CINCINNATI -- The Reds were one of the most active and aggressive teams in the offseason last winter and made some bold moves to overhaul the rotation and improve the lineup, while also introducing a new manager in David Bell and a revamped coaching staff.
All of it was done in an effort to get past rebuilding and get closer to contending in the National League Central. While they tiptoed near .500 a few times and were in striking distance of the lead while at or near the bottom in a closely-bunched race, Cincinnati was never a factor in the postseason hunt and ended in fourth place, with a 75-87 record. It was the club's sixth straight losing season, but its streak of 90-plus losing seasons ended at four.
“It's just been a really, really frustrating stretch of baseball here in Cincinnati, and I really feel like -- I know we're a small market -- but I really feel like we have the potential to be kind of that David to the league's Goliath,” Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. “Very, very frustrating. Living it first-hand, I knew when I signed my contract that there would be stretches, but I didn't anticipate that it'd be six straight years of losing baseball. I look forward to winning baseball. I look very, very much forward to playing in a World Series one day, and I hope that's sooner than later.”
The good news for Votto, the Reds and their fans is that this season’s disappointing season doesn’t mean it’s back to the drawing board to start a new rebuild. But improvement is definitely needed in multiple areas for 2020, and it will be up to president of baseball operations Dick Williams and general manager Nick Krall to make those moves.
Here are five questions facing the Reds this offseason:
1. How can they upgrade, offensively?
The front office addressed the rotation needs, but it went into this season feeling pretty good about the offense and the ability to produce runs. After all, Votto seemed poised for a rebound year, Eugenio Suárez had a career year in ’18, Yasiel Puig was added to playing right field in a contract year and Scooter Gennett was back following back-to-back career years.
Instead, Cincinnati ended ranked 12th in team batting average and runs scored and led the Majors with 33 one-run losses. This was from a club that has one of the most offensively friendly home ballparks in baseball.
Votto had a second straight off year, Gennett missed three months with a groin injury, never got going when he returned and was moved at the Trade Deadline. Puig got off to a slow start before he found his groove. He was also traded at the Deadline, but to Cleveland.
Williams and Krall showed a willingness to trade top prospects for pitching. Now they may have to do that again in order to add bats. The duo also reworked the hitting side of the coaching staff since the season ended. Hitting coach Turner Ward was let go and replaced by Alan Zinter, while assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker was promoted by adding the title of director of hitting. The plan is to create one cohesive philosophy from the Major League club and all the way down through the Minor League affiliates.
“We want to make sure [the players] are hearing similar language, similar philosophies,” Williams said.
2. Is the fifth starter already in house, or should the Reds sign someone?
Cincinnati already takes comfort knowing that, barring the unforeseen, the first four of its starting rotation is set with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani. But predicting the fifth spot appears murky.
Bell has been high on Tyler Mahle, but he's often struggled with consistency. After being an August waiver claim, former starter Kevin Gausman and his power arm impressed at times and he should be a contender. This also could be an opportunity for Tony Santillan, ranked the No. 4 prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline. There also will be a number of available starters on the free-agent market, including Tanner Roark, who was traded by Cincinnati to Oakland on July 31.
3. Who mans the outfield?
All three spots appear unsettled going into the offseason. Rookie Nick Senzel impressed during his first experience in center field, but his season ended in early September because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Jesse Winker, who is best in the corner spots, hasn’t been able to finish the last two seasons because of injuries. Right fielder Aristides Aquino had a historic August with 14 home runs, but he struggled in September while hitting just five more homers and should not be automatically handed the regular job in camp. Phillip Ervin had a breakout year, but most of his success came against left-handed pitching.
Outfield would also be an easier area to address the offensive shortcomings.
4. Second base, anyone?
This one could be wide open, depending on how the dominoes fall. If the Reds re-sign free agent José Iglesias to play shortstop, Freddy Galvis -- an Aug. 12 waiver claim -- would likely remain as the second baseman, if his $5.5 million option is picked up. If Iglesias departs, Galvis would be installed as the shortstop.
Other options include José Peraza, who lost his starting job there earlier in the season. Lefty hitter Josh VanMeter had some moments and Bell likes his approach at the plate, but he didn’t appear to do enough to get the inside track for the job.
A wild-card possibility is Senzel, a natural infielder with experience at second base in the Minors. If the Reds find a center fielder, that could grease the wheels for Senzel to make the move back to the infield. There are also some intriguing possibilities headed for the free-agent market, namely Mike Moustakas and Starlin Castro. Both would provide the lineup with a boost.
5. What about the bullpen?
The Reds’ bullpen was one of the NL’s best throughout much of the first half, but it experienced hard times after the All-Star break. Closer Raisel Iglesias took a big step backwards and had 12 losses, a club record for relievers. Veterans David Hernandez and Jared Hughes could not repeat their stellar 2018 seasons and didn’t finish this season in Cincinnati.
But it was a very strong year for left-hander Amir Garrett and right-hander Michael Lorenzen, who also showed he could be a two-way player in the outfield while throwing 83 1/3 innings, which was second in the NL among relievers. Right-hander Robert Stephenson overcame early first-half inconsistencies and became much more dependable in the second half while also working in higher-leverage situations. It’s still clear, however, that more relievers will need to be added this winter.