AVG/.OBP/.SLG: The standard batting slash line for a player. Batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
FIP: Fielding Independent Pitching. Metric that estimates a pitcher’s run prevention independent of the performance of their defense.
WHIP: Walks & Hits per Innings Pitched.
ERA: Earned Run Average. Average of the amount of earned runs given up by a pitcher per nine innings.
BsR: Base running.
2018 Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds have been in the rebuild phase for seemingly longer than any team at the present time. Reds fans and players expect to win, but it has been a while since that has been a reality. First baseman Joey Votto had some words on this during Spring Training:
You need to hear all 90 seconds of Joey Votto. To the very last drop.
While the rebuild process has been slow and painful, Reds fans are beginning to smell success on the horizon. A few key changes could make the difference in 2018 and beyond.
Likely Opening Day starters
Catcher: Tucker Barnhart
Contract: Signed through 2021 with 2022 club option. Will make $4.4375 million in 2018.
2017 stats: 2.0 WAR, 92 wRC+, .317 wOBA, .270/.347/.403.
2018 ZiPS projections: 2.2 WAR, 84 wRC+, .306 wOBA, .262/.333/.384.
First Base: Joey Votto
Contract: Signed through 2023 with 2024 club option. Will make $25 million in 2018.
2017 stats: 6.6 WAR, 165 wRC+, .428 wOBA, .320/.454/.578.
2018 ZiPS projections: 4.9 WAR, 147 wRC+, .401 wOBA, .303/.434/.519.
Second Base: Scooter Gennett
Contract: Won arbitration for $5.7 million in 2018. Gennett has one more year of arbitration.
2017 stats: 2.4 WAR, 124 wRC+, .367 wOBA, .295/.342/.531.
2018 ZiPS projections: 0.8 WAR, 94 wRC+, .320 wOBA, .265/.310/.448.
Third Base: Eugenio Suarez
Contract: $3.75 million in 2018. Eligible for arbitration through 2020.
2017 stats: 4.1 WAR, 117 wRC+, .356 wOBA, .260/.367/.461.
2018 ZiPS projections: 3.0 WAR, 108 wRC+, .342 wOBA, .257/.343/.456.
Shortstop: Jose Peraza
Contract: Not yet eligible for arbitration.
2017 stats: -0.2 WAR, 62 wRC+, .273 wOBA, .259/.297/.324.
2018 ZiPS projections: 0.7 WAR, 76 wRC+, .293 wOBA, .273/.309/.370.
Left Field: Adam Duvall
Contract: Eligible for arbitration beginning in 2019.
2017 stats: 1.8 WAR, 98 wRC+, .327 wOBA, .249/.301/.480.
2018 ZiPS projections: 1.5 WAR, 99 wRC+, .329 wOBA, .247/.300/.486.
Center Field: Billy Hamilton
Contract: Will make $4.6 million in 2018. 2019 is Hamilton’s final year of arbitration.
2017 stats: 1.2 WAR, 66 wRC+, .278 wOBA, .247/.299/.335.
2018 ZiPS projections: 1.8 WAR, 71 wRC+, .285 wOBA, .252/.305/.348.
Right Field: Scott Schebler
Contract: Arbitration begins in 2019.
2017 stats: 1.4 WAR, 100 wRC+, .330 wOBA, .233/.307/.484.
2018 ZiPS projections: 1.0 WAR, 100 wRC+, .329 wOBA, .249/.319/.463.
Last season, the pitching for the Reds was the worst in the Majors. All in all, Cincinnati had a decent offense that should have been capable of competing for a Wild Card spot. However, the starting rotation maintained an ERA of 5.55.
Speaking of the starting rotation, the top four slots are likely locked up by DeSclafani, Finnegan, Bailey and Castillo. The fifth slot in the rotation could go to Robert Stephenson, Michael Lorenzen or Amir Garrett. The additions of David Hernandez and Jared Hughes should provide some solid depth to the bullpen.
What can be done now
Above all else, I believe the Reds need to deal Billy Hamilton as soon as possible. As a fan of Cincinnati, this is tough as Hamilton is one of my favorite players. However, from a rebuilding and competitive point of view, it makes too much sense.
First, the Reds have four starting outfielders for three spots. Jesse Winker is one of the top prospects in the Reds organization and could have a massive 2018 if given the chance to play. In fact, projections have him as a top-20 outfielder for this coming season.
In terms of contracts, the Reds only have Hamilton locked down for one more season. Duvall and Schebler are still in pre-arbitration, and Winker is a rookie.
Production wise, Hamilton’s hitting has never really been there for the Reds. As a rebuilding team, Cincinnati cannot afford to knock offensive production for defensive excellence (Hamilton is ranked as the top defensive center fielder in the National League).
Where could Hamilton land?
From an outsider’s point of view, there are two good fits for Hamilton. Both of these teams follow roughly the same profile: an above average offense that can afford to trade some runs for an excellent defensive center fielder. I would look for the Reds to try and get an MLB-ready starting pitcher with cash or go after some minor league pitching prospects.
The team that makes the most sense for Hamilton would be the Chicago Cubs. Anytime a discussion begins of trading a fan-favorite to a division rival, things get sticky. However, this could benefit both teams immensely. The likely starter at center field for the Cubs according to Roster Resource is Albert Almora Jr. In 2018, Almora is projected to have a 1.0 WAR, four stolen bases, a -0.3 BsR and a 3.2 fielding rating. Chicago has one of the best offenses in baseball, and Hamilton would be a notable upgrade in center field with a projected 12.5 fielding rating. Furthermore, Almora is in pre-arbitration until 2020, so he will have plenty of time to develop while Hamilton aides a World Series run.
The Seattle Mariners should be in a position to compete for a Wild Card slot in 2018. Seattle will be led by decent pitching and a solid offense. However, the outfield could definitely use some work. In centerfield resides Dee Gordon, a second baseman. Gordon is incredibly fast, but it is no easy task to stick a career infielder in the most difficult of the three outfield positions. Still, the Mariners are paying Gordon more than $10 million per year through 2020. The best option here would be to move Gordon to left field to share time with Ben Gamel, and put Billy Hamilton in centerfield.
Possible moves by the trade deadline
Right now, the Reds are looking at a $100.523 million payroll for the 2018 season. A bulk of that money will be going to Homer Bailey and Devin Mesoraco. Bailey is signed through 2019 with a 2020 mutual option; making $21 million, $23 million and $25 million per year. Mesoraco will be a free agent after this season. Depending on Bailey’s health and performance, there are a number of routes the Reds could take. If Bailey is able to remain healthy and has a solid first half of the season, I would not be opposed to keeping him for the rotation in 2019. However, trading him in this scenario would open up a lot of space on the payroll to bring in some young talent.
When it comes to Mesoraco, at this point the best option is just to let his contract run out. If there is a need for a catcher or designated hitter on a playoff contending team, Mesoraco could be a plausible trading piece. However, I expect Mesoraco to enter free agency and Cincinnati to stick with Tucker Barnhart.
Preferred 25-man roster
C Tucker Barnhart
1B Joey Votto
2B Scooter Gennett
3B Eugenio Suarez
SS Nick Senzel
LF Adam Duval
CF Scott Schebler
RF Jesse Winker
INF Jose Peraza
C Devin Mesoraco
OF Phillip Ervin
INF Dilson Herrera