Fantasy Baseball News and Analysis: Cincinnati Reds Hot Stove

Get ready for the 2014 fantasy baseball season with Brian Polking's analysis of the Reds' offseason news and moves. Cincinnati has been active, and their moves are packed with fantasy implications.

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Fantasy Impact of the Cincinnati Reds Offseason Moves

Coming off an NL Central title the year before, expectations were high for the Cincinnati Reds heading into the 2013 season. However, the team never truly found its stride, particularly at the plate. The Reds did manage to snag the second wild card spot and return to the playoffs, but their season ended with a quiet first-round exit to the Pittsburgh Pirates that ultimately cost manager Dusty Baker his job.

Cincinnati Reds LogoDespite the real-life failures of Cincinnati’s lineup, the Reds did provide excellent fantasy options at a variety of positions. First baseman Joey Votto led the majors in walks and ranked second with a .435 on-base percentage. Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo cam in third in the majors in runs scored and fourth in on-base percentage, all while belting 21 homers and swiping 20 bases. Throw in 30 home runs and 109 RBI from fellow outfielder Jay Bruce and a career-high 103 RBI from second baseman Brandon Phillips, and a lineup that ranked outside the top 10 in runs scored still provided plenty of help in fantasy leagues.

Cincinnati also helped out fantasy owners from the pitching mound last year. Even with ace Johnny Cueto missing most of the season due to injury, the Reds ranked fourth in ERA, sixth in strikeouts and first in WHIP. Three starters won 14 games, including Mat Latos and Mike Leake. Latos also led the team with a 3.16 ERA, while also compiling 187 strikeouts; Leake’s 3.37 ERA was the second best among Reds starters. Homer Bailey finally had the breakout season pundits had been predicting, posting a 3.49 ERA and leading the team with a 199 strikeouts. Meanwhile, closer Aroldis Chapman logged 38 saves while striking out 112 in 63.2 innings, solidifying his status as one of the few closers worthy of an early draft investment in fantasy leagues.

Heading into the 2014 season, the core of Cincinnati’s lineup and rotation remains largely intact, and the Reds figure to remain legitimate playoff contenders and provide fantasy owners with several useful options. That said, the offseason hasn't been completely uneventful, and the Reds have already made a few moves that fantasy owners need to know about before they start preparing for the upcoming 2014 season.

Notable Departures

Shin-Soo Choo (OF): As already mentioned, Choo’s first year atop the Cincinnati lineup proved to be a great one. Unfortunately for the Reds, it will also be his last year as the team’s leadoff man. Choo became one of the most coveted free agents available, and he signed a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Texas Rangers. For a team that has struggled to find a consistent presence atop the lineup in the past, losing an on-base machine like Choo could certainly have a negative impact on the RBI totals of the big bats in the middle of the Cincinnati order. It was no coincidence that Phillips posted a career-high in RBI with Choo setting the table.

Ryan Hanigan (C): The Reds dealt Hanigan in a three-team trade that landed pitching prospect David Holmberg. With a .198 average a .261 slugging percentage last year, neither the Reds nor fantasy owners are going to miss the offensive production of Hanigan. Nevertheless, he was one of the best defensive catchers in the game. Hanigan quietly led the majors in throwing out potential base stealers in each of the past two seasons. Since Cincinnati plays in a hitter-friendly park, eliminating extra base runners is always a good thing. The loss of Hanigan won’t make or make break the value of any of Cincinnati’s pitchers, but don’t be surprised if the starters' ERA rises just a bit without him gunning down would-be base-stealers more than 40 percent of the time.

Bronson Arroyo (SP): The veteran starter is still a free agent, and though there is still a chance Arroyo could re-sign with Cincinnati, it isn't likely unless he decides to accept a lot less money than he could get elsewhere. Arroyo has never been dominant, but he has made at least 30 starts in nine straight seasons and has thrown at least 199.0 innings each year during the span. The guy is an innings-eater, and while his generally mediocre ERA and WHIP and low strikeout totals (fewer than 130 in each of the last five years) make him a low-end fantasy starter at best, the Reds could miss his ability to save the bullpen, especially late in the season.

Notable Additions

Skip Schumaker (2B): The Reds signed Schumaker to a two-year, $5 million deal after the utility man spent last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and while he is primarily a second baseman, he can play the outfield in a pinch. Schumaker is a career .285 hitter, but he is purely a part-time player at this point in his career. He also offers next to nothing in terms of power and speed, so while he should actually help Cincinnati by bolstering the team’s paper-thin bench with his versatility, he won’t make much of an impact in fantasy leagues.

Brayan Pena (C): As a result of the Hanigan trade, Cincinnati inked the 31-year-old catcher to a two-year deal to serve as the team’s backup catcher. Pena is a serviceable player, throwing out base stealers at right around the league-average rate and hitting .258 for his career with minimal power. Even in two-catcher leagues, Pena doesn't figure to hold any real fantasy value. However, his signing should open the door for a potential breakout season for fellow catcher Devin Mesoraco. Pena doesn't have the defensive prowess of Hanigan, so Mesoraco and all his offensive upside should be getting all the starts he can handle.

Players Primed to Step Up

Billy Hamilton (OF): His speed is already the stuff of legend, and when Cincinnati finally called up Hamilton last year, he didn't disappoint. He hit .368 in 19 at-bats and stole 13 bases in 14 attempts. Heck, Hamilton would steal 342 bases if he got 500 at-bats at that pace. Granted, that lofty total is beyond unobtainable and his minor league numbers suggest that his batting average and on-base percentage are going to drop dramatically in a full-time roll. However, he could legitimately lead the majors in steals this season, and in rotisserie leagues, he could carry the stolen base category pretty much by himself. The best-case scenario is that Hamilton is able to stabilize his on-base percentage enough to fill the leadoff spot vacated by Choo, opening up run-scoring opportunities and boosting his fantasy value. At worst, he gets stuck at the bottom of the Cincinnati lineup, making him a one-category contributor. Draft him for his speed in all formats, especially in keeper leagues.

Tony Cingrani (SP): Cingrani got some serious time in the rotation last year as a result of Cueto’s injuries, and the young lefty showed all the makings of a great power arm. By opting not to sign Arroyo, the Reds have cleared a spot in the rotation for Cingrani, and he could be a very useful fantasy asset in a full-time role. In 18 starts in 2013, he posted a 2.92 ERA and .110 WHIP and opponents hit just .196 against him. While those numbers are likely going to suffer as the league figures him out and makes adjustments, Cingrani’s power stuff isn't going anywhere. He struck out 120 in just 104.2 innings last year, so he could push easily push 200 strikeouts while maintaining decent ratios. Fantasy owners should consider him a solid sleeper for the 2014 season.

Possible Moves Still to Come

As the offseason moves forward, the biggest domino that could still fall for Cincinnati is a trade involving Brandon Phillips. The second baseman hasn't been shy about sharing his unhappiness about his current deal compared to that of Votto’s, going so far as to call his $72 million contract a “slap in the face” and essentially calling owner Bob Castellini a liar. Cincinnati has already tried to move the disgruntled Phillips, but the New York Yankees turned down a deal involving outfielder Brett Gardner.  The relationship between Phillips and the Reds is clearly strained, and the front office will likely continue shopping him in an attempt to avoid any locker room chemistry problems.

There have also been rumblings that the Reds have been throwing out Homer Bailey’s name in trade talks, although general manager Walt Jocketty has emphatically denied the rumors on numerous occasions. Still, it’s hard to imagine that the Reds are going to be able offer Bailey the type of money he will command when his contract expires at the end of next season, especially with a pricey extension for Jay Bruce likely coming in the near future. If the right deal presents itself, the ever-improving Bailey could be dealt.

Be sure to stay tuned as I will be updating the Reds offseason moves and their resulting fantasy impact during the coming months and on into spring training as well as providing in-depth player and team rankings.