The 2017 Reds are in trouble. This year was always going to be a down year, but there seemed to be hope in the near future. And then Devin Mesoraco goes down. He is out for the season and it seems that we have reached the point at which he cannot be counted on. Next year he will be 29 years old. He will enter it having never had more than 440 PAs in a season. He will enter it with one very good (albeit partially injured) season under his belt and five partial seasons in which he generated (according to FanGraphs), -0.7 wins above replacement. He will enter next year having gathered only 106 PAs in the two years since his breakout season. I love Mes, but it’s time to let that one go.
Mind you, I’m not saying the Reds should cut or trade him. Not at all. He clearly has at least the potential to produce offensively (though I have a feeling he may be done as a catcher). And perhaps more importantly, he’s not going to garner much on the trade market anyway. I’m only saying that you can no longer count on him. And that leaves a big hole in the lineup.
Now, maybe you are part of the Tucker Barnhart camp. I am not. He seems like a useful player to me. Maybe the ideal backup. Good defensively and non-humiliating with the bat, but unless something magical has happened (I see no signs that it has), he’s not going to add much value to the team as an everyday player. And he’s not going to hit.
Now when we are talking about the loss of Mesoraco, we are really talking about what it does to the lineup. For reasons, I cannot explain, I have come to think of a solid lineup as having at least three hitters you don’t want to mess around with. The Reds, next year, figured to have these players in the starting lineup (listed in order of potential offensive production): Votto, Winker, Mes, Suarez, Peraza, and Hamilton. Those were the sure things (but there are, of course, two spots to fill). Mes, you’ll notice, is third. Take him out and you’re asking Suarez to be that third bat.
I am a Suarez believer (his recent slump seems like mostly bad luck to me) and I think he will be an above average hitter. But I am not certain he’s ever really going to put fear in the hearts of pitchers. So where can the Reds turn? There are three places they can look for offense—Catcher, Middle Infield, and Right Field. Let’s take them in turn.
The system is pretty bare here. There is 19-year-old Tyler Stephenson, a first round pick in 2015, but he’s not arriving anytime soon. You’ll never find me an advocate of spending money on free agent catchers, so the Reds may have to make due with Barnhart here and Mesoraco subbing in at times. Barnhart hits maybe a hair better than Billy Hamilton, so the Reds won’t be getting offense at this position.
I assume that, like me, you cringe at the idea of counting on offense from the middle infield. I mean, I remember Barry Larkin, but players like him don’t come around so often. Jose Peraza is getting some playing time for the Reds right now, albeit in center, and while he’s likely a better hitter than Hamilton, he doesn’t have the right skill set to ever be fearsome. The other prospect the Reds maybe have coming is Alex Blandino. But he’s had 250 PAs in Double A and hasn’t done much with them. So, barring a trade or free agent signing, the Reds will not get the hitter they need here.
Here’s where we have a shot. Defense matters less in right field, so finding an offensive weapon should be easier. You’ve heard, I assume, about Adam Duvall. That .901 OPS sure is pretty and if he could do that forever, I think they’d have something. But he’s striking out more than 30 percent of the time and has not walked nearly enough. He has to change that if he’s going to be a solution and, at 27, it’s unlikely there’s much room left for development. The Reds also have Phillip Ervin who is currently tearing it up in Pensacola (if you look up his stats, you have to pay attention to things like wRC+ because that is a TOUGH league for hitters, so offense is depressed). If he gets a promotion to Louisville and continues to hit, then he might become a serious option.
Oh, and, if he’s healthy enough, we could always see Mes get some time in the outfield.
So, the Reds need a hitter. No matter how bleak things seem this year, the pitching staff is going to be fine. It’s the offense we need to worry about. But they need at least one more guy who can really scare pitchers and there is not much in the stable right now (especially since I’m already assuming Winker will produce). The Reds should have some money lying around at the end of the season and this is where they ought to spend it. Maybe turn some of those pitching prospects into an outfielder while taking on some money or maybe they go to the free agent market.
I still think things look pretty good in 2017, but if we can’t count on Mes, it means there is really work that needs to be done by the front office.