Syndication: The Enquirer

In case this is your first time reading, I really like the Cincinnati Reds.

No, like, I really like the Cincinnati Reds. I might even like their manager David Bell more. His team, despite stagnant and skittish ownership from the Castellini family, has always played hard for him and punched above their weight. Playing in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark also helps.

The truth is that unlike other original MLB teams whose owners seem to forget such, the Reds are far from a punchline. They have strong player development, solid coaching and managing, and play with a chip on their shoulder unseen on any other major league team. This helped the Reds have an effective offseason after finishing third in the NL Central at 82-80, not at all bad after losing 100 games in 2022!

This won’t be the year when the Reds run away with the division, but we’ve seen how Bell manages his team. At their best, the Reds will be in the Wild Card hunt through and through, and may even have a spot cinched up by the last day of the season.

Greatest Addition: Jeimer Candelario. How did the Reds improve their lineup after finishing ninth in runs scored, but fairly middling in batting average and home runs? Why, only going out and getting a prime switch-hitter in free agency, of course! Candelario spent last season with the Nationals and Cubs, hitting .251 with a career-best 22 home runs and 70 RBI. He signed a three-year, $45 million to join Cincinnati and should see time at both third and first base.

The only real downside with Candelario, besides his tendency to get streaky at the plate, are some underlying metrics. His line drive rate (LD%) has dipped below 20% each of the past two years and his barrel percentage (Barrel%) was only in the 44th percentile. Yet, don’t be shocked if Candelario takes advantage of his new home stadium and slugs 30 this year.

Greatest Loss: Joey Votto. The man, the myth, the future Hall-of-Fame first baseman and latest human meme wants to play baseball. Unfortunately for Joey Votto, no team seems interested and he continues his life of free agency at age 40. The Reds’ longtime first baseman only played in 65 games last year and hit .202 with 14 home runs. With youth on the rise, Cincinnati very quietly let their former MVP walk.

The sad truth is Votto’s playing days are probably over. He’s no longer the Juan Soto-type he was in his prime, a dangerous power hitter with an uncanny eye for the strike zone. Votto led the National League in walks five different times in 17 years. Maybe a team in need of some lefty power takes a chance on him, but that won’t be the Reds.

Votto will absolutely be missed in 2024, particularly since Candelario is the Reds’ only projected lineup regular under age 30. Next stop, Cooperstown.

Greatest Strength: Elly De La Cruz. We’ve mentioned several times how young, athletic, multitalented shortstops are practically diamonds in baseball currency. Cincinnati has one of the best in Elly De La Cruz. The Reds’ 6-foot-5 sensation debuted at age 21 last season and hit .235 with 13 home runs, 44 RBI, and 35 stolen bases in just 98 games.

Like his new infield compadre Candelario, De La Cruz is a switch-hitter. He absolutely has the talent to post a 30-30 season, and maybe even a 40-40 someday. He’s already batting a clean .400 with a 1.220 OPS in spring training and looks locked in. If he can improve his glove at shortstop after splitting between there and third last year, the Reds have quite the bright future ahead of them.

Greatest Weakness: Starting rotation. Cincinnati should be thankful for their strong lineup because their pitching rotation is too front-loaded. Ace Hunter Greene has talent, but only just started using a third pitch. Former Oakland ace Frankie Montas is playing in a hitter’s park after missing most of 2023 with shoulder surgery. Nick Lodolo’s ceiling is overshadowed by his working his way back from a stress fracture in his leg. The back end features the aggressively just-okay Graham Ashcraft and Nick Martinez, who hasn’t been a regular starter since pitching in Japan.

The Reds, luckily, have some help on the way after ranking 25th with a 4.83 staff ERA in 2024. They drafted former Wake Forest righty Rhett Lowder last year, and he’s already their No. 2 prospect without playing a single pro game. Connor Phillips may also get another chance if he can get his walks under control.

But until the youth are ready, the Cincinnati Reds have no choice but to wait. Until then, they’ll hope the lineup scores enough to support the available arms.

Are the 2024 Cincinnati Reds a playoff team? The pieces are certainly there so they can be, even with the suspect pitching. It helps that Bell is probably the second-best skipper in the NL Central behind Chicago’s Craig Counsell. We should also note that No. 1 prospect Noelvi Marte will see more playing time after debuting last year and batting .316 with three homers in 35 games.

Look at it this way. The Brewers are winning the Central and the NL East’s Phillies or Braves are a lock for the top Wild Card spot. The rest of the NL field is pretty competitive, especially if the Padres bounce back. The young Reds have an uphill battle into the playoffs for sure.

However, if the lineup performs as expected, everyone stays healthy, and team president Nick Krall trades for a starter at the deadline? There’s no reason that these Cincinnati Reds can’t fight past other more “established” teams and make the playoffs.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.