Cincinnati Reds’ Bench A Glaring Weakness


Back in the glory days of 2010 and 2012, the Cincinnati Reds had a lot going for them. Among those things was a solid bench. With solid contributions from the likes of Todd Frazier, Chris Heisey, Ryan Hanigan, Miguel Cairo, and Laynce Nix, then-manager Dusty Baker was able to give his starters a rest without having to worry about his team taking a huge hit.

When the team had injuries, such as the one to Joey Votto in 2012, they had players who were capable of stepping in and holding their own, like Frazier. When there was a key pinch hitting situation, they could turn to a guy like Heisey for some pop off the bench.

Over the last two years, however, the Reds’ bench has been, well, bad. Sure, there have been other problems (the bullpen would be at the top of that list), but a lack of depth has really hurt the club the last couple of seasons.

Part of the reason that the bench has been exposed is because of injuries. With few minor league players ready to contribute at the major league level, the Reds have had to turn to their bench to fill voids caused by starters getting hurt. The injury to Votto in 2014 proved to be devastating to the offense, as Brayan Pena was forced to play a career-high 115 games (his previous high was 72 games in 2011). Pena is a quality backup, but playing him every day hurt the team over time.

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Pena has been asked to start a majority of the Reds games again this year because catcher Devin Mesoraco has missed most of the season with a hip injury. Again, Pena has performed admirably, but the team has undoubtedly missed Mesoraco.

While Pena has given the Reds decent production off the bench, the rest of the bench hasn’t done much at all in 2015. Skip Schumaker, Kristopher Negron, Jason Bourgeois, and Brennan Boesch have combined for an fWAR of -2.6. Those four have collectively hit .178/.254/.220 with 14 extra-base hits (zero home runs) and 16 RBIs in 369 plate appearances. On top of that, Schumaker and Boesch are rated poorly by every defensive metric.

The Reds have gotten decent results from Ivan De Jesus Jr. (0.5 fWAR in 34 games), Tucker Barnhart (0.4 fWAR in 41 games), and Chris Dominguez (.261/.261/.522, three extra-base hits in 23 plate appearances), but the bench has been disappointing overall.

The most common theme you see among the Reds bench players is that almost all of them are either career minor leaguers or they’re veterans brought in on minor league contracts. Only Schumaker was signed to a major league contract as a free agent, while Barnhart is the only one to be drafted by the Reds and come up through their farm system.

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Due to the team’s financial restrictions, general manager Walt Jocketty has had little room to improve his bench. Underwhelming free agents like Schumaker, Jack Hannahan, and Ramon Santiago have been brought in on cheap deals the past few years, while the rest of their depth has been provided by non-roster invitees who have performed well in spring training. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Also contributing to the poor bench is that the Reds have had almost no major-league ready hitters in the minor leagues for the past two years. Of the reserve players used in the last two seasons, only Negron, Barnhart, Donald Lutz, and Neftali Soto were developed by the Reds, and the team barely gave the latter two a chance.

Going forward, Jocketty will need to place a bigger emphasis on improving his bench (assuming he’s still the GM after the year—and I’d be surprised if he isn’t). Manager Bryan Price has had no one to turn to off the bench in pinch hitting opportunities and the lack of depth has made the teams numerous injuries hurt even worse.

The Reds could get some help next year, as young prospects like Adam Duvall, Kyle Waldrop, and/or Yorman Rodriguez could contribute in reserve roles, and Eugenio Suarez could be a good bat to have on the bench if he can’t crack the starting lineup. But the Reds might want to consider splurging a little more than they did last offseason, when Boesch was their biggest offensive free agent acquisition, so the depth problem doesn’t persist in the future.

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