It is evident to the discerning eye what the Cincinnati Reds are all about heading into the 2019 baseball season.
As spring training opens this week at their Goodyear, Ariz. complex, they are all about 2019. They are not about 2020 or 2021, just 2019.
It is all about their 150-year anniversary, which they will celebrate in many ways during the course of the season.
They want to put both feet forward, freshen up their faces to give fans something worthwhile to see after four straight last-place showings and the loss of 800,000 fans over the last three years.
It is a one-year push, then it retreats back to the rebuilding cycle.
Why say that? Because while they have made several solid and noteworthy acquisitions, most are one-year rentals, players who can become free agents after the 2019 season.
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That’s the case with pitcher Tanner Roark, pitcher Alex Wood, outfielder Yasiel Puig and outfielder Matt Kemp.
They did add one pitcher, Sonny Gray, who they locked up with a three-year $31 million deal.
And they have not extended the contract of second baseman Scooter Gennett, also eligible for free agency after the 2019 season.
While they do this, it gives their top prospects like Nick Senzel, Taylor Trammell, Hunter Greene and Jonathan India, among others, to get more minor league seasoning as part of the continuing rebuild.
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In the meantime, the Reds have filled their roster with interesting players for the fans for 2019.
The colorful Puig will be a fan favorite. But where will he play? The Reds are still without a legitimate center fielder after letting go of Billy Hamilton.
Will they move Scott Schebler from right field to center field and play Puig in right? It would seem that Puig in center and Schebler in right is a better option.
And they are still talking about moving infielder Senzel to center field. That will work itself out over the next six weeks in spring training.
How about left field? Will they play the veteran Matt Kemp there or keep the young up-and-comer, Jesse Winker, in left. That, of course, could be a platoon situation, although that would seem to stifle Winker’s progress.
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How good the Reds will be still starts and ends on the pitcher’s mound. The Reds will score runs, but will they stop the opposition?
There is no question that Roark, Wood and Gray are upgrades, but none are accomplished top of the rotation pitchers.
Those three are expected to join Luis Castillo and injury-prone Anthony DeSclafani in the five-man rotation. Who will start Opening Day? Castillo? Gray? Wood? That, too, will be determined over the next six weeks.
Roark led the National League in losses last season at Washington, Gray struggled mightily in Yankee Stadium and Wood was up-and-down with the Dodgers. Both Gray and Wood found themselves in the bullpen during parts of last season.
For the Reds to improve, all three need to reach a higher plateau than they occupied last season.
The bullpen once again should be plus with Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Michael Lorenzen, Sal Romano, Cody Reed and Amir Garrett the top candidates.
The Reds tried hard to pry catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins, offering catcher Tucker Barnhart and No. 1 draft pick Jonathan India. The Reds balked, though, when the Marlins wanted Senzel or Greene or Trammell, so the Phillies landed Realmuto.
Barnhart, though, is one year removed from a Gold Glove, although he took a small step backward both defensively and offensively. Realmuto would have been a gargantuan upgrade, but the Reds can live with Barnhart.
The infield remains the same, a solid offensive group with Joey Votto at first, Gennett at second, Jose Peraza at shortstop and Eugenio Suarez at third.
All four are offensive weapons with Suarez and Peraza making big strides last season. Defensively, the infield is average — not good up the middle and just adequate at first and third, although Suarez is getting better and better.
New manager David Bell most likely will do a lot of experimenting with lineups during exhibition games, seeking the right combination.
Peraza most likely will lead off, as he did most of last season when Hamilton was dropped to the bottom of the order. Peraza puts the ball in play, doesn’t walk much, and has shown power.
The lineup might look something like this: Peraza, Winker, Votto, Suarez, Gennett, Puig, Schebler, Barnhart. Or it could be Peraza, Gennett, Votto, Suarez, Kemp, Schebler, Puig, Barnhart. Bell will sort it out. The lineup has punch no matter the order.
The major problem for the Reds, of course, is the strong National League Central. The Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers remain strong.
But if all goes well, no injuries and the new pitchers perform, the Reds could pass the Pittsburgh Pirates and vacate last place and might come close to .500.
Whatever the case, the 2019 team will be interesting, more competitive and finally break the 90-plus loss chain it has worn around its neck the past four years.
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