2016 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Cincinnati Reds. 

By the time the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline rolls around, the average baseball viewer isn’t likely to recognize much of the Reds’ roster. The club already traded All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier and closer Aroldis Chapman. Second baseman Brandon Phillips and outfielder Jay Bruce could be next, as the Reds tried to move both players during the offseason.

The Reds are in a rebuilding phase, finishing with a 64-98 record last year and a 76-86 record in 2014. They were, for a few years, big threats in the NL Central, but injuries, poor production, and a subpar minor league system led to a bleak outlook, prompting the change in organizational direction.

In the Frazier trade, the Reds acquired Brandon Dixon, Jose Peraza, and Scott Schebler. Peraza and Schebler were ranked fifth and 16th, respectively, in the Reds’ minor league system according to MLB Pipeline. The Chapman trade brought the Reds Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, Tony Renda, and Caleb Cotham. Davis and Jagielo were rated 12th and 14th, respectively, by MLB Pipeline. While the Reds aren’t likely to get impact prospects in trades involving Bruce or Phillips, expect the Reds to continue pursuing trades just to clear salary and their positions.

With Chapman out of the picture, J.J. Hoover will get his first chance to close on a regular basis. Hoover has finished with a sub-3.00 ERA in three of his four seasons thus far, but he has always battled command issues, walking batters at an 11 percent rate in his career. Improvement in this area, or the lack thereof, will determine his success or failure as a closer. Furthermore, after posting a career-high 27 percent strikeout rate in 2014, it plummeted below 20 percent last season while his ground ball rate rose from 28.5 percent to 40 percent. Ground balls are great, but if inducing them comes at the expense of missing bats, Hoover will be worse for it.

Eugenio Suarez will handle third base with Frazier gone. He was a surprise impact player for the Reds last season, filling in at shortstop for the injured Zack Cozart. He hit .280/.315/.446 over 398 plate appearances, slugging 13 home runs and 19 doubles. Suarez is no Frazier, but the Reds aren’t expecting him to be Frazier, either.

Joey Votto will be the backbone of the Reds’ roster once again. He finished third in NL MVP balloting last year, compiling an even 1.000 OPS (.314/.459/.541) with 29 home runs, 80 RBI, and 95 runs scored while leading all of baseball with 143 walks. Votto is signed through 2023, so he isn’t going anywhere.

Center fielder Billy Hamilton will continue adding excitement with his legs and defense. He is coming off of shoulder surgery and hit a lackluster .226/.274/.289 last season. But he did steal 57 bases in 65 attempts and could realistically surpass that mark in 2016. Let it be said that there will be reasons to watch the Reds this year.

The rotation has some intrigue just because there are so many unknowns. Veteran Homer Bailey isn’t likely to return until May as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Anthony DeSclafani, with his 217 2/3 career major league innings, is likely to draw the Opening Day start as a result. He showed some competency last season, finishing with a 4.05 ERA and a 151/55 K/BB ratio over 184 2/3 innings.

Raisel Iglesias has the most upside of anyone in the rotation and 2016 could be his breakout year. In 95 1/3 innings in the majors last season, the Cuban struck out 104 and walked 28 in 95 1/3 innings with a 4.15 ERA. He was a bit too prone to allowing home runs, which is why his ERA was much higher than his ERA retrodictors like FIP (3.55) and xFIP (3.28). While ERA retrodictors aren’t perfect – they can significantly overrate or underrate players by making assumptions – it does give an idea, at least, into the potential that Iglesias has.

But let’s be real: the Reds are going to lose, and they’re going to lose a lot in 2016. It’s part and parcel in the rebuilding process, as the club is hoping to get another high pick in the 2017 draft. Finishing with the second-worst record in baseball last season means they’ll be picking second in the draft this year.

Prediction: 62-100, last place in the NL Central.