All offseason, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s 2020 season and looking forward at what moves each team might have to make to set themselves up for improvement in 2021. Today, Noah Gayhart takes a look at the Cincinnati Reds!
After going “all in” during the 2019-2020 offseason, the Cincinnati Reds reached the Postseason for the first time since 2013. Despite only being a seven seed, the Reds felt like a team to avoid. The big three in the rotation of Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo seemed like a nightmare matchup for any offense in a three-game Wild Card series, and it was. In their two starts, Bauer and Castillo combined for 19 strikeouts, allowing only 1 run in 13 innings, but it wasn’t enough. The Reds offense never showed up in Atlanta, getting shut out in back to back games to end the Reds season. The Reds rotation exceeded expectations while the offense failed to reach them. The Reds can’t expect the rotation to perform at the same level next year, as they are likely losing a Cy Young winner, and need to make some adjustments to the team this offseason. Let’s take a look at what they can do to find themselves back in the Postseason in 2021.
2020 Record: 31-29, 3rd Place in NL Central (Lost NL Wild Card)
Team MVP: Trevor Bauer
Team Cy Young: Trevor Bauer
Biggest Positive Surprise: Lucas Sims
Biggest Negative Surprise: The Offense
Trevor Bauer earned 27 out of 30 first-place votes on his way to being named the 2020 Cy Young award winner, beating out Yu Darvish and Jacob deGrom. Bauer became the first Cy Young winner in Cincinnati Reds history, making him an easy choice for both Team Cy Young and Team MVP. In 73 innings pitched, Bauer posted a 12.33 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9, both career bests, while stranding 90.9% of runners that reached base. Trevor Bauer played a huge role in the Reds making the 2020 Postseason, leading the NL in ERA (1.73), WHIP (0.795), and H/9 (5.1). Bauer stepped up in his Wild Card start pitching 7.2 innings while only allowing 2 hits and striking out 12, giving up no runs or walks.
The Cincinnati Reds acquired Lucas Sims at the 2018 trade deadline as one of three pieces in return for Adam Duvall. Since being acquired, Sims flashed promise at times, but he really took the next step this season. Sims established himself as a legitimate back of the bullpen arm, striking out a career-high 32.7% of the batters he faced. His spin rates are off the charts, with his fastball and curveball spins being 99th and 100th percentile respectively. In 2020, his xwOBA, xERA, xBA, xSLG, and Barrel % were 98th percentile or better. Sims was one of the pillars in a somewhat shaky 2020 Reds bullpen and the same should be expected of him in 2021; there’s even a chance he could make a jump into the rotation depending on how things play out this offseason.
The 2020 Reds offense was nothing short of a big disappointment, headlined by back to back shutouts in the Postseason. Last offseason, the Reds brought in Nicholas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, and Shogo Akiyama to boost the offense, but it wasn’t enough. As a whole, the offense slashed .212/.312/.403, good for a combined wRC+ of 91. The Reds BABIP was .245, which played a part in why the Reds offense was so bad, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t look for an impact bat this offseason.
Most analysts had the 2020 Cincinnati Reds pegged as a low 30’s win team and their record of 31-29 reflects that. The rotation was expected to be good, ranked as high as three by Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com, and still managed to outperform expectations. Bauer, Gray, and Castillo all looked like legitimate Cy Young candidates at different points in this shortened season, with Bauer bringing home the award. Tyler Mahle took a big step forward, and contributions from Tejay Antone and Michael Lorenzen helped make this rotation one of the best in Reds History. The offense, as I mentioned before, way underperformed. The offense is likely to be better in 2021, but it would be a major failure by the Reds front office to not address the offense at all this offseason.
2020-2021 Offseason Preview
Areas of Greatest Need: Starting Pitching, Left-Handed Reliever, Shortstop
Let me start off by saying that the Cincinnati Reds should do everything in their power to bring back Trevor Bauer, but I don’t think they will. Bauer will likely get at least $30 million per year this offseason, and given the Reds’ previous spending habits, I don’t see them giving that much money to one player. Bauer likely won’t repeat his Cy Young performance, but still projects to be an All-Star caliber pitcher in 2021 and will be missed in the Reds rotation.
Anthony DeSclafani struggled in 9 appearances for the Reds in 2020. In 33.2 innings, DeSclafani posted a 7.22 ERA with a 1.693 WHIP, striking out a career-low 6.7 batters per 9 innings. Walks were a big factor in Disco’s struggles, his 4.3 BB/9 was a big jump from his 2019 total of 2.6 BB/9. In the past, DeSclafani has been serviceable when healthy. Being healthy is a big caveat though, as DeSclafani has only surpassed 150 IP twice since being acquired in 2015.
If the Reds lose both Bauer and DeSclafani, that leaves two holes to fill in the rotation. One is likely filled by Wade Miley, who missed most of the season with injuries. As of right now, the second spot is up for grabs between Michael Lorenzen, Tejay Antone, and Lucas Sims, with prospects Tony Santillan and Nick Lodolo possibly getting looks as well. While it’s possible that Lorenzen, Antone, and Sims could be serviceable in the rotation, their stuff plays up in the bullpen, and if the Reds are serious about making the postseason next year, they need to add another proven MLB starter.
Freddy Galvis is a key loss, not for the player he is, but because of the situation it leaves the Reds in. Galvis hit a lackluster .220/.308/.404 in 2020, good for a 91 wRC+. His poor performance made it easy for the Reds to take Galvis out of the starting lineup in favor of top prospect Jose Garcia. Before 2020, Garcia had never appeared in a game above High-A, and it showed. In 24 games, Garcia had a .179 wOBA, striking out in almost 40% of his at-bats. With Galvis leaving, Garcia is the only legitimate shortstop in the Reds organization with a chance to be serviceable at the big-league level this season, unless you count Kyle Farmer (I do not).
In his limited playing time, it became clear that Jose Garcia was not ready to face major league pitching. He needs at least one year in the upper minors before he is ready to take over the position. The Reds need to find someone to fill the gap between now and 2022.
There are a few players who I didn’t list as key losses who might not be around in 2021. Outfielder Brian Goodwin, reliever Robert Stephenson, and catcher Curt Casali are all players who could be non-tendered by the Reds in order to save some payroll. Goodwin struggled after being acquired at the trade deadline. The athletic outfielder with some pop will likely bring in somewhere around $3 million this offseason, and I think the Reds will cut ties in order to put that money to other use. Robert Stephenson dealt with injuries this season, but when he was on the field, he struggled in his 10 innings of work. While it wouldn’t save the Reds a lot of money, it could open up a roster spot to add a better reliever to the bullpen, and Stephenson may benefit from a change of scenery at this point in his career. The Reds could use that spot to add another lefty to the pen. As it stands right now, Amir Garrett is their only lefty reliever after cutting ties with Cody Reed earlier this year. Whether the Reds keep Curt Casali around depends on how the Reds decide to handle their catcher situation this offseason. Tucker Barnhart is owed over $4 million this year and Tyler Stephenson looks ready to be in the majors full time, leaving Casali as the odd man out. With Casali projected to earn $2 million, according to Sportrac, the Reds may decide to spend that money elsewhere, using utilityman Kyle Farmer as the third catcher.
James Paxton only made five starts for the New York Yankees in 2020, largely due to injury. His five starts were less than desirable, giving up 15 earned runs in 20.1 IP before being placed on the IL with a Grade 1 flexor strain. Paxton has dealt with injuries his whole career but was able to make at least 24 starts per season from 2017 to 2019. When healthy, Paxton has been very good, never posting an ERA above 4.00 before 2020. The Reds could offer Paxton a one-year “prove-it” deal, allowing Paxton to rebuild his value for another go at free agency next offseason and giving the Reds a very solid number three starter behind Castillo and Gray.
Contract offer: 1-year/$10 mil
The Reds bullpen put things together towards the end of the season but was unreliable for a large part of the year. Jake McGee could go a long way towards stabilizing the pen and give the Reds a solid left-handed reliever option. McGee had a late-career resurgence with the Dodgers last season after struggling the last two seasons in Colorado. McGee had a 2.66 ERA and 1.67 FIP in 20.1 IP while striking out 41.8% of the batters he faced in 2020. The emergence of Dodger’s reliever Victor Gonzales likely spells the end of Jake McGee’s time in LA, making him a prime candidate for the Reds to pair with Amir Garrett as lefties out of the pen.
Contract offer: 1-year/$3 mil
Kevin Pillar spent the 2020 season between the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies. The 31-year-old outfielder slashed .288/.336/.462 in 54 games, good for a 106 wRC+. Pillar would likely be used as a depth option for the Reds, with Senzel, Castellanos, Akiyama, Winker, and possibly Aquino ahead of him on the depth chart. Pillar has experience in all three outfield positions and could be used on days where left-handers Akiyama and Winker have unfavorable matchups. Pillar could also be used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Castellanos and Winker, both players who are bad defenders.
Contract Offer: 2-year/$5 mil
The Reds need to add a shortstop and an impact bat this offseason. Trading for Lindor allows them to do both in one move. Francisco Lindor immediately takes the Reds offense to the next level and will provide Gold Glove-caliber defense up the middle. Parting ways with the former first-round pick, Nick Senzel, won’t be easy, but outfielders are the Indians’ biggest need. Senzel is a young, controllable outfielder with All-Star potential who would be able to step in and contribute immediately. The Indians would also receive the 2018 first-round pick Jonathan India, a third base prospect will offensive upside and the athleticism to move to second if needed. The last two pieces the Indians would receive are Lyon Richardson and TJ Friedl. Richardson is a 20-year-old RHP with four pitches 50-grade or better and Friedl is an outfielder with the potential to reach the majors this year as a fourth outfielder or platoon piece, with potential for a greater role in the future.
2021 Projected Roster
- Francisco Lindor
- Joey Votto
- Jesse Winker
- Eugenio Suarez
- Nicholas Castellanos
- Mike Moustakas
- Shogo Akiyama
- Tyler Stephenson
- Pitcher Spot
- Luis Castillo
- Sonny Gray
- James Paxton
- Tyler Mahle
- Wade Miley
- Raisel Iglesias
- Michael Lorenzen
- Amir Garret
- Archie Bradley
- Jake McGee
- Lucas Sims
- Tejay Antone
- Jose De Leon
Shortstop and catcher were the two biggest offensive holes in the Reds lineup last season. Adding Lindor turns one of those holes into one of the lineup’s biggest strengths, and Tyler Stephenson is a step up offensively from Tucker Barnhart. The rest of the lineup is returning with hopes that they can improve from last season. Castillo and Gray still headline the rotation, with a healthy Paxton as one of the better three’s in MLB. The bullpen will be counting on some young pieces but should be at least average.
Losing the reigning Cy Young winner hurts, but James Paxton isn’t a bad consolation prize. The addition of Lindor takes this Reds offense to the next level. If this team stays healthy, I expect them to be a playoff team with a good chance to win the NL Central. They’ll look to put their quick exit in 2020 behind them and make a run in the playoffs this season.