The next NL Central team up in our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Cincinnati Reds, who finished in last place in the division last season.
The Reds, coming off a 68-win season, have finished in last place in the division each of the last two seasons, and are clearly in rebuilding mode. Last month, they traded veteran 2B Brandon Phillips to the Braves for a couple of minor leaguers and earlier in the winter traded SP Dan Straily to the Marlins. Their biggest acquisition this offseason was RP Drew Storen, who provides a veteran presence in the bullpen and could compete for the closer’s role, a position he has experience in from his time with the Nationals. Phillips’ departure leaves 1B Joey Votto as the only experienced position player in the starting lineup. Replacing Phillips at second is speedy Jose Peraza, with more speed in the outfield represented by Billy Hamilton. SP Anthony DeSclafani looked like he might be on track to lead the rotation — which also includes SP Scott Feldman, who the Reds signed to a one-year contract in January — but he has been shut down for a month with a torn UCL sprain, so he’ll be starting the season on the DL.
The Reds’ .256 batting average last season was just above the MLB average of .255, but they were in the bottom 10 with 164 home runs and a .724 OPS. Thanks to Peraza and Hamilton, the team ranked second in the majors with 139 steals. Votto’s .326 average led the team, and he hit 29 home runs for a .985 OPS. OF Adam Duvall hit 33 home runs, the most on the club, but hit just .241 with a .795 OPS. 3B Eugenio Suarez hit .248 with 21 home runs in his first full season in the majors. Peraza hit .324 and stole 21 bases in 72 games, while Hamilton swiped 58 bases, which was the second-most in the majors.
The team’s 4.91 ERA was tied for third-worst in the majors and the pitching staff’s 1,241 strikeouts were in the bottom half of the league. The bullpen recorded just 28 saves, which was the fewest in the National League and second-fewest overall in the majors. DeSclafani posted a 3.28 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 123.1 innings over the course of 20 starts. SP Brandon Finnegan put up a 3.98 ERA and struck out 145 batters in 172 innings in 31 starts. RP Tony Cingrani led the bullpen with 17 saves in 65 appearances. His 4.14 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 63 innings don’t stand out as part of a particularly successful season. In 37 games, RP Raisel Iglesias recorded 83 strikeouts in 78.1 innings with 6 saves and a 2.53 ERA. With the Blue Jays and Mariners, Storen pitched in 57 games last season with a career-worst 5.23 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 51.2 innings; he also added 3 saves to his career total.
Without adding any big-name hitters after trading away Phillips, the Reds are likely going to remain an average to below-average offense this season. You would expect Votto to exhibit power again this year, but Duvall likely won’t be able to repeat the 33-homer season he had a year ago. Having Peraza and Hamilton on the basepaths with their speed doesn’t benefit the Reds as much as it could other teams since they can’t capitalize on having the runners on base as much as they should. The pitching staff is mediocre for the most part, lacking both a proven ace and closer. The team has SP Homer Bailey waiting in the wings as he recovers from offseason elbow surgery, but he likely won’t be able to pitch until June at the earliest. Iglesias is probably the best option to close games, but he has virtually no experience in the role so it’s a gamble as to whether he would succeed as the closer. Storen has closing experience — he’s just a couple saves shy of 100 for his career — but he didn’t have a good year in 2016 and the Reds may not want him closing out games.
The Reds are likely still the worst team in the Central and playing in the same division as the World Series champion Cubs obviously won’t do them any favors. If their young players can develop into stars, the Reds could be good in a few years but for now they’re just a bad team that will finish another season well under .500.
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