While injuries and bullpen woes have been staples of the Cincinnati Reds' 2014 campaign, offense has been similarly woeful. We can't say for certain whether it's related to injuries to crucial players or not. Is Jay Bruce suffering his worst professional season in seven years because of the shift or because he had a knee surgery in May?
That much is uncertain. What is certain is that the Reds will probably look a little different next year. They'll more than likely drop $4.5 million just to give Ryan Ludwick his walking papers. Zack Cozart may finally have worthy competition next spring.
Per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Reds plan on trading at least one starting pitcher this offseason.
#Reds expected to trade at least one starting pitcher this off-season, when they can negotiate with all teams, not just a claiming club.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 27, 2014
If that is indeed the case, it's likely the team will deal for a new left fielder, assuming Devin Mesoraco isn't occupying that corner of the outfield.
Per Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer John Fay, the Reds plan on having Mesoraco play different positions next season. The rationale is finding a way to keep his valued bat in the lineup, and with a very capable Brayan Pena, Mesoraco can be liberated to play elsewhere.
Regardless of whether any of the aforementioned actually happens, the 2015 lineup will look different than 2014's. Here is the lineup that Bryan Price may post on Opening Day of next year:
- Billy Hamilton, CF—Hamilton isn't going anywhere. Given an entire major league season to showcase his talent and potential, it's fair to say Hamilton earned his, well, earned his red. Leadoff was a scary topic going into the 2014 season with the loss of Shin-Soo Choo. But when you compare their numbers, and consider the fact that Choo will miss the remainder of the year with an elbow surgery (per CBSSports.com), the Reds somehow got the better of this exchange.
- Joey Votto, 1B—Whether you love or hate him, expect a healthy Joey Votto to pick up right where the healthy Joey Votto left off: the No. 1 run producer in the NL in 2013. His presence will be significant on a lineup that ranks near dead last in OBP.
- Todd Frazier, 3B—Frazier has demonstrated the ability to produce in timely situations and provide power for a lineup that needs it. There's no reason he can't bat third next year and hopefully have Hamilton and Votto in front of him more often than not.
- Devin Mesoraco, LF—An impressive 2014 campaign should be enough evidence that the Reds can rely on Mesoraco to hit cleanup. While he trails Frazier by two home runs for team leader in the category, it's worth noting Mesoraco has played in nearly 30 fewer games.
- Brandon Phillips, 2B—It's a better idea to bat Phillips ahead of Jay Bruce. As of August 28, Phillips has nearly 50 fewer strikeouts than Bruce. And while this year may be a statistical aberration for Bruce (he did have knee surgery in May and is coincidentally having his worst professional season in seven years), the Reds cannot afford strikeouts in the middle of the order with guys on base.
- Jay Bruce, RF—The Reds need this guy to come back strong. Whether he can beat the shift or not, Bruce has to cut down on the strikeouts and at least put the ball in play more. A promising fact is that what he's doing now is largely inconsistent with his career slashing line of .252/.326/.470, so there's little evidence to believe that next season looks like this one.
- Brayan Pena, C—If Pena can keep his present-day .259 batting average, there's no reason he can't be contributing from the No. 7 spot in the lineup. His OBP isn't great and neither is his slugging, but this far down, it's just nice to have a guy who can make contact and hit for an OK average.
- Zack Cozart, SS—Assuming Cozart is still the guy next year, and he may be because of his Gold-Glove-worthy performance this season, he'll be right back where Reds fans are used to seeing him. Hopefully, the performances of both Rey Navarro at Triple-A and Kris Negron will be enough to get either some playing time, as both appear more capable at the plate than Cozart.
- Homer Bailey, P—Because it is all but certain that one man between Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos will be moved this offseason, let's just stick to the one pitcher we know for a fact will be a Red next year.
Does this lineup inspire confidence for the 2015 campaign? There are a couple things that could be assumed with a higher degree of confidence:
- Jay Bruce will return to his performance of the previous six years instead of the outlier he's having this year.
- Joey Votto will finally be healthy. He's still leading the team in OBP despite playing 62 games on arguably one leg. With two legs, watch out.
Should both of those happen, there's real hope for the above lineup. Should one of the starting pitchers be moved, it's a safe bet that it brings in a capable bat in the outfield. That would of course remove Pena from the lineup as Mesoraco moves to the plate.
If said bat were acquired, whoever he his, if he can hit cleanup or fifth, it's not far-fetched to imagine Bruce hitting seventh. For an NL lineup, that would be impressive.