Playing Pepper 2016: Cincinnati Reds

It’s one of those rites of spring, one of those signs that baseball is returning.  For the eighth straight year, we’re Playing Pepper!  We’ll ask six questions of bloggers for each major league team as a way of getting familiar with those teams that don’t wear the birds on the bat.  This year, this series will be “sponsored” by The Cardinals Way, the new book from Howard Megdal.  It’s an outstanding look at the Cardinal organization and I can’t recommend you getting a copy highly enough.

Cincinnati Reds
64-98, fifth in the NL Central
Last year’s Pepper

I’ve told you many a time that, unlike a large part of Cardinal Nation, I have a soft spot for the Reds, mainly because my father-in-law was such a big fan.  His passing last year didn’t diminish that and the only two games I went to last season happened to be when Cincinnati visited St. Louis.  It was a tough year for Reds fans as well, though for slightly lesser reasons, and 2016 isn’t looking much brighter.  How do you get through that?

To find out, we’ve got a cadre of Reds we’re talking to today.  Leading off is Josh Bresser, staff writer for the Fansided site Blog Red Machine.  He Tweets @JoshBresserBRM.  Secondly, we have our good friend Shawn Weaver of Cincinnati Reds Blog.  Shawn’s been doing this since the very first, so this is his eighth time in the barrell.  You’ll find him on Twitter @coweaver.  Batting third is Steve Mancuso from Redleg Nation, like Josh making his debut.  His Twitter handle is @spmancuso.  Finally, for the third straight year we have Brian from Chris Sabo’s Goggles.  His Tweets can be found @Goggles17.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

BRM: No. This offseason has been a mess for Cincinnati. Both of the trades they’ve made have been underwhelming. The main prospect they acquired this winter (Jose Peraza), whose main assets are his speed and his MLB proximity, doesn’t have a spot to play because Brandon Phillips has blocked two attempted trades. Peraza is a fine player, although his drop across the board in prospect rankings supports the widely-held notion that his value is declining. I agree with the multitude of scouts and analysts who say that Peraza just isn’t enough as the centerpiece for two years of Todd Frazier. The Aroldis Chapman trade was a disaster, but it was the best they could do given the allegations against him. Of course, everyone who has a clue was saying that he should have been moved at the trade deadline last year. It’s hard to imagine what kind of deals they turned down for him then.

CRB: The Reds have been trading off veterans getting expensive since their winning window has passed. The worry is that the guys they are picking up, at least the position players, are guys that don’t walk. It is developing into a theme. While the club has shown some signs of getting more analytical in the front office, that’s a worrying sign the message is not yet spread widely.

RN: I’d describe the Reds’ offseason as doing the bare minimum. I agree with the decision to rebuild and thought the Cueto and Leake trades at the 2015 deadline brought solid returns. Trading Aroldis Chapman was obviously the right move, but they let him go when his value was the lowest. They should have waited for the MLB ruling on his domestic violence case. They traded Todd Frazier for Jose Peraza, which doesn’t sit well with me. Peraza is a light-hitting second baseman, something not too hard to find. Frazier was a big trade chip. The front office hasn’t signed any free agents, even one they could turn around and trade at the 2016 deadline. Their payroll will be $30 million lower than last year, so they have the money. Overall, the offseason has been disappointing.

CSG: Everyone knew that the Reds were going to trade away a lot of their big pieces in the offseason. What we didn’t know is just how little they (apparently) got in return. I stand by my belief that the Reds should’ve traded Chapman before the All-Star break last season, if not sooner, because they could’ve gotten a ton in return from a desperate team. Instead, Chapman acted like an idiot and the Reds ended up getting half of what they should have.

C70: Are you surprised Jay Bruce is still on this team?

BRM: Surprised, no. Disappointed, yes. Bruce, as you may or may not know, was almost dealt in exchange for Zack Wheeler until the Reds’ owner blocked the deal. I was for the deal at the time, as opposed to most Reds fans who felt that Wheeler wasn’t enough. At this point, after two consecutive terrible seasons by Bruce, getting a player of Wheeler’s caliber would be a near miracle. I’m not entirely surprised that he hasn’t been dealt- the outfield market has been oversaturated this offseason, and Bruce’s value is at rock bottom right now. I’m disappointed that Reds’ ownership didn’t allow the trade deadline deal to go through, however.

CRB: The reason for Jay Bruce having a tough year in 2014 was an injury. The reason for his tough 2015 is…nobody knows. Until they do, the guy that should have become one of the NL’s top cleanup hitters as well as a swell right fielder is not worth much in trade, and thus probably not worth trading. He’s not currently blocking a prospect, so the urgency is not there.

RN: Yes and no. I wouldn’t have traded Bruce this offseason. He can really build up his trade value if he has a good first three months. There’s a good chance of that. But I’m surprised the Reds didn’t trade him.

CSG: Somewhat, but I think there’s still a good chance he could get traded before opening day. Especially if another team’s big bat gets hurt during spring training. Hopefully he’ll have a great first half of the season and the Reds get some nice pieces in a deadline trade.

C70: How close are the prospects the Reds acquired this winter? When do you expect this team to be competitive again?

BRM: Peraza is close. Scouts mostly disagree on his overall worth, but most agree that he is very close. If the Reds had succeeded in trading Brandon Phillips, he would be their starting second baseman on opening day. Unfortunately, Phillips felt that his current compensation wasn’t adequate for accepting a trade from a last place team to a likely contender, so the Reds appear to be stuck with him until 2017. Until that point, Peraza doesn’t have a clear path to an everyday role. Of the other players received, Scott Schebler (Frazier deal) could make a strong argument for the everyday left fielder role, and Caleb Cotham could be an average reliever. The Reds expect this team to contend by 2017. I believe that’s optimistic. I personally don’t expect the Reds to contend until 2018 or 2019 at the earliest.

CRB: The prospects the Reds picked up are either close-to-the-majors guys, who should debut in 2016 or 2017 if they haven’t already, or organization guys who will never make the Show. There are a lot of good pitching prospects in the system, and if things break the way the team hopes they could be in the race as soon as 2017. If several arms fall off, this could be a very long rebuild. Not much offense in the system currently.

RN: The Reds’ main winter acquisition is Jose Peraza. But as the team is currently constructed, if everyone stays healthy, Peraza doesn’t have anywhere to play. That’s because the Reds haven’t been able to move Brandon Phillips, although they’ve tried. If they had moved Phillips, Peraza would start at 2B for the big league club on Opening Day. But as it stands now, he’ll probably begin the season at AAA. The other acquisitions are either not close to the majors or aren’t on a trajectory for a meaningful contribution.

I expect the pitching to be competitive the second half of this season. If the club makes a couple smart moves between now and next spring, they could be competitive overall by Opening Day 2017. But that’s a big IF.

CSG: I don’t think anyone is impressed by most of the prospects the Reds got, but you obviously never know until they start playing. Rebuilding happens—especially with small market teams like the Reds—and I think the fans understand that, but based on who they’ve gotten from trades, it’s hard to believe that the turnaround will be as quick as the front office is saying (2017). If the young pitchers meet the potential they’re expected to, that will certainly speed up the process, but I’d be surprised if the Reds are competitive again before 2020. They’ve just gutted so much of the core of the team and don’t have a ton of players in the minors waiting to break out.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

BRM: Raisel Iglesias. The guy has the look of an absolute stud. He had a 3.28 xFIP, a 3.26 SIERA, and a 3.7 K/BB in his rookie season while flashing excellent stuff. I fully expect him to be a Top 25 starter at least next year with a season similar to Shelby Miller or Michael Wacha’s 2015 season.

CRB: Aside from Devin Mesoraco coming back from his hip injury, the biggest keys for the Reds are developing pitchers. Raisel Iglesias could be poised for a breakthrough, and the team has its eye on about a dozen young arms who could all be ready to explode on the league; Michael Lorenzen, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Jon Moscot, Robert Stephenson, and more will all be looking for an opportunity.

RN: Among the unestablished players, I’d say Raisel Iglesias, the starting pitcher. He’s from Cuba and only pitched about half of last season. He has the stuff to be a #2 or #3 starter. From a comeback standpoint, I expect catcher Devin Mesoraco to return fully healthy from his hip impingement surgery and have a big year.

CSG: Hopefully the young pitchers. If they don’t show real signs of improvement and growth, the Reds are in real trouble.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

BRM: 70-92, last place.

CRB: This season will be a long one, but if Mesoraco is healthy they have a shot at .500. I’ll predict 75-87 and 4th place, ahead of the Brewers.

RN: I see them winning 75-80 games if they stay reasonably healthy. I base that on their young pitching developing pretty quickly. The Reds will be fighting the Brewers for 4th place in the NL Central. Should be quite an exciting race from the bottom.

CSG: Well, they’re going to finish last. Obviously. 60-102 is my prediction.

C70: Which team in the division do you most enjoy beating and how do you think you’ll fare against them in 2016?

BRM: The Pirates. Their fans are obnoxious and their players never stop whining. Probably not too well.

CRB: Reds fans love to hate the Cardinals, but the Redbirds will beat them like a drum in 2016.

RN: The easy answer is the Cardinals. They’ve been rivals and competition for a while. But I’d probably say the Pirates. There has been more animosity between the Reds and Pittsburgh. The Reds will have a tough time with either of those teams this year, particularly St. Louis.

CSG: It’s always fun to beat the Cubs, but the Cardinals make it so easy to dislike them that they’re my favorite team to watch the Reds beat. Unfortunately, it rarely happens, and I don’t expect that to change much this season.

Thanks to all the guys for their thoughts on the Cincinnati club.  That rivalry between the Reds and the Cards may die down for a couple of years, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of it.

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