The Cincinnati Reds finished with the worst record in the NL Central last year at 62-100. Let’s not forget that they traded most of their talent in the last two years, after failing to make the playoffs in 2021, to cut payroll, and it definitely had an impact in the standings.
These Reds got off to a horrendous 3-22 start in 2022 that had us wondering whether they would be better off at Triple-A. They got rid of talented ballplayers like Jesse Winker, Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, Eugenio Suárez, Wade Miley, Luis Castillo, Amir Garrett and others within the last two calendar years, mostly because they were, or were about to become, expensive.
2022 record: 62-100 (tied for 4th, NL Central)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 67-95 (5th, NL Central)
As you can imagine, this is a rebuilding team through and through. Even franchise icon Joey Votto seems to be on the decline (he fell from a .938 OPS in 2021 to a .689 mark last year).
They at least tried to mask some of their deficiencies with somewhat decent players this time around, though. Cincy brought in Wil Myers, who has settled into a 100-110 wRC+ hitter outside of his 2020 outburst (155 wRC+ in the short season). Myers could be a trade piece if he is doing well around the deadline.
They also signed formerly promising pitcher Luke Weaver and acquired outfielder Will Benson from the Cleveland Guardians as a fine reclamation project. The former first-rounder has made strides with his contact skills and plate discipline in the past season in the minors, so if he can keep his strikeout rate around 25 percent and not above 30 percent, we might be witnessing a breakout.
The underwhelming group of Kevin Newman, Curt Casali, Luke Maile and Chad Pinder completed the Reds’ offseason, and is a reflection of where they are as a franchise. The Castellinis, who own the franchise (Bob and his son Phil) have been heavily criticized by their fans for their lack of investment in the team, and also for some comments – “sell the team to who?” may ring a bell – made by ownership in the last year. This offseason did them no favors.
There might be a core building behind the ineptitude, however. Tyler Stephenson can be a building block at catcher, as can be talented infielder and 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India. Corner infield prospect Spencer Steer is ready to contribute, too, and while Jose Barrero (.401 OPS) looked overmatched at times in 2022 at the MLB level, he also has prospect pedigree.
There might be even more potential in the pitching staff. Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene are a duo that every rebuilding squad would love to have at the top of the rotation, Graham Aschcraft has a big arm and Brandon Williamson could be a diamond in the rough. It would be amazing to have Tejay Antone healthy to start the year, but that won’t be the case.
Alexis Díaz can be a bullpen stalwart if he keeps the walks in check. The same can be said about Lucas Sims.
The Reds have the pieces to think about a return to contention in two or three years. However, the best part of all comes up the middle, in Noelvi Marte and Elly De La Cruz, a couple of exciting prospects with high ceilings.
Much like Oneil Cruz, De La Cruz has some really loud tools – raw power, speed, arm – and is close to MLB, but has strikeout issues. Marte’s star has fallen a bit, but he remains a high-upside player.
The Reds are not going into the 2023 campaign to be contenders. It will be more of a developmental year for some of the young guns like Greene, who had a 30.9 percent strikeout rate and sat in the triple digits with his fastball, and Lodolo, who posed a cool 3.66 ERA in 103.1 innings.
As things stand, the St. Louis Cardinals are miles away from the Reds, and the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs are also better. Another competition for fourth place will likely be the Reds’ 2023 reality, but this is a team that may hit its ceiling a couple of years from now if they make the right moves.
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