Cincinnati Reds Roster Crisis Approaching


As the 2015 Cincinnati Reds’ season approaches, many question marks still surround the team. While the actual improvement of the current roster is debatable, one thing is for certain – the Reds are facing insurmountable issues with their 2016 roster. Issues that most likely will drastically change the organization going forward, beginning as early as July.

After predicting arbitration numbers for players, the 2015 Reds’ payroll looks to currently sit around $101 million. While that is down sharply from their record-setting $116 million cap total last season, it still presents future problems for Cincinnati. The impending free agency of pitchers Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake have been well documented, and desired extensions for both would be costly for 2016 and beyond.

Of the players Cincinnati currently has under contract for the 2016 season, eight are due an astounding $108.2 million combined:

For those of you counting at home, that would be five position players and three pitchers combining for a payroll roughly the size of 2015’s entire 25-man roster. That $108.2 million doesn’t even include Todd Frazier ($600,000 in 2014) or Devin Mesoraco‘s ($525,000 in 2014) huge raises that will be coming via arbitration cases in 2016.

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While the acquisition of Byrd was a clear sign that the Reds’ front office was “going all in” for 2015, it is becoming even more evident that 2016 could be the year in which Cincinnati is forced to rebuild from the ground up. Not only are the Reds in need of shedding upcoming salaries that are ballooning, it is imperative that they continue to get younger as the production of their expensive veterans begins dwindling down.

Who will stay and who will go?

First off, Joey Votto isn’t going anywhere. Whether they like it or not, the Reds are saddled with Votto’s contract for its remaining years. Unless he was able to replicate his 2010 season, no team will be willing to accept that albatross. With that being said, a healthy Votto will still do wonders for the Reds.

Even if the Reds are forced to rebuild, Votto’s vast knowledge of the game would be incredibly beneficial to the youth movement that is inevitably about to sweep through the Queen City. Keeping Votto, Frazier and Mesoraco on the roster in 2016 at least gives the Reds a core nucleus to craft their remaining position players around.

However, if a big market team came calling for Votto’s services, the Reds would be hard-pressed to not listen attentively. Having an extra $20 million to spend each year during a rebuilding process could go an incredibly long way.

Assuming 2015 witnesses the return of a healthy and productive Jay Bruce, he and Chapman seem the most likely to be moved before the start of the 2016 season. Both players are young, productive and under control (Bruce hits free agency in 2018, Chapman in 2017). The Reds would also benefit by their ability to receive prime prospects in return if they opted to trade either of the two All Stars.

As hard as it would be for many fans to say goodbye to Bruce and Chapman, they could be the last true trade chips the Reds have remaining following the 2015 season. In order to properly reload their roster and system, Cincinnati could be forced to do all they can to move both players.

Schumaker is likely to have his option declined by the club. While he would improve the Reds’ roster in 2016, saving the $2/5 million he is owed is too important for the cash-strapped Reds. That is money that could go towards crucial extensions for young players like Frazier and Mesoraco.

Homer Bailey and his $100 million contract was a point of concern for many fans in 2014. However, the extension ensured the Reds would have a front of the rotation starter under contract beyond 2015. With Bailey, the Reds will still be able to compile an impressive rotation of arms in 2016 when their younger arms reach the big leagues. Much like the Boston Red Sox did with Clay Buchholtz, keeping Bailey long-term gives Cincinnati at least one consist veteran in their rotation as the rest of the roster fluctuates.

That leaves Brandon Phillips. While he will go down as one of the most beloved Reds of all-time, there is no denying the decline over the past four years at the plate. Despite knocking in 103 runs in 2013, Phillips and his offensive numbers are not what the Reds need for the $13 million he is to be owed.

For now, however, it is time to enjoy one last season with this generation of the Cincinnati Reds.

Since posting a .352 on base percentage in 2011, Phillips and his ability to reach base has been in a free fall. Finally bottoming out in 2014, the Gold Glover posted a pultry .306 OBP – his worst in a Cincinnati uniform.

As the Reds found out last offseason, locating a trade partner for Phillips is easier said than done. While the New York Yankees were thought to be the only possible landing spot for an expensive yet aging player, the San Francisco Giants are an intriguing possibility as well. Not only do they have the money to absorb that type of contract, but consistent health issues for Marco Scutaro leave them with a possible need at second base (especially if Joe Panik falters this season).

As much as general manager Walt Jocketty and owner Bob Castellini would prefer to extend Johnny Cueto’s contract, the declining state of the team combined with the looming financial issues make it unlikely that the Cy Young contender will remain following 2015.

It would make more sense for the Reds to focus their efforts on extending Leake into the foreseeable future. With the looming roster crisis that is on the horizon for the Reds, finding a way to extend Leake could be the final substantial addition Cincinnati makes for quite some time.

This isn’t to say the future of the Reds is going to be a repeat of the early 2000s. In fact, a core nucleus of Leake, Bailey, Frazier, Billy Hamilton and Mesoraco is a strong foundation to lead the new era of Reds baseball.

For now, however, it is time to enjoy one last season with this generation of the Cincinnati Reds. After this year, it is likely that the Queen City faithful are going to have plenty of new names to memorize.