As the 2019 baseball season commenced, optimism on the banks of the Ohio River was at flood level.
The Cincinnati Reds seemed poised to finally be relevant after four straight last-place finishes in the National League Central. At the very least, a .500 season seemed attainable.
In today’s game, a stalwart bullpen is a necessity. And judging from 2018, the Reds’ bullpen was in good hands.
Returning off strong seasons were closer Raisel Iglesias, Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Michael Lorenzen and Amir Garret. The club also added veteran left hander Zach Duke.
Unfortunately, most of the bullpen occupants became Fire Starters. Instead of dousing flames, they fanned them.
By season’s end, Iglesias owned 12 losses and Hernandez, Hughes and Duke were long-gone, dumped for ineffectiveness.
Rookie manager David Bell was accused of overusing his bullpen, burning them out. Maybe so, but he did what every manager in baseball does — go to the bullpen at the first sign of distress.
Consider this. The Reds bullpen was used 535 times. But the Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts used his bullpen 545 times and the New York Yankees rookie manager Aaron Boone used his bullpen 546 times.
The Reds bullpen pitched 554 2/3 innings. The Yankees? 664 2/3 innings. The Dodgers? 552 innings. Both the Yankees and Dodgers won more than 100 games and won their divisions.
The difference was in earned run averages. The Reds bullpen compiled a 4.58 earned run average to 3.85 by the Dodgers and 4.28 by the Yankees.
So a point of emphasis for the Reds during the offseason should be reconstruction of the bullpen. The only consistent performer was Michael Lorenzen and the rest pretty much was a bus wreck. Can they do it in house? Probably not.
In-season acquisition Kevin Gausman and late call-up Matt Bowman proved serviceable, but the Reds need more.
Offensively, the team’s inability to score runs and hit with runners on base cost hitting coach Turner Ward his job, definitely a Fall Guy. Other than shortstop Jose Iglesias, the team’s situational hitting was putrid.
The Reds hit .244, 12th in the 15-team National League. And they were 12th in runs scored at 701.
They need offensive help like the world needs a cure for the common cold. It won’t be easy in either case.
Joey Votto had a second straight off season, for him, but with five years left on his contract, worth $120 million, and a no-trade clause, he isn’t going anywhere. The best the Reds can hope is that Votto, at age 37 next year, finds some magic.
The team needs an offensive jolt at catcher after two straight down seasons by Tucker Barnhart. Could back-up catcher Curt Casali be the answer if he is given more playing time? More likely the Reds will be on the hunt for help outside the organization.
The big question is what is going to happen with Jose Iglesias, the team’s most productive player at the plate other than Eugenio Suarez and perhaps Aristides Aquino.
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And is Aquino the answer in right field? He started his career as if on a direct path to Cooperstown, but slowed to a crawl late in the season.
Iglesias was not only the team’s best clutch hitter, his defensive play at shortstop was on par with other famous Venezuelan shortstops like Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio, David Concepcion and Omar Vizquel.
The issue is that Iglesias is a free agent and the Reds showed no effort during the season to offer him a long-term deal. And Iglesias figures to draw huge interest from other teams on the free agent market.
If Iglesias leaves, does that mean Freddy Galvis moves to shortstop? And guess what. Galvis, too, is Venezuelan and a top-shelf defender. He also showed power and hitting ability this season before he was injured. The Reds have a club option on Galvis for $5.5 million for 2020.
The outfield is a mess. Bell tried enough combinations to populate a small village.
The Reds probably will leave injury-prone Nick Senzel in center field, unless Iglesias leaves and they move him to second base, with Galvis at shortstop.
Left field was a revolving door of Jesse Winker, Phillip Ervin, Josh VanMeter, Derek Dietrich and even infielder Jose Peraza. A decision needs to be made to find a regular left fielder. Right field is Aquino’s to lose.
The rotation seems solid, beginning with Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Anthony DeSclafani. The mystery is Trevor Bauer, who was one step below awful after the Reds acquired him from the Cleveland Indians. His track record is solid, but he was far off track with the Reds.
And who will be the No. 5 starter. The team likes Tyler Mahle, despite his 3-12 record and 5.14 earned run average. Early in the season he pitched solidly, but was victimized by his team’s offensive deficiencies.
Both Lorenzen and Amir Garrett would love the opportunity to start and Kevin Gausman was a starter with the Atlanta Braves. Sal Romano and Cody Reed have not taken advantage of their auditions as starters.
There does not seem to be much immediate help in the system so the Reds could be active in trying to acquire at least one starting pitcher in the offseason, if not two.
The offseason should be more than interesting. It was thought the moves they made last offseason put them where they wanted to be.
They acquired outfielder Yasiel Puig (gone), outfielder Matt Kemp (gone), pitcher Alex Wood (injured all year) and infielder Dietrich (off to a massive start, but awful in the second half due to injury).
One of the major successes was the trade for Gray, whom they signed immediately to long-term deal.
There is much work to be done and if the Reds are to finally end their losing ways the offseason decisions need to be better than last year’s.
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