Cincinnati Reds Mailbag: What would the ideal bullpen look like?

Apr 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price (right) takes the ball from relief pitcher Ross Ohlendorf (left) during the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Great American Ball Park. The Rockies won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price (right) takes the ball from relief pitcher Ross Ohlendorf (left) during the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Great American Ball Park. The Rockies won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

Answering your questions about the Cincinnati Reds!

With three weeks of the 2016 season in the books, the Reds are 9-10 and have been competitive when not playing the Chicago Cubs. There have been a few questions answered so far, but many more remain. I’ll try to answer some in our first mailbag of the year.

You can feel free to submit additional questions on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments of this post. Let’s do this!

That’s a really tough question since we don’t know who will stay in the starting rotation. Right now, if everyone was healthy, the Reds would have Raisel Iglesias, Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Brandon FinneganJon Moscot, John Lamb, Dan Straily and Alfredo Simon as options to start. That’s nine (or maybe eight) viable options, and it doesn’t even take Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed into account.

If we’re projecting the ideal bullpen for this very moment, we’ll go ahead and leave Stephenson and Reed in the minors. If you made me predict which of these pitchers would stay in the rotation, I’d go with Iglesias, Bailey, DeSclafani, Finnegan and Lamb, leaving the remaining four as bullpen candidates.

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Lorenzen would be an absolute lock to be in the ‘pen, while a good case could be made for Moscot and Straily as well. Simon has been a disaster, so we can safely leave him out of the conversation.

Right now, the Reds’ relief corps is currently made up of Tony Cingrani, Caleb Cotham, J.J. Hoover, Drew Hayes, J.C. Ramirez, Layne Somsen, Ross Ohlendorf and Blake Wood.

Assuming the team sticks with a seven-man bullpen moving forward, this would be my ideal bullpen for the time being: Cingrani, Lorenzen, Cotham, Straily, Ramirez, Somsen and Hayes. The jury’s still out on those latter three, but if it were me, I’d rather have these younger guys getting experience over the likes of Ohlendorf and Wood, who haven’t been that good anyway. Ramirez, Somsen and Hayes all have good stuff that could play well at the big-league level, so getting experience now would be valuable for them. I still think Hoover has talent, but he simply isn’t putting up the results and is missing his spots way, way too often. Moscot could also sneak in there, but he hasn’t been able to get the ball over the plate consistently. Out of the bullpen arms currently in Triple-A, Stephen Johnson is the one to keep an eye on, but he’s not ready for the majors right now. (Edit: I forgot to mention Zack Weiss as another minor league to watch. He had a great season in 2015, but is currently on the DL in Louisville.)

Long story short, I don’t know if there’s an ideal bullpen right now with so many unknowns. While I think it’s nice to have reliable veteran arms mixed in with the young talent, the Reds don’t exactly have that, so my ideal bullpen would tend to include the more youthful arms. Once Stephenson and Reed arrive, my guess is Finnegan and Lamb would head to the bullpen — but again, this is assuming perfect health for all of these guys, which is probably not going to happen.

One thing I do know: the Reds have a ton of pitching talent, so the bullpen will work itself out eventually.

The absolute best-case scenario would be the Reds shocking the world and making a run at the NL Central crown. The more realistic best-case scenario is seeing development from the young players who will shape the future of the franchise. If the Reds manage to stay competitive in the NL Central in the process, that’ll simply be an added bonus.

With the youth movement in place, there have been and will be some ugly games — especially for the pitching staff. But watching them learn and grow should be exciting for Reds fans who no doubt remember what it was like when Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto and others made their way through the system and to the big leagues and pushed the franchise to the postseason.

We’ve seen plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future so far, with great performances by the likes of Iglesias, Finnegan, Stephenson, Eugenio Suarez and Adam Duvall. And that doesn’t even take into account the players we’ll see later in the year like top prospects Jesse Winker, Reed and Jose Peraza.

At the end of the year, “success” will be defined by what these players learn and the experience they get to carry into the future. If they happen to win more games than people expected, that’ll just make it more fun to watch.

If both stay healthy, I think Bruce and Cozart are going to be traded by the deadline. Both have contracts that expire after 2017 (assuming Bruce’s option is picked up) and will be in their 30s when they become free agents for the first time. They’ll also be relatively expensive to re-sign, so it wouldn’t make much sense for the Reds to do that in a rebuilding phase when there are viable young replacements at shortstop and right field already in the system.

The way Cozart and Bruce have been playing through the first three weeks, I think Reds will get a good amount in return for both if they can keep producing. But it’s hard to say who would target them right now since we don’t know who will be in the race at the trade deadline or what their needs will be.

One team I could potentially see Cozart going to would be the Nationals, who lost Ian Desmond in the offseason and have gotten little production from Danny Espinosa so far, offensively or defensively.

Lots of teams will want a power bat, so Bruce will probably be a popular name floated around. The Orioles, Astros Blue Jays and Mets have been among the teams interested in him previously. Of those teams, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Orioles revisited a trade for the right fielder. They’ve surprised some people early, currently sitting in first place, and could still look to add even more pop to their lineup (though their top priority will likely be their rotation).

Are the Reds fielding their best possible roster right now? No. Would fielding their best possible roster make them competitive in a division like the NL Central this year? It’d still be a long shot.

This is all about the long-term future, not the immediate future. The Reds weren’t winning with the roster they had the last two years, so they dealt players who were nearing free agency that would be expensive to re-sign and had high trade value. It’s a formula that’s worked very well for teams like the Cubs and Astros.

That said, I don’t know how accurate it is to say that the Reds aren’t trying to win anytime soon. There is plenty of good talent in the system, enough that the Reds can be competitive again by 2017 or 2018 (so I guess it depends on how you define “soon”). But there’s no point in rushing those guys to the majors right now. Let them develop first.

The only top prospect who I feel is really ready and being held back right now is Robert Stephenson. This all boils down to service time concerns. Although he has thrown the ball well in his two starts in Cincinnati, there’s not much point in leaving him on the big-league roster now because he would accrue enough service time to become a free agent a year earlier. Why lose him sooner than necessary just to pitch on a team that in all likelihood isn’t going to contend?

Jose Peraza is also big-league ready, but it’s not a service-time issue with him, it’s a matter of being blocked at his positions.

I can understand the frustration from fans over seeing a guy like Alfredo Simon get beat up every five days as opposed to watching Stephenson. However, a few years down the line, I think people will be glad to have these current prospects in a Cincinnati Reds uniform for an extra year.