30 in 30: Cincinnati Reds

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Sure, Philly and San Diego both added superstars. However, lost in the chaos of this offseason is that the Reds are now legit. After an all-time fantastic offseason, make no mistake, the Reds are going to be right in the thick of things this season.

It starts at the very top. Jim Riggleman was replaced by David Bell, and Bell brought along with him the best coaching staff in all of baseball. Derek Johnson, former Brewers pitching coach, is now with the Reds. Turner Ward, who turned the Dodgers into the most formidable lineup in baseball, is now manning the Reds hitters. Both of them brought along some familiar faces as well.

Following a trade with the Dodgers, one-third of the Reds’ opening day lineup will have formerly played for Los Angeles. Yasiel Puig, who spent the previous couple years as seemingly Turner Ward’s best friend, got dealt to Cincinnati along with Austin Barnes, Matt Kemp, and Alex Wood; a deal which established the Reds as a true competitor.

Puig teed off for a .267/.327/.494 slash line last season, playing in one of baseball’s toughest stadiums to hit in. Now that he is moving from L.A. to Great American Ball Park, expect those power numbers to spike. Puig had 23 homers last year, and I would be somewhat surprised if he doesn’t finish with 30 this upcoming season.

Matt Kemp had a breakout season last year with Ward in Los Angeles, but it’s tougher to count on him to repeat it this year than Puig. Part of that is due to this being his age 34 season, part of it is due to last season being a massive outlier in his career, but the most important part is his playing time. Kemp will likely be splitting time with Jesse Winker in left field this year, so he isn’t going to be given any shot to match his production from last year.

The Reds’ catching depth suddenly looks fantastic following the addition of Austin Barnes, likely to fill a backup role. I’m betting that the Reds will carry three catchers, at least to start, with Barnes added to Curt Casali and Tucker Barnhart. Barnes had a career year in 2017, but then fell like a rock back down to earth last season. If Barnes stops beating the ball into the ground a ton like he did last year, and he can get the ball into the air at GABP, he is going to have a fantastic year.

That last part is something that can be said about everyone, however. Great American Ball Park was, by a mile, the best park in baseball for hitters to hit dingers last year. It’s a huge part of the reason Scooter Gennett had a big season, and it is a big part of the reason these new guys coming from Los Angeles are going to surprise some.

The rest of the Reds’ starting lineup comes into 2019 unchanged, but their bench is far from it. Both Jose Iglesias and Derek Dietrich were signed to minor-league deals, and it is unfathomable to think that neither one of them can beat out Alex Blandino for a bench spot. Neither one of them should really be on minor-league deals, but assuming Cincinnati actually does keep three catchers, both won’t make the roster.

The infield of Suarez-Peraza-Gennett-Votto was possibly the best in baseball last season, and I don’t see any reason why they can’t be near the top of that leaderboard again this season. Not only did they take a massive step forward last year, but now they have better guys in the lineup around them and will be getting a lot better coaching.

Joey Votto was the one guy who took a step back last season and wasn’t quite the MVP-level first baseman we have become accustomed to. While this is his age-35 season, I have trouble coming to terms with him being on the decline just yet. He may never be the MVP again, but I don’t see him coming in at 131 wRC+ like he did last season.

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Interestingly, Votto’s line drive % spiked last season as every other offensive number fell. It was his power that just straight plummetted last season, and there isn’t anything that jumps off the page as to why. Votto did deal with some nagging injuries last season, which may have contributed to it, but this is the one major cause for concern for the Reds coming into 2019.

I don’t expect a massive regression from either Gennett or Eugenio Suarez, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them fall just short of last year’s totals. Either way, expect big seasons out of both.

As for the pitching, it is always tough to pitch in Cincinnati. However, it’s also really tough to pitch at Miller Park, and Derek Johnson’s overmatched Brewers unit had the 5th best ERA in baseball last season. I speak the world of Johnson because I truly believe he was a massive reason the Brewers won 96 games last year, and it was a massive mistake that they let him go.

He inherits one of baseball’s newest pitching staff, including his former ace Sonny Gray. Gray, who was acquired from the Yankees in a three-team trade earlier in the offseason, was on Johnson’s Vanderbilt staff from 2008 to 2011, with Johnson helping him get drafted 18th overall. Gray was awful in his stint with the Yanks, but he was one of the American League’s best pitchers in Oakland. I believe Johnson is going to get the best out of him once again, and the Reds are going to be laughing at the results.

Alex Wood, who looks to be Cincy’s #2, has had four good years in the past five, including a career year just two years ago. He keeps the ball out of the year quite a bit better than the average pitcher, and as long as he doesn’t show anything velocity related this spring, I don’t see any reason he won’t be a great pitcher again for Cincinnati.

The wild card in this staff is Luis Castillo. Castillo’s pitches are absolutely filthy, and he has everything he needs to be one of the game’s best starters. However, he has had lots of troubles with command over the course of his young career. If he can’t learn to command it, he’s going to be in for a long season. However, if he can, the Reds have the potential for a top-10 rotation in baseball, especially with Tanner Roark also in the fray.

Cincinnati’s only real downfall is their bullpen. Raisel Iglesias may win the Reliever Of The Year this year, now that he’s working with the guy that turned Jeremy Jeffress into one of the game’s best. Outside of him, one of Amir Garrett or Michael Lorenzen is going to have to eat a lot of high-leverage innings this year.

I’ve been pretty vocal saying that the Reds, after all their offseason moves, are a better team than the Brewers. That’s because they are. The Brewers lost almost their entire staff and added only one player, although a star. The Reds added an entire pitching staff, and one that is good at that, while shoring up the only holes in their lineup. Keep sleeping on the Reds, but they are going to be serious playoff candidates this year.

In the NL, and especially the NL Central, “playoff candidate” is likely 85-89 wins. I can’t envision multiple teams in the NL getting to 90 wins, barring some massive injuries. The Reds are going to be right in the thick of things come October, and if you don’t believe that, I don’t know what to tell you. Have fun watching them win.

Team Record: 86-76

Team MVP: Joey Votto

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