Predicting What the Cincinnati Reds' Starting Lineup Will Look Like Next Year
Even though Ryan Ludwick was injured on Opening Day, the Reds have counted on new additions to the team this season.
Shin-Soo Choo has been a major help with his NL second-best .415 OBP. His ability—along with that of Joey Votto—to get on base has given Brandon Phillips 134 at-bats and a .366 average this season with runners in scoring position.
However, if we play the prediction game and look ahead, Choo likely won't be on the roster in 2014. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer speculated that it might take something along the lines of four years and $60 million to sign Choo.
The Reds would have to get awfully creative with their spending since they’re already over $100 million for 2013, per CBSSports.com.
Without overshadowing this great 2013 season or becoming too caught up with 2014, let’s take a look at the possible starting lineup for next season.
All statistics are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Opening Day Starting Pitcher
SP Mat Latos
The idea of Johnny Cueto returning to the rotation this year is becoming more distant each day. While Cueto has easily been the Reds’ true ace for the last few years, he might lose his Opening Day duties.
Since Cueto’s first trip to the disabled list, Mat Latos has ruled as the ace for the Reds. Latos currently has a 12-3 record with a 3.02 ERA and 160 strikeouts. In his last 10 starts, Latos has given up only 20 earned runs and 63 hits in 65.1 innings pitched.
There's been no word yet from the Reds' front office, but if Cueto doesn't return and the Reds manage to squeeze into October, Latos might be counted on for the first game.
Latos has wholeheartedly earned the opportunity to be the Reds’ ace, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty around Cueto and his awkward delivery.
Latos will likely finish in the top 10 for Cy Young votes this season, and that decorum could have him leading the rotation in 2014.
1B Joey Votto
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Zack Cozart
3B Todd Frazier
Even though many Reds fans are concerned about the left corner of the infield, there will likely be few moves to improve shortstop or third base next season.
Todd Frazier is undoubtedly encountering a sophomore slump this season. He’s not showing the offensive ability he displayed in his stellar 2012 season. However, it's very unlikely that the Reds will try to seriously upgrade.
Michael Young is going to be one of the best third base free-agent options for 2014. However, he already showed no interest in signing with the Reds this season and might be just as difficult to acquire next year, per MLBTradeRumors.com.
The offseason might lure Young into signing with a team he didn’t place on his no-trade clause, but is the soon-to-be 37-year-old really worth it? Let's look at some stats so far.
While Young has Frazier beat with more consistent hitting, Frazier is the cheaper and younger option for very similar production.
Many believe Cozart is having a down year, but his numbers are nearly identical to last season's. The chances of the Reds spending top dollar on a shortstop is unlikely. It will be very tough to imagine Cozart out of the Opening Day starting lineup next season.
As for the right side of the infield, no one is going anywhere for a while.
C Ryan Hanigan
Devin Mesoraco has certainly begun to bloom in his second major league season. His talent behind the dish is a major factor in the success of the 2013 rotation.
Ryan Hanigan has only started 53 games this season compared to Mesoraco’s 79. A lot is due to injury, but Dusty Baker has faith in his young backstop.
While Mesoraco is having a respectable season, it will be tough to pry Hanigan away from the starting role next season.
However, if Hanigan’s bat continues to slump, there might be a change. Hanigan is hitting .199/.312/.280 this season and has yet to really find his stride.
Mesoraco could take over next season if Hanigan isn’t able to improve offensively. Another factor is that Hanigan becomes arbitration-eligible next season.
The Reds will likely be able to settle a deal, but it’s still something to pay attention to in the offseason.
Ryan Ludwick LF
Derrick Robinson CF
Jay Bruce RF
Billy Hamilton: Midseason call-up
I’ve certainly predicted stranger things, but I doubt the Reds will spend much money on a center fielder in 2014. The only outfielder the Reds will strongly pursue is Shin-Soo Choo.
However, Choo—a Scott Boras client—will be looking for a contract the Reds likely cannot afford. There’s a lot of debate as to whether the Reds could somehow move pieces to afford Choo and give him a multiple-year contract.
On the other hand, the Reds still have leadoff top prospect Billy Hamilton seasoning in Triple-A. While Hamilton’s numbers aren’t as eye-catching as last season's, he still has a good chance to join the club midseason.
Another speedy young prospect like Derrick Robinson might have to fill the void until Hamilton is ready. Even though Robinson’s numbers at leadoff are nothing to get excited about (.230/.299/.361), he could be the cheapest and best alternative for the club.
Ryan Ludwick will likely be under the microscope through the rest of this season and into 2014. If he fails to produce in the last 37 games of the season, the Reds could look elsewhere for help in left field.
Ludwick will make $8.5 million next season and might be too expensive to platoon with another veteran outfielder.
The Reds would try Hamilton at center before signing anyone long-term. They still believe he is the leadoff man of the future.
The high salary and long-term contract Choo is seeking might prevent Hamilton from joining the big league roster. 2014 could be a serious penny-pinching season, and the Reds will have to rely heavily on their young prospects.
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