Country music legend Kenny Rogers once sang, “You gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them. Know when to walk away, know when to run”. This ideology can reference both five card poker and management of a baseball team. Sometimes when things are not going your way you need to fold and reshuffle, or get an entirely new deck to play with. Sure, there are times when you need to play with the cards that were dealt. However, a person or team with higher aspirations creates their own hand and goes for the win. After five straight losing seasons and attendance declining at The Great American Ballpark, the Cincinnati Reds have decided to create their own hand and challenge for the National League Central.
To say the Reds have had a busy off-season would be a drastic understatement. Fans of the Reds will not recognize the team from previous years, as the Reds’ General Manager Nick Krall reshuffled the roster with veteran talent. The addition of outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig from the Los Angeles Dodgers via blockbuster trade in late December will be the most noticeable difference in the 2019 starting lineup. Kemp, a 34-year-old veteran and three-time All-Star with Dodgers, will be looked upon to be a leader in the clubhouse and to replicate his early 2018 output with the Dodgers. Puig is still considered an enigma and a project, even after six tumultuous seasons in Los Angeles.
Puig exhibits flashes of jaw-dropping talent combined with head-scratching blunders. Puig will be reunited with his admired hitting coach Turner Ward in Cincinnati, and Ward and manager David Bell now have an opportunity to harness Puig’s skills and make him a force offensively and defensively every game. The additions of Kemp and Puig can provide some needed run support (ranked 18th in 2018) and power (ranked 20th in home runs) for a team that plays 81 games in a very hitter-friendly ballpark.
Third baseman Eugenio Suarez, 27 years old, is a rising star (34 HR and 104 RBI in 2018) that many fans have never heard about, however, he has the potential to be a spoiler for the National League MVP in 2019. Suarez, along with first baseman Joey Votto will have extra protection surrounding them and hope to see better pitches during run-producing at-bats in 2019.
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The top of the lineup will feature speedy shortstop Jose Peraza, who will be looked upon to set the table for the Reds this season. Clutch hitting second baseman Scooter Gennett will look to feast upon fastballs with Peraza on base, thus setting the stage for the before-mentioned Kemp, Votto, Suarez, and Puig.
Overhaul of Arms
In order to have success in 2019, the Reds pitching rotation had to be upgraded, finishing 14th out of 15 in the National League in 2018. Included in the late-December trade with the Dodgers, was the release of troubled right-hander Homer Bailey and the addition of left-handed starting pitcher Alex Wood. Wood brings with him a career 3.29 ERA and over 800 career innings along with post-season experience. Reds look for him to return to his 2017 form which saw him post a career high in wins (16) and a career low in ERA 2.72. In addition to Wood, the Reds added right-hander Tanner Roark from the Nationals who has shown the ability to be productive in Washington’s rotation the last few years. However, Roark needs to be able to keep the ball in play and avoid the outrageous number of home runs (23 in 2017 and 24 in 2018) he has served up the last few seasons.
Finally, on January 21, 2019, the Reds acquired right-hander Sonny Gray from the Yankees for a couple of prospects. Gray has shown tremendous upside and could be reinvented in Cincinnati with the help of pitching coach Derek Johnson, his coach at Vanderbilt University. Most importantly is that Gray is excited to be the newest member of the Cincinnati Reds and that mindset can only help his transition into the National League. The huge overhaul in Cincinnati might not be complete as the team is currently trying to acquire two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber from the Cleveland Indians.
The addition of Puig and Kemp to a lineup that already includes Votto, Suarez, and Gennett coupled with an upgrade of pitching, the Reds will look to get games into the capable hands of talented closer Raisel Iglesias. Look for the Reds to be a surprise team and make some noise as 2019 progresses. A reshuffle of the deck is what the Reds needed to compete in the toughest division in baseball, and this offseason the Reds did just that.