Cincinnati Reds : An Early Free-Agency and Offseason Primer
While the Cincinnati Reds are not technically out of the wild-card race yet, things are looking worse by the day. They sit six games back in the wild-card race, and they have been awful since the break. Over the past 50 games, Cincinnati's record is just 20-30.
It might be time for the Reds to start planning for 2015 and beyond.
The Reds will need to make some decisions this offseason on what to do with the pitching staff. Improving the bullpen and adding another bat should be the main focus in free agency. Finally, they just need to get healthy.
With this season winding down, let's take a look at what the Reds need to do this offseason to get back into the postseason in 2015.
Injuries have hit the Reds hard this season. Four of the best hitters on the team have missed significant time. Brandon Phillips has missed 38 games with a thumb injury.
Jay Bruce missed time with a torn meniscus in his left knee, and he has not been able to find his swing after returning from the disabled list. He is hitting a career-worst .220 from the plate and has hit just 14 home runs.
Devin Mesoraco has landed on the DL multiple times and has played in 90 of the team's 132 games. Luckily, he has taken a huge step forward this season when healthy.
Homer Bailey turned his season around and had been pitching great, but a strained elbow put an end to that and sent him to the DL. Mat Latos also missed most of the beginning of this season and has made just 13 starts.
The most devastating injury of all has to be Joey Votto. He is the anchor of the lineup and has only played in 62 games. At this point, the best course of action might be to sit him out for the remainder of the season to ensure he will be 100 percent in 2015.
Starting Pitcher Decisions
Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon are all arbitration eligible and could become free agents at the end of the season. Johnny Cueto has a team option for 2015.
The likely scenario is at least one of these players will be pitching in a new uniform next year. Cincinnati does not have the budget to keep all four, and it is loaded with young pitchers in its farm system.
Exercising the team option on Cueto should be the first move. He has been one of the top pitchers in all of baseball this season, and for his performance, he comes in relatively cheap at $10 million.
Latos should also be brought back. He has shown that he can be the ace of the staff, and he gives the Reds one of the top one-two combos in baseball.
This leaves Simon or Leake as the odd man out. After his breakout season this year, Simon will likely want to continue being a starting pitcher and will get a significant salary boost in arbitration. However, he appears to be coming back to reality with an ERA of 4.74 since the break.
Leake has been a solid back-of-the-rotation pitcher since day one with the Reds. While he may never become a star pitcher, Cincinnati knows exactly what it is getting with Leake. Leake is consistent, durable and still just 26 years old.
Bringing him back makes more sense than Simon. Leake has the better track record and is used to making 30-plus starts a season.
The final spot in the rotation will likely be won by one of the Reds' many pitching prospects in spring training.
Cincinnati should target another arm in the bullpen and an upgrade in left field.
Some may argue for an upgrade at shortstop, but Zack Cozart makes up for his poor offense with tremendous defense. He actually has the fifth-highest WAR among shortstops in the league. Unless there is a significant upgrade available, Cozart should continue anchoring the Reds defense.
The Reds should look to make a trade for the Arizona Diamondbacks' Oliver Perez. There is no guarantee that Sean Marshall will be the same pitcher again, and Manny Parra has struggled this season with an ERA of 4.36 and a WHIP of 1.52.
They are in need of a solid left-hander in the bullpen, and Perez has proven he can get batters out from both sides of the plate. His ERA sits at 1.95, and batters have only hit .215 off him this season. A trade for Perez would not take a top prospect either.
For left field, Ben Zobrist would be a perfect fit. The great thing about Zobrist is his flexibility. He can play every outfield position and both middle infield spots, something that would have come in handy with all the injuries the Reds have dealt with this season.
His 4.0 WAR would be a big improvement over Ryan Ludwick's minus-0.5. Zobrist gets on base at a very solid .364 clip—better than any qualified player on the team this season.
Adding Zobrist and the return of Votto would bring some much-needed life to the anemic Reds offense.
If the Reds can stay healthy next year and add a couple pieces, there is no reason they can't return to the postseason in 2015.
**All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com