Clay Davenport, one of the original founders of Baseball Prospectus and smart dude, released his projections for the 2014 season. He projects individual seasons, mocks up the playing time as best he can, and gets his spreadsheet to spit out some projected records.
I'm a sucker for this stuff. It's not what will happen, of course, but as something to think about on a cold winter's day* when there's no baseball, it's perfect. A few of the projections I agreed with:
- The AL East is a tight race, but the Rays are the best team
- The Tigers and Cardinals are clear favorites in the Central divisions
- The Mariners are greatly improved, but still fourth-best in the West
- The Nationals just a hair ahead of the Braves, and the Mets aren't that bad
There aren't too many inflammatory projections mixed in, either. You were expecting the A's to be good and the Astros to be bad, and everything else is just a matter of scale.
Except, hold on. There's a playoff team from last year that's projected for an under-.500 season if they don't make any improvements before the season starts. That's at least moderately surprising, right? And in the interest of hard-hitting baseball research, here is the exhaustive list of every player that team has acquired this offseason:
It's not like the Reds have been completely inactive. They've just been completely uninteresting. And completely uninterested in making a stronger team, apparently. The Reds are likely to lose Bronson Arroyo, and they've already lost Shin-Soo Choo. I'll wager that those 14 free agents up there won't combine for as much WAR for the rest of their careers as Choo and Arroyo will in April.
Arroyo, I'll give them. The Reds have an internal replacement in Tony Cingrani, and the Reds need to spend money on keeping Homer Bailey or Mat Latos if they're going to spend on a pitcher.
I don't blame them for not outspending the Rangers for Choo, either. That was star money for a very good player, and star money for star players usually looks pretty bad by the end of the deal. The Reds aren't a big-market team. They couldn't afford to punt the sixth and seventh years of a contract like Choo's.
Nothing, though? That's hard to fathom. It's almost as if the offseason plan on the whiteboard in the Reds' executive offices read "GET GRADY SIZEMORE", and the Reds were just crushed when he went in a different direction.
Billy Hamilton is the ostensible Choo replacement, and he's fascinating. But still not likely to hit a lot. He had a .308 OBP in Triple-A last year, and he'll lead off. Behind him will be Zack Cozart, who isn't a good hitter. Then there are three guys you've heard of, one of whom had a pretty lousy 2013 season, and then you get to Ryan Ludwick, Todd Frazier, and Devin Mesoraco.
It's not a repugnant bunch of hitters, and Joey Votto makes up for a lot of shortcomings. Here's the problem, though: It's a lineup filled with players the team doesn't feel like they have to replace. There's a deceptive lack of urgency. Cozart's fine as a defense-first shortstop. Ludwick isn't the worst idea as a bottom-of-the-order thumper. Todd Frazier can still be valuable if he's hitting .240, so why replace him? There's no reason to eat money just to have Brandon Phillips play for someone else. Mesoraco might not be the offensive asset he was supposed to be when he came out of high school, but he's not a bad option as a starting catcher.
Individually, all of those players make some amount of sense. Collectively, they're the foundation of an underwhelming lineup. If they're average, that should be enough to help the Reds contend. Hope that they're average and hope the pitchers stay healthy. That's the plan, and it could happen. But it's an overly optimistic plan. It's like adding to your collection of VHS tapes because you're sure collectors will come around, just like they did with vinyl. Could happen! Maybe not the best idea to expect it, though.
And this isn't even getting into Joey Votto's selfish refusal to expand his strike zone and drive in runs**. Meanwhile the Cardinals are cutting limbs off their young hitters and pitchers so they can grow new ones in Petri dishes, and the Pirates have youth on their side. The Brewers aren't that bad, and they got stronger last week with Matt Garza. Several members of the Cubs seem very nice.
The Reds' window, considering their pitching and the age of their best hitters, is clearly now. There's no reason to make do now, and figure there's always time to fix the problems in future seasons. Votto and Phillips are aging. Bailey and Latos might leave over the next couple seasons. The minor leagues aren't expected to offer a lot of impact help after Hamilton.
But right now, the offseason is Skip Schumaker and a bunch of people you haven't heard of. There's still time to fix that. There are still deals and swaps and mystery teams. Until those deals go down, though, welcome to the most baffling offseason in the majors. The optimism is refreshing. Not sure if it's warranted, though.
* 70º and sunny for the third week in a row, please send water for our crops, help us please
** Not actually true