As a Clevelander, it was so much fun in 2016 to see the teams each take their turn in the quest for championships. For six months, Cleveland was the spot, with Stipe Miocic, the Lake Erie Monsters, Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Indians all winning a championship or coming very close. Building off of that kind of buzz is a lot of fun for a city and its fans.
How did the Cincinnati Reds follow up the Bengals’ 2021 success? By shedding salary and trading top players. The Reds did pick up a few late free agents, including Tommy Pham and Colin Moran, but the damage was already done. This is a team that now appears to be floating around in limbo – not awful enough to rebuild, but not good enough to compete. I feel bad for my friends down I-71.
The magnitude of the fire sale left people wondering when Cincinnati would trade Luis Castillo or Joey Votto – it truly felt like they were close. They went 83-79 last season and it seemed like a little targeted spending would go a long way. Instead, the Reds went in the opposite direction and basically threw away everything that they had built.
Teams that are clear losers of the offseason get penalized in the win total and futures markets, which can sometimes lead to some value. Is that the case for the Reds this season?
Cincinnati finished sixth in wOBA last season, but the park adjustment for playing in a band box made the Reds the only team in the top eight to finish with a below average wRC + at 98. The team’s top hitters were Jesse Winker – unfortunately limited to 110 games because of injury – with a 148 wRC + and Nick Castellanos with a 140 wRC + . Castellanos is now with the Phillies and Winker is in Seattle, as part of Cincinnati’s roster purge.
Castellanos was an impending free agent, but he was a strong fit in Cincinnati if ownership was willing to pony up the money. Winker was just starting to get expensive as he approached arbitration, but he was also starting to stand out as one of the game’s top young hitters. Instead, they’ll look to produce elsewhere. The Reds also sent Eugenio Suarez and his 31 homers to Seattle. For a team that plays in a small park and needs to hit for power, losing 89 homers across those three players feels like a major misstep.
Votto has reached some new levels of DGAF. He traded some of his legendary plate discipline for aggressive swings and fly balls, leading to 36 home runs, just one off of his career-high. The change actually worked wonders for Votto, as he made a ton of violent contact with far and away his highest Hard Hit% and Barrel% (his 17.2% Barrel% in 2021 ranked ninth, trailing names like Shohei Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge).
The 38-year-old only has two more guaranteed years on his contract and then a club option for 2024. It would be wildly unpopular to trade Votto, but it is not at all out of the question. He talked during spring training about the decision to swing more aggressively and look to hit dingers – and he sounds like a guy pretty fed up with ownership. Given that he has 47 career postseason plate appearances and only has a few years left, who can blame him? With a new crop of voters more interested in some of the new-age metrics, he may be a Hall of Famer. If he can replicate last season, he has a shot at 400 homers, which should probably seal the deal for him.