The Cincinnati Reds were one of the biggest disappointments in baseball last year, and they made some interesting moves this offseason to where it's hard to determine the direction of the franchise. The Reds have a wins total of 78 on 5Dimes MLB odds.
Recap of 2014
The book on former big-league manager Dusty Baker has always been that he can get your team regular season success, but that he can't win in the playoffs -- perhaps because he wears his guys down during the season (ask Cubs fans about how Baker used Kerry Wood and Mark Prior).
So really the Reds should have known what they were getting when they hired Baker before the 2008 season. Two years later, Baker led the Reds to 91 wins, an NL Central title and a spot in the NLDS. The 2011 season was a step back, but the Reds won the Central again with 97 victories in 2012 before losing in the NLDS again. In 2013, the Reds were the NL's second wild card team with 90 wins but were beaten in the one-game playoff in Pittsburgh.
Apparently all those one-and-dones were enough for Reds ownership as it fired Baker a few days after that Pirates loss and would promote pitching coach Bryan Price to replace him. Maybe Price will be a fine manager, but he's squarely on the hot seat in 2015 after the Reds plummeted to a 76-win season under him and fourth in the division in 2014. True, injuries really hit the team hard, but they do for everyone.
If the Reds finish well under .500 again, Price is probably a goner. The previous two Cincinnati managers before Baker never made it through a third full season.
Outlook for 2015
I'm not sure what the Reds' thoughts were this offseason. They traded 40 percent of last season's starting rotation on the same day in December, shipping Mat Latos to Miami and Alfredo Simon to Detroit. Both made sense in a way. Latos is very good when healthy and was 5-5 with a 3.25 ERA in 2014 but limited to 16 starts due to elbow and knee injuries. He's going to be a free agent next winter and the Reds got a nice-looking young pitcher in Anthony DeSclafani and another prospect for him. Simon was an All-Star last year but that was likely a mirage as he was hit hard in the second half and never has had consistent success in the majors. He also was set to become a free agent after the 2015 season. Cincinnati got two prospects from the Tigers in that deal.
OK, so if the Reds were purging salary and starting a bit of a rebuild, why then deal for ancient Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd? He hit .264 with 25 home runs and 85 RBIs in 154 games with the Phillies last season but also struck out 185 times. Byrd also will be 38 in August and cost a very good pitching prospect in Ben Lively. That one is a head-scratcher. The team made no other big moves.
Essentially what the Reds are counting on in 2015 is much better health from their Big 3 of first baseman Joey Votto, outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Brandon Phillips. Votto, the former NL MVP, played in just 62 games and wasn't the same when he did, batting only .255 with six home runs. His contract is mammoth so the Reds better pray that was a fluke season. Bruce hit just .217 with 18 homers in 137 games and Phillips .266 with eight home runs in 121 games. Cincinnati isn't going anywhere if those three guys don't all play around 150 games.
The two best Reds last year were All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier (.273, 29 homers, 80 RBIs) and catcher Devin Mesoraco (.273, 25 homers, 80 RBIs in only 384 at-bats). Are those guys rising stars or were those one-year aberrations? Also, will leadoff man Billy Hamilton get on base this year? The fastest man in baseball had 56 steals but hit only .250 and struck out 117 times with a putrid on-base percentage of .292. That will not work. But with slight improvement from Hamilton and some good health, this lineup has major potential.
The rotation is another story. It's led by Johnny Cueto, who topped the NL last season with 243.2 innings pitched and 242 strikeouts and was second in wins (20), ERA (2.25) and WHIP (0.96). He wins the Cy Young nine times out of 10 with those numbers if he's not in the same league as Clayton Kershaw. Cueto can become a free agent after this season and it doesn't seem likely the Reds will get him to sign an extension before that. Thus Cueto could be a huge trade piece in July.
Cueto's the only sure thing in the rotation, which also should include Homer Bailey (likely to start season on DL), Mike Leake, DeSclafani and either Jason Marquis or Raisel Iglesias. If the Reds have the lead in the ninth inning, they are quite likely to win behind closer Aroldis Chapman, who is just about unhittable, so keep that in mind when you make your MLB picks.
Cincinnati Reds Season Win Total: Tough team to call. It could crush the ball at the plate and maybe Bailey and Leake are pretty good behind the excellent Cueto. A lot of things would have to go right, however, to even reach .500. Go 'under' the total. No way this team wins the deep Central.