It’s been rough out there, folks.
It’s June 20th, and Jonathan India hasn’t hit a single home run this season. Tyler Stephenson hasn’t played in 11 days, and may not play again for another month. Those two, the should-be cornerstones of the future for the Cincinnati Reds after they tore apart their previous group, haven’t played in the same game together since April 29th.
As things stand right now, it would be a crime if the two players on the active roster who have hit the best so far this season were still on the team this time next month. Brandon Drury (123 OPS+) has proven to be a tremendous find as Plan F so far this year, but he’s a free agent at season’s end and should be cashed-in at the first opportunity - even if it’s for something barely recognizable. Tommy Pham, meanwhile, has been pretty much exactly what the Reds should have expected when they surprisingly signed him despite being obviously tanking and rebuilding, and with him set to be a free agent at season’s end, too, getting what you can for him while he’s healthy seems to be paramount.
You can even loop Tyler Naquin into that argument, assuming he’s healthy enough again by the deadline to get flipped for something. His free agency is also looming.
There have been 10 players who have spent time in the outfield for the Reds this season, and I’m not sure a single one of them should be starting ever, much less everyday, for the 2023 Reds. That’s not just me saying I foolheartedly expect the 2023 Reds to somehow contend and that they’ll need to upgrade over them all, either - I fully expect the 2023 Reds season to be another in a multi-year rebuild, and this is me saying I don’t think there’s a single guy among the 10 the Reds have used in the outfield in 2022 who is a player around whom a team should ‘build.’
That’s an indictment of my sentiments towards Nick Senzel, I guess. Aside from some admittedly exceptional defense when he’s actually available, I just don’t see anything there that looks like it’s going to get better anymore. I don’t know if it was the shoulder, the knee, the combination of it all sapping him from regular work for years, or what, but his swing looks defensive and the aggression needed to attack 100 mph heaters simply isn’t there anymore. I’m also not intending to use this piece to pick on Senzel, it’s just that he’s by far the most once-promising of that group of 10 and therefore got the Monday Opinion [TM] from me instead of, I dunno, the twice-DFA’d Aristides Aquino.
Frankly, the single biggest ‘development’ on the hitting side that we’ve seen through 66 games of this 162 game Cincinnati Reds season has been that dueling 31 year olds Kyle Farmer and Matt Reynolds have cheap team control through the 2024 and 2026 seasons, respectively. So if you’re looking for where the next extension will be aimed by this team’s owners...
The best way I think I can describe what we’ve seen from these Reds, what we’ll continue to see for the next 96 games, and how to possibly categorize it all is this: this all feels like watching an established big leaguer on a rehab assignment at an A-ball club after they spent a couple months sidelined by a broken armfoot. The statistics, ugly as they may be at first, don’t matter, because they’re just there to get their feet wet again. Whether or not said player helps his team win doesn’t matter, because it’s all about the big club’s future anyway. Will they play the entire game? Doesn’t matter, just keep them on-course to be more healthy tomorrow than they were today.
I think we’re still holding out hope that at some point later this summer, perhaps after the trade deadline, we’ll see Jose Barrero called-up and slotted in the lineup alongside a non-rusty Jonny India and a fully-thumbed Tyler Stephenson. We’re hoping that trio fronts the lineup, is backed by the typically red-hot second-half Joey Votto, and a glimpse into what the Reds do have for 2023 and beyond finally becomes visible. They’ll get hot together for a bit, show us the dynamism that they each possess, and maybe even partner with a new, young outfield addition brought in after a trade of Tyler Mahle and/or Luis Castillo.
So far, though, it’s been just about as brutal of a transition season from the Reds position players as could be imagined. I guess the optimist in me should point out that there’s nowhere for that to go but up, though.