Joey Votto is one of the best hitters baseball has ever seen but can he drag the 2018 Cincinnati Reds to relevance?
It’s never fun to finish last in a division like the Cincinnati Reds did last season, especially when you share said division with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds didn’t do very much to change the team in the off-season and must be banking on improvement from within to change their fortunes. The issue is they don’t have enough good players to make that happen this season.
First baseman Joey Votto is a generational player and it’s amazing he’s faced criticism in the past because he doesn’t drive in enough runs. His approach is simply to get on base in any way possible and not many players can match his batting average and on-base skills while still hitting his share of homers. Since the Reds have mostly been a bad team during his tenure, he’s still vastly underrated in most baseball circles.
One interesting facet to the Reds offense is how they will split playing time between four outfielders. Billy Hamilton, Scott Schebler, Adam Duvall, and Jesse Winker all deserve playing time. Hamilton is the worst offensive player but his defense and base stealing skills means he’ll get plenty of time. The Reds lost shortstop Zach Cozart to the Angels and have slotted Jose Pereza to take over. Prospect Nick Senzel likely isn’t too far off and the Reds have moved him around the infield in the minors in an effort to give him some flexibility.
The starting rotation looks like it could struggle in a major way. Pitching in Cincinnati doesn’t help but they are short on talent. The gem is Luis Castillo, who was extremely promising last year. He faced a trial by fire when he entered the majors, as well. His first seven starts came against the Nationals, Brewers, Rockies(in Coors Field), Diamondbacks (in Chase Field), Nationals again, Diamondbacks again, and then the Yankees in New York. That’s intense and he managed to keep his ERA under four through that stretch. Past Castillo, Cincinnati trots out Homer Bailey, Amir Garrett, Brandon Finnegan and a grab bag of others.
Best Case Scenario
Even if things break right, the Reds are going to struggle to make it to the .500 mark. Maybe the four outfielder system works and everyone stays fresh and productive. Senzel could come up and make an immediate impact, much like Castillo did last season. Votto is basically a lock to have another great year but he doesn’t have enough support to make headway in the N.L Central. Even if Castillo performs as he’d did last year and is a high-quality starter, there’s nobody to follow him and keep the momentum going. Cincinnati could improve by about 8-10 wins and still only hit the 75 win plateau. One thing that could help is trading an outfielder for some type of starting pitching help that they could rely on behind Castillo.
Worst Case Scenario
If things go badly for the Reds, do they at least kick the tires on trading Votto? Despite him being in his mid-thirties, there appears to be zero drop-off in his skill set. His contract in onerous but that could be worked out. The Reds could get a massive package in return and truly kickstart their rebuilding effort.
If Votto stays, the reds could still end up with only around 65 wins. Castillo can’t carry the rotation on his own and there are certainly questions if he’s as good as we saw in 2017. He’s pitched under-90 innings in the majors and is still a major question mark coming into the season. Not one pitcher behind him has proven reliable so far and aside from Raisel Iglesias in the bullpen, there’s not much to write home about there either.
Joey Votto – 1B
Votto finished second in the N.L. MVP race last year and the Reds didn’t even win 70 games. If they show improvement and Votto has a normal(for him) season, he’s going to be right back in that discussion. Cincinnati would be frightfully bad without Votto in their lineup. It’s a shame his chances at the playoffs have always been so limited during his career. He’s in line for another big season and should see a .300+ batting average with close to 1.000 OPS once again.
Sadly for Cincinnati fans, this year looks like it’s going to be another long one. There are just too many holes and the N.L. Central is clearly divided into the teams that can win(Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals) and the teams that can’t (Reds, Pirates). It would be a fairly stark surprise to see the Reds finish any higher than fourth and they appear on paper to be a long way from being a postseason threat.