Blueprint for 2019 Success, in Seven Steps

Everywhere I go, people think I want to talk about baseball. The reason this happens is because everywhere I go I do want to talk about baseball. So it kinda works out, you know?

Yesterday, in fact, a work colleague attempted to engage me in a conversation about America’s national pastime. And after we finished talking about Kanye West, the discussion moved on to baseball. “Hey, you like baseball, right?” she asked. Clearly, she had done her research. “Yes,” I answered. “I like baseball.”

Turns out, she’s a big baseball fan as well, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, in the heart of Mariners country. (Is there such a thing as “Mariners country?” The world may never know. Or care.) It has been a fun season for Seattle baseball fans, what with the Mariners being in actual contention for a playoff spot and everything.

As she mused about playoff tickets and related expenses, I casually remarked, “Hey, maybe they’ll play the Reds in the World Series. That’ll cut down on travel time anyway.”


After we enjoyed a hearty laugh, she said, “It could happen! Maybe the Reds will win the rest of their games and then they’ll be in the playoffs….” She paused for a moment, trying to make sure she wasn’t overstating her case. “Right?”

Yes, it’s true. If the Cincinnati Reds were to win all their remaining games in the 2018 season, they would finish 117-45, which would surely be enough to secure at least the second Wild Card slot in the playoffs. Plus, they’d be on a 92-game winning streak, which has to be close to the all-time National League record.

Which got me thinking about best-case scenarios. Certainly, that big winning streak, combined with a four-game sweep of the Mariners in the World Series … that’s the actual best-case scenario for the 2018 Reds. But let’s get realistic here, and maybe frame the question in a different way: What’s the best-case scenario for the Reds over the next 10 months, between now and Opening Day 2019? What moves can the Reds make in order to best position themselves to be more competitive beginning next season?

I have seven specific recommendations, but they’re all based on the assumption that a competitive club is within this team’s grasp, if management decides to go for it. Not a World Series winner in 2019 perhaps, but a team that’s significantly improved and poised to be competitive in the following seasons as well.

Make a decision on Scooter Gennett’s future. This needs to be the first domino to fall. Do the Reds think Scooter can be a part of the next good Reds team? At what position? How much would it take to sign him to a four-year contract extension? The answers to all those questions will dictate how the Reds approach many of the decisions below.

This is a difficult decision for the club, and I don’t envy the decision-makers. There are good arguments on every side of this equation. But it’s the elephant in the room, and the time for making a decision is at hand.

Get Nick Senzel to the majors, pronto. Period, end of story. Come tomorrow, if not sooner, Senzel needs to be at Great American Ball Park. Install him as the everyday shortstop for the Reds. Or move Scooter to the outfield and let Senzel play second base. Or move Eugenio Suarez to shortstop and let Senzel play third base.

Honestly, I don’t care which path the Reds choose for the next three-plus months. My preference is for Senzel to play shortstop, but if he can’t handle that position defensively, then pick another path. This is a lost season, and there is no better time for him to be learning about life in the big leagues and getting low-pressure at-bats against major league pitching.

For the rest of 2018, give every start to young pitchers in the organization. OK, I’ll give the Reds another month to deal Matt Harvey and his busted stuff; but if he isn’t gone by the trade deadline, the Reds must cut bait. Anthony DeSclafani, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle have to be the mainstays, but spread out the rest of the starts among guys like Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Jackson Stephens, Jose Lopez, and Brandon Finnegan.

Trade or bench Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall. This one is painful for me to write. Hamilton is my favorite player, and when he does Billy things he’s the most exciting player in baseball. I’m always going to root for that guy to figure it out, because he’s so genuinely likable and he works his tail off. (The same could be said for Duvall, for that matter. Both are stand-up guys and, away from the world of baseball, I’m sure they’re fantastic human beings.)

But Hamilton and Duvall simply are what they are at this point. There is little reason to believe that either is going to improve substantially or that either will be a member of the next good Reds team. So if you can trade them, go ahead and pull the trigger. If not, they’re pretty great bench options. Either way, Jesse Winker and Scott Schebler need to be playing every day so we can find out whether they’re going to be the corner outfielders of the future. (Maybe throw Scooter into that outfield mix, depending on where the Reds land on recommendation #1 above.)

Push the youngsters through the system much more quickly. Did you notice how the Atlanta Braves supercharged their rebuild by pushing their top prospects to the majors in their early twenties? The Reds, who have seemingly treated their top prospects with kid gloves, need to take notes.

Get Senzel to Cincinnati immediately. (Have I mentioned that one before?) Push Shed Long and Taylor Trammell through the system with the idea that they’ll make their Cincinnati debut sometime in 2019, at least; Long should actually get a September call-up this year. The club needs to be far more aggressive with recent first-round pick Jonathan India than they were with Senzel and equally aggressive with other talented kids like Tyler Stephenson and Tony Santillan.

Our patience as a fan base is wearing thin. It’s time to get some of these kids movin’ on up.

Trade for a starting pitcher, and sign another one in free agency. The Reds have depth in the minors—one of the best in baseball, by most accounts—and it’s time to start using some of those assets to get players that can help the big league club. Cincinnati needs to acquire at least two starting pitchers before the 2019 season.

Let’s use some of the depth or dangle Raisel Iglesias and/or Scooter Gennett to acquire at least one of those pitchers. Then the Reds need to open the checkbook to convince another (youngish) average or better starter to join the club in the off-season, unless enough of the young pitchers pan out to make that superfluous.

Look, if you’re struggling with the idea of trading some of Cincinnati’s minor league talent, remember two things: (1) You have to give up assets in order to acquire assets; and (2) the Reds are doing a fabulous job of tanking in 2018, so they’ll be getting another top five draft pick next year to help reload the system.

Find a shortstop and/or a center fielder before Opening Day 2019. If Senzel or Suarez can’t play shortstop, the Reds really need to seek trades for either an everyday CF or SS. Cincinnati simply needs more production out of one or both of those positions than they’re currently getting. If Suarez/Senzel can handle short, perhaps the Reds can live with Hamilton (or even Peraza) in center field until Trammell is ready to take over. And the club needs to give Trammell every opportunity to prove he can be a big league center fielder sooner rather than later.

Alternatively, owner Bob Castellini—who famously promised not to rest until we are happy—could break the bank to sign Manny Machado to a free agent contract and install him at shortstop for the next few years.

To me, these aren’t unreasonable moves to expect from the Reds. (Well, maybe the Machado signing is a lot to ask.) These are things that would put a competitive product on the field as soon as next year while not mortgaging the future. You’d still have young players all over the field, with room to grow.

I don’t know if the Reds will take this plunge, or something similar. But there is no reason that they couldn’t or shouldn’t. Of course, if we get to Opening Day 2019 and the Reds haven’t made significant progress in the direction outlined above, settle in for yet another season of the never-ending crash-and-burn rebuild.

Perhaps I’m just under the table and dreaming here, but Cincinnati, as a franchise, can’t afford another year like this one. The Reds have to be more competitive next year. Period. And they have no excuses now; I’ve given them a blueprint, after all.

Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, and the founder of Redleg Nation. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available now in bookstores and online. He’ll be signing copies of the book at 2 p.m. June 30 at the Reds Hall of Fame.

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