2018 Record: 67-95
Last Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.63 (24th)
Team OPS: .729 (15th)
What Went Right
Eugenio Suarez was terrific in the first year of a seven-year, $66 million contract extension signed in March, posting career highs in hits (149), home runs (34), RBI (104), and OPS (.893) despite missing much of April with a fracture in his right thumb. That team-friendly deal covers his age 26-32 seasons and the annual salary won’t climb higher than $12 million unless the Reds pick up his $15 million club option for 2025. Scooter Gennett proved that his 2017 production was no fluke, slashing .310/.357/.490 with 23 home runs, 30 doubles, and 94 RBI in 154 games while clamoring for an extension of his own. Gennett finished fifth among all MLB second basemen in fWAR (4.5), ranking just behind Jose Altuve (4.8). Jose Peraza took a big step forward offensively, establishing himself as the Reds’ long-term answer at shortstop. Luis Castillo finished the season strong -- 2.63 ERA over his final 14 starts -- and could be rounding into a future ace. Jared Hughes, signed to a two-year, $4.5 million free agent contract over the winter, registered a dominant 1.94 ERA in 78 2/3 innings out of the Cincinnati bullpen. David Hernandez, signed for two years, $5 million, had a 2.53 ERA in 64 frames. Raisel Iglesias earned up with a career-high 30 saves while delivering a career-low 2.38 ERA.
What Went Wrong
Quite a bit. The Reds lost 90-plus games for the fourth consecutive season and again came in last place in the National League Central division. They never climbed above .500 at any point and the front office fired manager Bryan Price in the third week of April, replacing him with interim skipper Jim Riggleman. Joey Votto tallied just 12 home runs in 623 plate appearances, stumbling to the lowest full-season slugging percentage (.417) of his career. He turned 35 years old in September and is still owed $132 million on a contract that runs through 2023. Billy Hamilton played in a career-high 153 games but finished with a career-low 34 stolen bases. He had registered neatly-ascending stolen base totals of 56, 57, 58, and 59 over his first four major league campaigns (2014-2017). Homer Bailey, who made $21 million this year and is owed $23 million in 2019 with a $5 million buyout on his $25 million option for 2020, posted an ERA above 6.00 for the third straight season and the Reds went 1-19 in games he started. As a whole, Cincinnati starters combined for a 5.02 ERA, ranking sixth-worst among all major league clubs. Scott Schebler landed on the disabled list multiple times with upper-arm injuries, falling well short of his 30-homer output from 2017. Young outfielder Jesse Winker suffered a labrum tear in his right shoulder in late July and required major surgery.
** Joey Votto was one of fantasy baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2018. He had an average draft position (ADP) of 17 on Yahoo this past spring after batting .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs and 100 RBI over 162 games in 2017. There was a mention of back pain early on and he missed part of August with a lower right leg contusion, but those seemingly-minor injuries don’t fully account for his disappearing power. During a 102-game stretch between April 28 and September 3, Votto hit just five home runs in 438 plate appearances. He still led all National League hitters in on-base percentage (.417) and he’s one of the smartest, craftiest players in the game, so perhaps a bounceback is coming in 2019. The good news is it probably won’t require a second-round pick to find out.
** Eugenio Suarez had a breakout season in 2017 and then carried his game to a whole different level this year, finishing as a top-25 overall fantasy hitter even after missing much of April with a fractured right thumb. He put up a .900 OPS and slugged 19 of his 34 home runs at Great American Ball Park, one of the more power-friendly stadiums in the majors, but Suarez also fared well on the road: .884 OPS, 15 home runs in 70 games. 2019 will be his age-27 season, considered the heart of the physical prime for the average baseball player. And the new deal has him locked into the homer-happy hitting environment at GABP through at least the 2024 season. Maybe we haven’t seen his ceiling.
** Cincinnati’s rotation was a mess for the most part in 2018 and the team’s one fantasy-relevant starter, Luis Castillo, was sporting a rough 5.85 ERA at the end of June. But the young right-hander figured something out in the second half and rolled to a 2.63 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 80/16 K/BB ratio over his final 82 innings. He ultimately registered a 4.30 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 169 2/3 total frames. Those underwhelming overall numbers could make the soon-to-be 26-year-old a mid-round fantasy sleeper heading into 2019. If the Reds keep Michael Lorenzen in a starting role, there could be some fantasy intrigue there too. He posted a 3.11 ERA in 81 total innings, joining the rotation in a trial run for the final three weeks of the regular season.
** Good base-stealing ability and an everyday role gave Jose Peraza a decent fantasy floor for the 2018 season, and he came through with useful numbers in a range of other scoring categories. The 24-year-old batted .288 with career highs in home runs (14), doubles (31), RBI (58), and runs scored (85) while also racking up 23 steals in 29 attempts. Now if only Billy Hamilton could follow that lead and add some other elements to his game. Hamilton, entering his final year of arbitration, is looking like a possible offseason trade candidate.
** Jesse Winker was batting .299 with a .405 on-base percentage when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder while diving on the basepaths to avoid a line drive in a July 23 game against the Cardinals. The 25-year-old outfielder is aiming to be fully recovered by the start of spring training next February and could hold sneaky late-round fantasy value if that goal is met. He’s put up an .857 OPS, 14 homers, and 58 RBI through his first 136 major league games.
** It’s time to get excited again about top prospect Nick Senzel, who probably would have made his MLB debut this summer had he not suffered a torn tendon in his right index finger in June. The 23-year-old infielder, selected second overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, boasts a .314/.390/.513 batting line with 27 home runs, 130 RBI, 40 stolen bases, and 145 runs scored through his first 231 professional games. He has the goods to be a fantasy superstar.
Key Free Agents: Matt Harvey
Team Needs: Starting pitching, plain and simple. Many of the young arms the Reds have acquired through the years via rebuilding-minded trades have not panned out, and 2017 first-round pick Hunter Greene is at least a couple years away, pending possible Tommy John surgery. It’s time for ownership to buck up and bring in a few new faces for the rotation, and to complement what is a pretty good position player group.