Evaluating the Reds Rebuild

After averaging 93.5 wins per season and securing consecutive playoff berths in 2012 and 2013, the Reds fell apart the following season, leaving then GM Walt Jocketty in a predicament. Despite a disappointing season the previous season, the Reds still had enough talent to make a playoff push in 2015, but with a multitude of expiring contracts and an aging core, tearing it down and rebuilding was also a perfectly reasonable option. The only reason I am writing this article is because the Reds elected the latter option and began trading veterans with lucrative contracts as well as soon-to-be free agents in order to retool for the future. This ongoing effort has yet to yield results, but if the Reds front office continue to trust the process, the wins will come.

Since committing to rebuilding, the Reds have acquired young, cheap, controllable through typical player acquisition channels such as the MLB Draft, but shrewd trades, waiver claims, and spending big in the international market have been crucial in acquiring the influx of talent that will soon reach Cincinnati. Below I will review and grade all the trades that the Reds have conducted since they decided to rebuild. Next, I will discuss how the Reds have fared in the MLB draft as well as their aggressiveness in the international market. In the last segment of this article, we will take a closer look at how the Reds have bolstered their roster by scouring the bargain bin.

Trades:

December 11th, 2014:

Reds trade:

Alfredo Simon (SP)

Reds acquire:

Eugenio Suarez (3B)

Jonathon Crawford (RHP)

The Reds rebuild can be traced all the way back to 2014 when then general manager Walt Jocketty executed a trade that the Reds organization must feel pretty pleased about in hindsight. On December 11th, 2014, the Reds sold high on Alfredo Simon, who was coming off a career season, at least according to the surface level statistics. In 2014, Simon earned an All-Star appearance when he posted a 15-10 record with a 3.44 ERA without missing a start all season. With a 14.3 K% and a FIP a point higher than his ERA, the Reds wisely recognized that the aging, soft throwing veteran was not the type of pitcher that was capable of repeating this career season. In return for Simon, the Reds acquired current starting third baseman Eugenio Suarez and right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford. In 2017, Suarez has been one of the best all-around third baggers in the game, trailing only Anthony Rendon, Kris Bryant, Justin Turner, and Nolan Arenado in WAR amongst National League third baseman … Grade: A+

 

December 11th, 2014:

Reds trade:

Mat Latos (SP)

Reds acquire:

Anthony DeSclafani (SP)

On the same day, the Reds dealt away fading starting pitcher Mat Latos for pitching prospect Anthony DeSclafani in a move that signaled a clear pivot towards the future. As it turned out, the Reds got rid of Latos at the perfect time as the former All-Star right hander has been plagued by injuries the past few seasons and has a 5.05 ERA in 201.1 since leaving Cincinnati.On the other hand, DeSclafani had a career season in 2016 by posting a 3.26 ERA who demonstrated that he was capable of being a top two starter in an MLB rotation last season by posting a 3.26 ERA across 123.1 innings, which ranked 12th in the National League. Unfortunately, DeSclafani suffered a UCL sprain that has sidelined him for all of the 2017 season, but after breaking out in 2016, he will certainly be part of the Reds rotation next season … Grade: B+

July 26th, 2015:

Reds trade:

Johnny Cueto (RHP)

Reds acquire:

Cody Reed (LHP)

Brandon Finnegan (LHP)
John Lamb (LHP)

The next to go was ace hurler Johnny Cueto, who was flipped to the Royals in exchange for touted left handed Brandon Finnegan as well as two other high octane southpaws in John Lamb and Cody Reed. Injuries coupled with inconsistent command have failed all three of these starting pitchers, but considering that the Reds were getting rid of a half season of Johnny Cueto when the team was already out of contention, the return could have been much worse. In the end, it only takes one of these three arms to pan out for this trade to be well worthwhile. That arm appeared to be Brandon Finnegan, a precocious young left hander out of TCU who pitched out of relief for the Royals in the World Series the same year he was drafted. Finnegan’s season came to a close after making just four starts this season after he tore his labrum on his non-throwing arm, but when healthy his fastball / changeup combination can be as lethal as almost anyone in the game. Grade: C+

July 30th, 2015:

Reds trade:

Mike Leake (SP)

Reds acquire:

Adam Duvall (LF)

Keury Mella (RHP)

The next big step towards the Reds rebuild occurred at the 2015 trade deadline when the Reds sent right-hander Mike Leake to the Giants in exchange for now Class-A righty Keury Mella, who is now the #17 prospect in their top 10 farm system. Also included in the deal was Adam Duvall, who has hit 64 home runs and played Gold Glove caliber defense in left field since finding a home in Cincinnati. Mike Leake hit free agency at year’s end and signed a 5 year 80 million dollar contract, but the production Duvall alone has produced for far cheaper makes the Reds the clear winner in this deal. Give that the Reds could not afford to pay Leake at the end of the 2015 season, getting a top 20 prospect and an All-Star left fielder in exchange for a half season of middle-of-the-rotation starter is not too shabby… Grade: A+

December 16th, 2015:

Reds trade:
Todd Frazier (3B)

Reds acquire:

Scott Schebler (RF)
Jose Peraza (2B, SS)

Brandon Dixon (IF)

Just two weeks before the Aroldis Chapman fiasco, the Reds were able to pull off a three way trade with the Dodgers and White Sox that sent fan favorite Todd Frazier to the south side of Chicago to join the White Sox. In return, the Reds acquired corner outfielder Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza, and infielder Brandon Dixon. At the time of the trade, pundits and analysts everywhere were shocked at how little the Reds received in return for their franchise third baseman, but now that a few years have gone by, it appears the Reds actually came out quite well in this deal.

First off, it helps that Frazier, who was a cornerstone type player when the Reds dealt him, has regressed significantly since leaving Cincinnati. In his final two seasons with the Reds, the one known as “The Toddfather” combined for 9.3 wins above replacement. To put that level of performance into perspective, Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Matt Carpenter (who played 3B then), and Evan Longoria all had lower cumulative WARs in that time span. However, since leaving the Reds, Frazier has not come close to matching that elite level production. Frazier has had exactly 2.5 WAR the past two seasons, while posting batting averages of .225 and .210 in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Frazier is still above average regular thanks to his plus power, but his recent drop off makes this trade look better from the Reds point of view.

As for the Reds return, so far it has been Scott Schebler that has made the Reds the winner in this deal. Schebler, who was viewed as a throwaway at the time of this deal has developed into a solid regular in right field. Despite his offensive performance being limited by an unlucky .248 BABIP, Schebler has still hit 26 home runs with a wRC+ of 106. At just 26 years old, Schebler could easily improve, but even if he plateaus at his current level, he is a solid, cost controllable player that doesn’t have any part of his game that will cost his team.

Due to his prestigious speed, Jose Peraza was considered the centerpiece of this deal, but has struggled to provide much value with his bat. Despite a still developing offensive game, Peraza has above average metrics both in the field and on the bases, which give him value as a utility player or a late inning pinch runner. If the bat develops just a little bit, Peraza has the skills to be a 2 WAR player down the road … Grade: B+

December 28, 2015:

Reds trade:

Aroldis Chapman (RP)

Reds receive:

Rookie Davis (RHP)

Eric Jagielo (3B)

Tony Renda (2B)

Caleb Cotham (RP)

While the first two moves the Reds made they did so on their own terms, the Reds front office was forced into a bit of an awkward spot with this next deal. On December 28th, 2015, the Reds had to let their flame throwing closer Aroldis Chapman go for pennies on the dollar due to reports that Chapman was being put under investigation for domestic assault after the Cuban left hander went to his garage after a verbal altercation with his wife and began firing off gunshots to “blow off some steam.” In return for the player who a season prior had thrown the fastest pitch in MLB history at 105.1 mph, the Reds received starting pitcher Rookie Davis, third baseman Eric Jagielo, second baseman Tony Renda, and right handed reliever Caleb Cotham. The return heading to Cincinnati has been underwhelming as only Rookie Davis has made it to the big leagues thus far. The return for the Reds in this trade was far less important than ridding themselves of the messy public relations nightmare that would have ensued if they had kept Chapman … Grade: C-

February 12th, 2017:

Reds Trade:

Brandon Phillips (2B)

Reds Acquire:

Andrew McKirahan (LHP)

Carlos Portuondo (RHP)

It goes without saying that after spending 11 seasons as the second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, the decision to move Phillips was painful for both sides. Phillips was beloved by the Cincinnati faithful, both for his excellence on both sides of the ball, but also for his charismatic and magnetic personality. Despite the mutual affinity Phillips and the fans had for each other, this move served as a cruel reminder that this game is a business and trading an aging second baseman for young, cheap prospects was the sensible move.

In exchange for the veteran second baseman, the Reds received Andrew McKirahan, a southpaw who has posted impressive numbers as a reliever in the minors, but pitched only 10 innings this season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. If McKirahan can stay healthy, he could find himself in a relief role in Cincinnati as health is the only thing holding him back at the moment.

The second player in this deal was Carlos Portuondo, who has far less pedigree than McKirahan and is viewed by people within the industry as nothing more than organizational depth. But hey, you can never have enough pitching, so who knows.

The Reds return for Phillips is nothing to get excited about, but any trade return must be assessed relative to what was given up. As great as Phillips was in his prime years, he no longer had a role in Cincy, so the fact that the Reds got anything of value in return for the declining veteran second baseman should only be viewed as a positive for the organization … Grade: B-

MLB Draft:

***The only draft picks included in this list will be the selections the Reds have made since they fully committed to their rebuild in 2015.

Obviously, there are many other Reds draft picks that are worthy of discussion, but for the sake of time and sanity, I am choosing to focus on the most recent draft picks that I believe have the highest possibility of having a significant impact at the big league level.

  1. Nick Senzel (2016 Draft – 1st round, 2nd overall)
  2. Hunter Greene (2017 Draft – 1st round, 2nd overall)
  3. Taylor Trammell (2016 Draft – Compensation round, 35th overall)
  4. Jeter Downs (2017 Draft – Compensation round, 32nd overall)
  5. Tony Santillan (2015 Draft – 2nd round, 49th overall)

It could be argued that the Reds selected the best player in the last two drafts with their selections of Nick Senzel and Hunter Greene. Senzel was universally regarded as the best college hitter in the draft and after a season in which is tore up the pitcher-friendly Florida State League then continued that dominance into Double-A, he looks like a guy who will rise quickly through the Reds system and cement himself at the hot corner in Cincinnati for many years to come.

Hunter Greene (RHP / SS)

While Senzel profiles as the type of safe, high floor college hitting prospect with a near certain chance to crack the big league roster in the years to come, Hunter Greene profiles a bit differently. Coming out of Sherman Oaks High School in Southern California, the 17-year-old pitcher/shortstop has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the minor leagues with a fastball that regularly clocks in the triple digits and a sturdy, athletic frame that passes the eye test.

Taylor Trammell (OF)

Drafted out of high school in the 2016 draft, Trammell was a two-sport star in high school and is a safe bet to be the most athletic guy on the field every time he steps on the field. With an advanced plate discipline for a player with limited experience facing higher level pitching as well as 70 speed, Trammell looks like a natural born leadoff hitter than can eventually supplant the offensively challenged Billy Hamilton at the top of the Reds order.

Jeter Downs (SS)

Before I say anything else about him as a player, I think we can all agree that being named after the most iconic shortstop of the last generation is pretty cool when you are striving towards the same fate. Downs was drafted out of high school this season, so it will take some time before we see him in Cincinnati. Currently, Downs has a very solid all around game as all of his tools are 50 or 55s. With Reds All-Star shortstop Zack Cozart probably gone after this season, there will be an opening at shortstop for a few seasons as Downs develops. However, if the talented infielder can develop like the Reds believe he can, he will be next in line to take over the position in Cincinnati once he is ready.

Tony Santillan (RP)

Nowadays, it seems more common to see a 70 grade by a guys fastball as seemingly every highly drafted pitcher is capable of flashing plus velocity. What most guys don’t have though, is a secondary pitch as nasty as Santillan’s slider. This two pitch combo generates plenty of swings and misses and although Santillan is struggling to develop a third pitch, he at the very least possesses the type of repertoire that would make him a force out of the bullpen.

International Signees:

The Reds international scouts deserve some credit as well as they were responsible for the acquisition of All-Star closer Raisel Iglesias, signing him as an international free agent out of Cuba in 2014.

Wandy Peralta, who was acquired via international free agency out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, is another young hard throwing right handed workhorse that looks to be a staple in the Cincinnati bullpen for years to come.

While the hard work of the Reds international scouts is on display in their Major League bullpen, they are yet to reap most of the rewards of their hard work as their top international talent is still down on the farm.

Aristides Aquino, the Reds #6 prospect is a toolsy outfielder who was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 and is known for having one of the best throwing arms in the MLB.

The Reds presence in Cuba and willingness to spend on international prospects has also been an integral part of their rebuilding process. In 2016, the Reds broke the bank to sign two of the top Cuban shortstops available in Alfredo Rodriguez (9th ranked prospect) and Jose Isreal Garcia (11th ranked prospect) for a combined 12 million.

After acquiring two elite Cuban shortstops prospects, the Reds once again opened the checkbook to sign Cuban flamethrower Vladimir Gutierrez for 4.75 million, completing a spending spree that they plan to pay dividends down the line.

Under the Radar Moves:

Every team in the midst of a rebuild is going to trade veteran assets to acquire talented prospects while simultaneously building through the draft. As the Cubs and Astros have shown, these are the core components of an effective rebuild. While the Reds have abided by this simple approach in their rebuild and for the most part succeeded in both methods of talent acquisition, it has been their shrewd, under-the-radar moves that I find to be particularly intriguing.

Picking up Dan Straily Off Waivers:

The first of these moves occurred prior to the 2016 season when Cincinatti picked up right handed starter Dan Straily after the Padres placed him on waivers. Not only was Straily the best pitcher on the team (the 2016 Reds were the only team in MLB history to have their starters post a negative WAR, so take the previous statement with a grain of salt), he also posted a career low ERA at 3.76, while proving his durability by making 31 starts.

Trading Dan Straily to the Marlins:

After Straily’s career season, the Reds recognized his peripheral numbers suggested that he wasn’t quite as good as had performed, giving them the perfect opportunity to sell high on him. Sell-high they did and the return they got from the Marlins already looks like the type of move that Reds fans will look back on as a key reason for their turn around. In the deal, the Reds acquired the Marlins top pitching prospect, a right hander who could light up the radar gun. In addition to Castillo, they added right hander Austin Brice and Isaiah White to their lackluster farm system.

Both Brice and White had disappointing seasons, but the emergence of Luis Castillo alone makes the Reds the clear winner regardless of how the other two prospects turn out. After boldly promoting Castillo the show from Double-A in June, the flamethrowing righty has looked like the future ace that the Reds have coveted since trading away Johnny Cueto. Castillo’s main attribute is his high velocity, sinking fastball, that darts in on right handed batters. Not only does the pitch average 97.5 mph, but it also has plenty of tailing and sinking action which explains Castillo’s groundball rate of 58.8%. Castillo’s secondary pitches, a slider, and curveball, both also show flashes of brilliance, and the development of his offspeed stuff will determine just how high the ceiling can be for the Dominican native.

To summarize the last two paragraphs, the Reds essentially turned a player they acquired through a waiver claim into the potential future ace of their staff. Good work.

Picking up Scooter Gennett Off Waivers:

On March 27th, the Brewers made second baseman/utility man Scooter Gennett on waivers to allow Jonathan Villar to make the permanent move to second base. At 26 years old, Gennett had enough time in the big leagues for their to be a consensus about what he brought to the table. He was a solid defender with some versatility who wouldn’t hurt you on offense but profiled as more of a bottom of the order hitter.

Overall, Gennett did enough things well on the diamond to deserve a spot on an MLB roster, which is why after just one day of being unemployed, the Reds scooped him up off waivers. At the time, the Reds expected a left handed hitter off the bench who could provide them with some versatility by playing multiple positions when needed. What they got was a superstar.

Gennett is currently in the midst of a career season in which he owns .300/.350/.547 slash line which puts him in the Top 20 in the NL in OPS. Undoubtedly, his career season will be remembered for his four home run performance back in early June, but that game was only a microcosm of his unexpected power surge. With 24 home runs and 85 RBIs in just 124 games, Gennett has a real shot at finishing the season with a .300 average, 30 homers, and 100 RBIs. Scooter has also provided value with his versatility by playing second base, third base, and both corner outfield positions.

The transformation of Scooter Gennett is both surprising and inspiring, but above all, it is a testament to how the Reds front office has gotten creative in their search for quality major league talent as they move further into their rebuild.

Acquiring Ariel Hernandez in Rule 5 Draft:

The beautiful thing about baseball is that there are opportunities year round to improve the roster. The Rule 5 Draft, which is often times overlooked because of rules stipulating that the drafted player must remain on the 40 man roster all year, make it so teams rarely make any additions. That can not be said about the Reds, however, as the addition of Ariel Hernandez is 2015 was the type of prudent investment that could wind up paying off for Cincinnati. A look at Hernandez’s limited time in the bigs, and you will see some uninspiring numbers, but with a fastball that is capable of reaching the triple digits and a two plane curveball that sits in the upper 80s, this guy has all the makings of an elite future reliever.

If Hernandez can learn to harness his command by trusting his raw stuff, he will be able to maintain his career 13.0 K/9 rate, while eliminating his high BB% and HR%.

The Reds are currently 20 games under .500 and rank dead last in the NL Central and have not played playoff baseball since losing the Wild Card Game to the Pirates in 2013. Four consecutive years of mediocrity can take its toll, but there is no denying that brighter days are ahead for the Reds. Not only do the Reds have a stable of young controllable starting pitchers in the farm system, but they also have precocious youngsters already lighting up big league hitters.

Few people realize this, but the Reds trail only the Cubs, Nationals, and Dodgers in position player WAR this season and boast one of the best defensive units in the game, trailing only the Dodgers in defensive runs saved.

After a historically bad bullpen in 2016, their relief corps has also taken a step forward in 2017, with a WAR 5.1 wins higher than last year’s group. Granted last year the Reds had the worst bullpen of all time with -4.0 WAR, so improvement was practically a given, but the emergence of Raisel Iglesias as a lockdown closer gives them at the very least one quality option at the end of games.

With only 64 million dollars committed to next year’s payroll, if the Reds can sign a middle of the rotation starter and invest in a few relievers to help pave the way to Raisel Iglesias, they will be a much-improved team.

Like any rebuild, these things take time, but as far as I can tell, the Reds front office has taken a prudent and disciplined path back to contention.

 

 

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