Sunday, December 31, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Yankees


The good news is that the 2023 Yankees finished above .500.

Everything else is gonna be what people take away from this season. Poorly-timed injuries, people worth hundreds of millions of dollars not playing to their worth, a guy pitching a perfect game and then getting another domestic abuse suspension, and the single most prized prospect in the organization coming up for 10 games and then immediately needing surgery. That is the 2023 Yankees: tragedy on multiple levels.

There was a lot that went well for the Yanks this year, including a monster season from Gerrit Cole, an impressive rookie year from Anthony Volpe, 37 homers from Judge even in a shortened season, and the knowledge that Juan Soto will be suiting up for us in 2024. But there was a lot of misery, and we had to stomach that.

All I can say is that if you think being a Yankee fan was hard this year, imagine having to root for either of the two football teams in addition. Unrelated, but go Birds.

Giancarlo Stanton essentially confirmed how ill-advised it was to take on a jekyll-or-hyde power machine or injury-prone goat for nearly a decade. He's had some nice years for us, but he's whittled away so much of his early promise, and now he's just taunting us. The good news is that I got to see Stanton hit 2 homers in person this year, including one of the most incredible long-shots I've ever seen. The bad news is that this is really all Stanton can do anymore. In 101 games, Stanton hit .191 with 24 homers and 60 RBIs, passable power numbers but knocked down by his inefficiency otherwise. 
2024 Prediction: Because absolutely no one would expect it, a comeback year DHing.

Nestor Cortes was coming off two excellent years starting for the Yankees, so it was only natural that he'd let us down. Cortes battled injuries all year, and only had 12 games up in the majors in between setbacks. He was decent in that period, with a 5-2 record, a 4.97 ERA and 67 Ks, but compared to his incredible 2022, it wasn't much.
2024 Prediction: Cortes is gonna have an excellent start for us, and make up for lost time, but something tells me that around July the rotation is gonna get crowded, and he might end up doing long relief work again.

Luis Severino has been with the Yankees since 2015. I remember watching one of his first starts in a bar in Pt. Pleasant, NJ. He gave us an incredible pair of seasons in 2017 and 2018, threw out his arm and hasn't been the same since. 2023 was just another year of Sevvy trying to do what he did before and just not having it; in 19 games he had a 6.65 ERA, a 4-8 record and 79 Ks. He can still strike people out, but he's nowhere near as dominant as he was before the injuries, and he's yet another victim of young players throwing too hard too soon.
2024 Prediction: He will get Mets fans excited for exactly 5 seconds.

Clay Holmes, of all people, has become a pretty decent closing option for us. I never thought that somebody like Holmes, a career reliever who can work his way up a depth chart and hold the ninth, would take over for the line of career closers that was the Yankee 2010s. Holmes has done well for himself, and had another strong year in 2023, with a 2.86 ERA and 24 saves in 66 games.
2024 Prediction: For the last year before free agency, Holmes will have his best relief year yet, and teams will overpay for him in 2025.

Kyle Higashioka is a perfect portrait of the Yankees of the early 2020s: he was supposed to be our backup, but he's caught 242 games for us since 2021. Higgy is a perfectly acceptable catcher with some perks and some drawbacks. He wasn't great defensively this year, but he hit .236 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs, which isn't bad for a backup pressed into the starting spot.
2024 Prediction: Wouldn't it be funny if San Diego, after giving us Soto and possibly even Hader, has a Sanchez/Higgy catching platoon? I reckon Higgy will be the backup for the Padres, no matter who they get.

Carlos Rodon was supposed to be one of the biggest exclamation points of the Yankees' 2023 season. Of course, because he threw harder and more accurately than ever in 2021 and 2022, he was injured going into this year, and only made 14 starts for us this year. In that stretch, he went 3-8 with a 6.85 ERA. In a rebuilding year for the Yankees, this was a recovery year for Rodon. The hope is that he can get back to where he was next year and we didn't just pull a Carl Pavano/James Paxton again.
2024 Prediction: The 'that's more like it' season.

With Higgy starting, Trevino hurt and Rortvedt clearly not the answer, the Yankees went with a rookie for some Aug/Sept. games, that being organizational favorite Austin Wells. Like another Austin in Yankee history, Wells might be a lot of pomp for a perfectly acceptable backstop choice. In 19 games he hit .229 with 4 homers and 13 RBIs. Not a bad start, but the hope is that he builds on it.
2024 Prediction: Doesn't have the position to start the season, but definitely earns it as the season wraps up.

And then there's this guy. The Martian. The guy that every Yankee fan has been waiting for since the story broke on how insane this guy is. Jasson Dominguez made waves in Spring Training, then in Scranton, and by August he was called up to start in the Bronx. When this happened I was floored--we were already out of contention pretty much, and they weren't even gonna save Jasson for next year? Alright then. The second Dominguez took the plate, I understood. In 8 games, Dominguez hit 4 home runs, and 7 RBIs. The 20-year-old looked like a hitting machine from the very beginning, and we all got so excited. And then, of course, Dominguez gets injured and might miss the majority of 2024. Which is so indicative of this season. We get 8 games of the future and then he gets yanked away.
2024 Prediction: Will make some late appearances, and will get right back to what he was doing this year. The Soto-Judge-Dominguez OF isn't far away, guys.

And that was 2023. A wild, unpredictable year with a baseball story that thrilled me, and a lot of great players to keep me excited. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

To all my readers, I wish you a happy and healthy 2024. I'm gonna, as usual, take a lot of January off. I'll be back when there's something to write about. You'll definitely see me back here around early February, there's a big milestone to celebrate. 

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: White Sox


For the Chicago White Sox, 2023 was where the dream ended.

The leadup to competition in 2019 was this joyous, exciting moment, where all the pieces the team had been building for years were leading to a strong team. In 2020, they made it to the playoffs thanks to a strong end to the regular season, but despite a strong postseason start from Lucas Giolito, were cut off at one series. In 2021 they won the AL Central easily and built a strong, formidable team that, despite being dwarfed by Boston and Houston, still seemed to hold promise heading into a postseason scenario; ultimately, Houston mopped the floor with them. By 2022, bad managerial decisions, injuries, aging veterans and career downturns led to the team missing the postseason, and letting centerpiece Jose Abreu leave in free agency. 

And then this year, with their stars depleted, their youth strong but scattered, and their best assets given away at the deadline, the White Sox gave up. By the end of the season, it had been made clear that the team was moving on from its administrative regime, and had hired a new GM, a new president, and new people to build the team into something worthwhile, while also keeping Pedro Grifol for a reason that is still not entirely known to me. 

If you want to know why the White Sox have fallen off, look to their marquee star from their peak, Tim Anderson. Anderson was stellar in his prime, hitting .300 every year and leading the league in batting average during the 2020 season. He was a slick, fun player that was the best summation of this team. He's ultimately become the best summation of this team at their worst, as when they're struggling, he's more ornery and his attitude shows up. Aside from his abysmal .245 average and -28 rBatting figure, in addition to awful defensive numbers, Anderson's foul mood polluted an already dampened Chicago environment, as his brawl with Jose Ramirez, the kind of guy who it's hard to truly dislike, didn't win him any favors with the modern fan.
2024 Prediction: Signs a one-year deal somewhere, like either Miami or Tampa at this rate, and rebounds while also continuing not to remind fans of his 2020-era peak.

Speaking of once-strong pieces who've fallen off, Yasmani Grandal had his second subpar season in a row for the Sox, completing his late-career collapse after a decade of hard work behind the plate. Even after hitting up a storm in 2021, Grandal was saddled with a .234 ERA this year, with 33 RBIs and 8 homers, and his defense is not what it was a decade ago. This was thankfully the last year of Grandal's contract, as the team can placate themselves with Martin Maldonado before an actual multi-dimensional organizational piece comes up.
2024 Prediction: DHs somewhere. I think his relevant numbers are over.

Yoan Moncada arrived in Chicago in exchange for Chris Sale, and was one of the biggest prospects Boston could fork over. With all of the promise that he had, Moncada has a career WAR of 14, with two great seasons under his belt and a lot of injury-prone ones following them. This year was another one where Moncada got injured and tried his best to play catchup afterwards. In 92 games, he hit .262 with 11 homers and 40 RBIs.
2024 Prediction: Will finish the last year of his contract quietly, then end up as a spare part somewhere like Washington.

While Jake Burger broke big and found a ticket out of Chicago, his fellow young utility piece Gavin Sheets was left back here, trying to establish consistency in an OF role for the Sox. Sheets hit .203 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs, which wasn't much to give the fans a ton of confidence.
2024 Prediction: Will be on the cusp of starting when an unexpected homegrown outfielder takes the position from him.

Speaking of homegrown outfielders, when word got out that Oscar Colas was starting the year up with the club, a lot of people got the same 'oh, they know what they're doing' feeling as they did when the Sox started the year with Eloy Jimenez up, or Luis Robert up. Colas is another strong outfield prospect, and it says a lot about where the Sox are now that Colas didn't succeed as much as people thought. In 75 games, split between a demotion, he hit .216 with 19 RBIs and 5 home runs.
2024 Prediction: Comes into his own a little more, though it may take either an injury or a departure for that to happen. 
And then, after surviving lymphoma and finishing his treatments, beloved White Sox closer returned to the majors and took the ninth again. He lasted 5 games, notched 1 save and 2 wins, and then was put back on the IL. He will miss the majority of 2024 in recovery from Tommy John surgery. I really wish this guy had better luck, as he's a run relief guy that you always want to do well.
2024 Prediction: Does get to pitch this year, and maybe even has some postseason appearances.

Coming Tomorrow- Some reasons why the Yankees cratered midyear.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Twins


The name of the game with the Minnesota Twins is depth. They may not always have the assets they were banking on, but there's enough options waiting to strike if somebody gets hurt. This year featured injuries to Byron Buxton, Joe Ryan, Jorge Polanco, Royce Lewis and Tyler Mahle, and yet the team still had enough pieces to get to the postseason and take down Toronto. Depth is going to be the deciding factor going forward in the AL Central, as it saved the Guardians' rotation and made the Tigers a second place team. In a year that may come down to who's the most prepared, the Twins may have a few legs up.

Jorge Polanco, yes, despite missing half the season, was able to accomplish a lot for the Twins. In 80 games, he hit .255 with 48 RBIs, 14 home runs and a 2.2 WAR, which is not bad at all for a 9-year veteran in a partial season. The thing about Polanco is that not only is he versatile and really skilled, but NEXT SEASON will be his age-30 season. He's done all this already since joining the Twins in 2014, and he hasn't even hit 30 year. That's so damned rare in today's age of bringing people up at 26. 
2024 Prediction: This could be the last year of Polanco's deal, though there's a chance the Twins could keep him on for 2025. I say he has another strong year while also paving the way for Edouard Julien, an equally important presence on this team.

I thought the Twins pulled a nice move in signing Christian Vazquez, as he'd been a reliable backstop and decent mid-lineup bat for the Sox and Astros. Plus, being a Sox lifer, he'd only have to go a little further down the road from usual to report for Spring Training. Vazquez's 2023 was not exactly what fans were expecting; in 102 games he only hit .223 with 6 homers and 32 RBIs, major steps down from his peak seasons. The good news is Vazquez is still an excellent defender, but this lack of offensive production led to Ryan Jeffers starting a ton more.
2024 Prediction: An improvement at the plate, but I think Jeffers might be looking at a starting gig by the end of the year.

Michael Taylor is one of those players that clearly has some flaws but does enough right that he's been employed constantly and has had excellent moments recently. The Twins signed Taylor for 2023 after two nice years in Kansas City. Taylor's defensive numbers were down in 2023, but he was doing a lot more offensively, with 13 steals, 51 RBIs and a career-best 21 home runs. 
2024 Prediction: Similar production in a smaller market. I don't know if this means he's a full-time home run guy now, but I think his defense will rebound.

The Twins have been waiting for Alex Kirilloff to happen for a while now, and every year something begins to work and then he sort of fades off again. This year was a slight improvement, as the Twins did manage to give Kirilloff some reps at 1st in between Donovan Solano's. In 88 games, Kirilloff hit .270 with 41 RBIs and 11 homers, both career marks for the 25-year-old.
2024 Prediction: I think the plan is to give him the starting gig at 1st, but I think the Twins are playing the game of 'that's riiiight, we're totally gonna start Alex Kirilloff at 1st, it would be a PITY if something were to happen to prevent us from doing so..."

Kenta Maeda handed in one excellent campaign for the Twins and then struggled to stay healthy for any more of them. This year he, at least, got 20 games, and he did alright enough, going 6-8 with a 4.23 ERA and 117 Ks. Maeda is 35, he's looking a little cooked, but he was still able to be a solid enough fifth man for a competitive Twins team, and that's what they wanted.
2024 Prediction: I don't think it will be for a full season, but the Tigers will get some peak Maeda material next year.

And then with all the outfield instability, Matt Wallner, who was looking like a fifth-string guy for a while, got some chances to prove himself with this team. In 76 games, Wallner hit .249 with 41 RBIs and 14 homers, and finished the year with a 2.2 WAR. 
2024 Prediction: I think he'll factor into the starting outfield for this team, and his star will continue to blossom.

Coming Tomorrow- The manager for this team kept his job and Buck Showalter didn't. Think about that.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Tigers


For a noncompetitive team, the Detroit Tigers managed to do a lot of very intriguing things throughout this season. And it starts with the fact that, despite going 78-84, the Tigers ended 2023 in second place. Over the Guardians. 

I mean...looking at this team, there's not a TON that screams second place. Good players, of course. Great performances, a no-hitter in there, and some great youth down the stretch. But this is a very mediocre team that made it to 2nd because they had the least things go wrong in the last stretch. Thanks to their reinforcements and healthy additions, the Tigers had an excellent September, which should, in theory, be a prelude to better times.

I hate to say it, though, but someone who might not be around long enough to experience the Tigers being good is Akil Baddoo. He was excellent in his rookie season in 2021, and hasn't delivered a full campaign worthy of that start yet. In 112 games, Baddoo hit .218 with 11 homers and 20 more strikeouts than hits. 
2024 Prediction: Mark Canha will ensure that Baddoo doesn't have to start as much, and he'll be better off as a bench guy.

This season marked the Tigers moving away from Eric Haase behind the plate and towards Jake Rogers, who made himself known with a strong start. Rogers actually finished the season with the 2nd-most home runs on the Tigers, which is interesting considering that Javier Baez, Austin Meadows and Jonathan Schoop were also on this team at one point. Rogers, in 107 games, hit .221 with 49 RBIs, and secured the position while Haase was dealt to Cleveland.
2024 Prediction: Rogers has maybe a year or so before the Tigers go with a homegrown, above-replacement-level choice, so he'll do well enough next year. 

In a year where the bullpen options in Detroit were better than ever [even without Jimenez and Soto], Alex Lange put on another understated but powerful season. Lange was given the all-powerful closing gig, and in 67 games had a 7-5 record, a 3.68 ERA and 26 saves. It remains to be seen whether Lange is a professional closer or just a great reliever, but what he did during this season was pretty nice.
2024 Prediction: Keeps the ninth. Breaks 30.

The Tigers' rotation was beaten up to begin the season, but then slowly people started getting activated and joining the fun. No, Casey Mize was not one of them, but his two battery-mates definitely showed up. Matt Manning got 15 games this year and got back to business, including being part of that no-hitter, and going 5-4 with a 3.58 ERA and 50 Ks. Manning just needs a full, healthy season and he'll be alright.
2024 Prediction: 30 games, 10+ wins, the undivided attention of the league.

You also had Tarik Skubal popping in midyear, having an even sharper 15 game run. Skubal went 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA and 102 Ks, a terrific stretch that brought to mind his early successes in 2020. 
2024 Prediction: A monster first half that will reassure fans that he can carry the rotation.

After coming up in Arlington and struggling to find a niche, Andy Ibañez found himself as an acceptable starting 2nd base option in Detroit, and he actually didn't do too badly for himself. In 114 games he hit .264 with 11 home runs, 41 RBIs and some nice defensive play. I do see him as a replacement guy for this period, but he's a sharp piece. 
2024 Prediction: His importance will decrease as the youth solidifies itself in this infield.

And then, while all the other pitchers were hurt, the Tigers brought up a rookie hurler named Reese Olson, and he actually was a pretty satisfying choice for a seat-filler. The 23-year-old Olson finished his rookie year with a 3.99 ERA  with 103 Ks in 17 games. With the crowded field only slightly decreasing with Eduardo Rodriguez's departure, Olson will need similar numbers to make 2024 work.
2024 Prediction: Doesn't start the season in the rotation, but has some crucial starts down the stretch.

And then there were these two rookies that showed up towards the end of the year. Parker Meadows was one. The truly upsetting thing about this season is because of his brother Austin's issues with anxiety this year, there was never a moment where both Meadows brothers suited up for the Tigers, and with Austin a free agent that's not a thing that'll happen in Detroit. Parker did manage to have a nice season, though, hitting .232 with 13 RBIs in 37 games.
2024 Prediction: The outfield spot is not his yet, but once the Tigers figure out who their new DH is, he might get some more chances to start.

And then you have another Tigers pitching prospect. One of, like, 7 or so in this roster. Sawyer Gipson-Long got 4 starts at the MLB level, and did pretty well for himself, with a 2.70 ERA and 26 Ks. Is this a season that would have happened had everyone stayed healthy? No. But it is a preview of what the Tigers could be getting more frequently soon enough.
2024 Prediction: There is, in all actuality, a chance that Gipson-Long makes the rotation out of camp. It's not 100%, as Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo still exist, and I honestly think it won't happen right away. But when it does happen, the Tigers will be happy with what they see from him.

Coming Tomorrow- The Twins won their first playoff series in 30 years, and some of these guys helped with that.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Royals


The end of 2022 felt like the pieces were finally falling into place for the Royals. People like Michael Massey, Nate Eaton, Daniel Lynch, Vinnie Pasquantino and Brady Singer were looking like foundational pieces for the forthcoming years, and the team was looking like they'd at least be better than they were.

The Royals didn't lose 100 games, but they did this year. So uh, back to the ol' drawing board.

It is sort of interesting that the Royals are going with the 'build up the rotation with contracts' strategy for 2024, as it gives off the idea that they don't trust their homegrown talent anymore. And judging by this year, I sort of get it. Bobby Witt was good, that's for sure, but literally nobody else was as good as they were supposed to be. People like Freddy Fermin, Kyle Isbel and surprise addition Cole Ragans had to pick up the slack, and they could only do so much.

Going forward, this team needs to be far more than just 'Bobby Witt Jr.' And hopefully they can build on this and create something better going forward.

The Royals got Jordan Lyles for a similar reason that the Orioles got Lyles for 2022; they needed a veteran to build the rotation around. The thought was that Lyles would help people like Singer, Bubic and Lynch come into their own, and wouldn't be relied upon as much. Lyles made all 31 starts, and was the only starter to do so. In that time, Lyles went 6-17 with a 6.28 ERA. Meaning that two veterans in this rotation had ERAs over 5. However, Lyles did sport 3 complete games for the Royals, so that's not bad at all.
2024 Prediction: Does not lead the league in losses. In fact, improves in time for the deadline. 

Amid the may amusing rookies and second years making the Royals more interesting this year was Dairon Blanco, a 30-year-old Cuban defector who played his first full season in the majors this year. As an OF bench bat, Blanco did a lot for this team, hitting .258 with 18 RBIs and 24 steals in 69 games. Blanco is a speedy, versatile piece that could play a number of roles going forward for this team.
2024 Prediction: He will start for the first bit of the season, but I still think he's better off as a bench addition/pinch guy.

...then again, he's a lot more well-rounded than M.J. Melendez, the backup catcher who was better off in the outfield this year...and by that I mean he was better off leaving it to Perez and Fermin. Melendez is not a great defensive outfielder, and he only hit .235 with 16 homers this year. I'm beginning to think that the Royals really don't have much for this guy to do if they want to move past their current iteration.
2024 Prediction: A slight improvement but they give up on him midyear.

Nick Pratto getting called up last year was a big deal, as he was a big-time prospect that was doing some damage in the minors. In 95 games this year, Pratto hit .232 with only 7 homers and only 35 RBIs. Even if Bobby Witt  is living up to his potential, Pratto isn't there yet, and that's...concerning.
2024 Prediction: The year they'd been waiting for. 25 homers, .275 average, some actual leverage.

The other big 2022 second half rookie that was meant to make waves this year was Drew Waters, the outfield prospect that came over from Atlanta. Waters is nice defensively, but this year he hit .228 with 32 RBIs, 8 homers and 100 strikeouts. 
2024 Prediction: Steps up and cements a starting spot, but those strikeouts will still be an issue.

Coming Tomorrow- A surprisingly large amount of Detroit Tigers.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Rockies


It was a year where three teams were expected to compete, and the one that wasn't was at least expected to chase them a bit. Which left the Rockies in last, where they stayed for a lot of the season. 

Not that anyone was really expecting anything from the Rockies this year, but with Kris Bryant and Jurickson Profar secured, the hope was that they wouldn't lose 100 games, and they did, because Bryant was hurt again and Profar underwhelmed. It also didn't help that the rotation was even more hurt than usual, with both Senzatela and Marquez down for the count, meaning that aside from Freeland and Gomber, the team needed to rely on replacement options. Hence the 100 losses. 

Profar coming in was a big deal, as he'd been a big part of recent A's and Padres successes. It is wild to me that, after breaking into the league in 2012 with the Rangers, 2023 was Profar's age-30 season. A lot of people coming up, their age-30 season is, like, their third year. Perhaps we're getting away from that now that we're bringing people up at 19 again, but Profar is a weird little unicorn, in that he was in the league at 19 and didn't start playing truly well until 25. That said, after his strong stretch of his late 20s, Profar's Rockies numbers were among the worst of his career. In 111 games, he hit .236 with 39 RBIs and 8 homers, and regressed defensively. Despite being one of the Rockies' highest-profile additions heading into the year, the team cut him with a month or so left in the season. At which point he returned to San Diego and figured out how to hit again, with a .295 average in 14 games.
2024 Prediction: Look, let's be clear, wherever he's going, he's sure as hell staying away from Denver. Honestly, maybe he stays in San Diego, he seems to do well there.

After C.J. Cron was dropped, 1st base went to usual infield also-ran Elehuris Montero. This was Montero's fullest season in Denver, and in 85 games, he hit .243 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs. These were solid offensive numbers and when paired with passable defense, he made for a nice piece the Rox can hang the future on.
2024 Prediction: Of all of the guys the Rockies have decided on going forward, Montero has the most to prove, so I'd say he has a breakout year that brings him to the heart of the lineup.

In a season where the Rockies bullpen was one of the biggest surprises in baseball, one of their most crucial pieces was former Brewers role-player Brent Suter, who, despite the array of rotation openings, remained a bullpen piece this year. In 57 games, Suter had a 3.38 ERA with 55 Ks, his best season to date as a pure relief piece.
2024 Prediction: Gets some reps next year, but isn't as reliable as he was.

A rookie that came up late as a utility piece as Hunter Goodman, who added some power boosts with 17 RBIs in 23 games; for comparison's sake, it took Mike Moustakas 47 games to get to that amount. Goodman didn't exactly hit for average, and isn't a great defensive piece, but the Rockies could use him as a bench bat or DH going forward.
2024 Prediction: Similar use, but I think he'll have way more to do as Blackmon is phased out.

And then Brendan Rodgers also played this year. Took him a bit, as he was out til the last weeks of the year, but the perennial Rockies standout did manage to show his head late in the season, after all the hoopla had died down. In 46 games, Rodgers hit .258 with 4 homers and 20 RBIs, a total that indicates a season that was just getting going as the season wrapped up.
2024 Prediction: If he's fully healed, there'll be no problems, and he'll lead this team to something a lot better. If not...they might need to figure out what to do with him.

Coming Tomorrow- The Royals are going to look a lot different next year, and here's some of the energy they'll be leaving behind. 

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Reds


It feels so hypocritical for me to say this, because on one hand, the expanded playoffs has led to so many things I'm dissatisfied with, but on the other hand, it seems unfair that there wasn't room in the playoffs for the Cincinnati Reds this year. What a fun team these guys were, and they got insanely close.

Ultimately, what did them in was a rotation that could not stay healthy, with Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, Vladimir Gutierrez and Connor Overton all being out of commission at some point, and the replacement guys like Luke Weaver and Ben Lively only doing so much for them. What ruled this season for Cincinnati was the rookies, the guys who came up and helped carry the team, especially in the second half.  The fans will remember this season for bringing them Matt McLain, Spencer Steer, Elly de la Cruz and Andrew Abbott at once, just to name the ones I already did customs of.

And the thing about this team having so many cool players without making the postseason is that I barely made customs of this team. So I have a ton left over for Uncustomed Heroes.

Case in point: I didn't even do a Tyler Stephenson this season, and it's honestly because after missing a lot of 2022 with an injury, he was still just...kinda off this year. Both defensively and offensively he was a few steps back from his strong 2021. Despite playing 142 games thanks to the Reds using him at DH on his off days behind the plate, he only hit .243, a career low, with 56 RBIs and 13 homers, ironically both career highs. It just feels like Stephenson was stuck in second gear for a lot of the year, and hopefully 2024 is an improvement. 
2024 Prediction: An improvement, but I think the Reds are gonna consider moving Stephenson out of the backstop position. 

Nick Senzel is one of the last remaining pieces of the burgeoning late-2010s teams, and I feel like Senzel just kept narrowly avoiding his potential. Literally every season of his Reds career, Senzel has either been blocked at a primary position or underwhelming at the plate. Or, alternatively, he's injured for most of it. Senzel played 104 games this season, and he hit .236 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs, which are both career highs, but with injuries, regime changes and general inefficiency, it was impossible for Senzel to really factor into the Reds' plans this season. Senzel finished the year with a respectable WAR total...of 0.0. Which is 0.1 lower than his season mark. 
2024 Prediction: The Nationals have signed a third base prospect from the late 2010s who kept hanging around an organization without being healthy or imperative to the team? Him and Carter Kieboom are gonna fight to the death!

Graham Ashcraft made the most starting appearances for the Reds this season, and he did it while still fighting injuries sustained during the 2022 season that would lead to a different injury that would end his 2023 season and make his 2024 debut questionable. That...sums up a lot about the Reds' season. That said, Ashcraft still did a lot for the Reds, with 26 games, a 7-9 record, a 4.76 ERA and 111 Ks. This still gave him a 2.4 WAR, making him the team's most valuable pitcher. 
2024 Prediction: Finally produces some peak mastery in the middle months of the season, and helps legitimize the Reds.

The Reds' bullpen had a lot of really cool pieces this year. One of them was former Rangers farmhand Ian Gibaut, who, fun fact, was part of the World Baseball Classic's Great Britain squad, a team whose uniforms and hats must have been made on a 20 dollar budget. Gibaut appeared in 74 games for the Reds, and went 8-4 with a 3.33 ERA and 69 Ks. Gibaut was the Reds' most valuable reliever this season, and it's hopefully a precursor to a solid MLB career.
2024 Prediction: Lower ERA, less innings, but more eyes will be upon him.

Before the Reds went to Andrew Abbott on their minor league depth chart, they chose Brandon Williamson, a 25-year old rookie who got 23 starts in for the Reds, and in a year where they kept trying so many minor league pitchers, it's nice that one of 'em stuck around. Williamson had a season that got better as it went on, as his ERA evened out to a 4.46 with 98 Ks. I think he would have had a smoother ramp up to the majors had everybody not gotten hurt, but he did well enough for himself overall.
2024 Prediction: The rotation going into 2024 seems to be Greene-Lodolo-Abbott-Ashcraft, and Williamson is up for that last spot against Connor Overton. Will he have the spring to get that last spot? Uh...honestly, I think he'll be called upon for it rather than get it out of camp.

The Reds' sharpest trade deadline move was actually getting Sam Moll from Oakland, as he was one of their best bullpen performers in the second half. Moll had 25 games in Cincinnati and only gave up 2 earned runs, with 22 Ks and a 0.973 WHIP. In a year where a lot of smart trade deadline moves didn't entirely pan out, Moll did everything he was acquired to do.
2024 Prediction: Becomes the Reds' top bullpen piece and continues his excellent work.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand was a big prospect that was brought up as an offensive addition, even if there wasn't an open position for him yet. Spencer Steer and Joey Votto both were covering first, so it was really only the DH position that CES could land at, and given that limited option, he did alright for himself as a power bat. In 63 games he hit .270 with 13 home runs and 37 RBIs, a nice boost in the stretch run for the Reds.
2024 Prediction: Either in an infield position or just the DH, the Reds will try to make sure CES can play every day, and it will work out for them.
Meanwhile, Noelvi Marte, another huge organizational piece for the Reds, got a late August call-up and filled in at 3rd for a lot of September. He impressed in that time, hitting .316 with 36 hits, 15 RBIs and 6 steals in 35 games. Perhaps this may be why the Reds felt they didn't need Senzel going forward- between McLain, Steer, India, Marte and de la Cruz, they kind of have their infield figured out for the next few years.
2024 Prediction: The Reds will go with Marte as the starting 3rd baseman [I also think they're gonna try to move Jonathan India], and he'll be in the top 3 of Rookie of the Year voting.

The Reds took advantage of a few waiver deals late in the year, and even if neither went especially well, I figured they'd both be cool to talk about. The Yankees parted ways with Harrison Bader after some spotty numbers for them, and the Reds gave him a shot in the outfield. In 14 games, Bader hit .161 with 5 hits, 3 RBIs and 3 steals. And then he was cut again.
2024 Prediction: Someone will give Bader a shot, but will he ever produce a full season of strong work rather than just a month or so of it?

And then they grabbed Hunter Renfroe from LA, after a decent enough year there. Renfroe also got 14 games in Cincinnati, mostly as a DH, and he hit .128 with 5 hits, 4 RBIs and a home run. Renfroe was also cut after this, meaning this gambit did not work at all for the Reds.
2024 Prediction: He'll be a lot better off with the Royals. Considering that he's played for 6 teams since 2019, something tells me he won't need the second year of the contract.

I think it's a safe bet to say that Joey Votto has played his last game as a Red. After 16 years, over 2000 hits, an MVP and some Hall of Fame votes waiting to happen, the Reds aren't likely to pick up Votto for another season. It's for the best reason, honestly- the Reds have so many great young pieces to lead the team that they don't have room, or much use, for Votto right now. Votto only played 65 games this year, and he only hit .202 with 42 hits, 38 RBIs and 14 homers, which is still no slouch. The Reds owe so much to Joey Votto for making them fun over the last decade and a half, and he'll certainly be welcome there after he's done playing.
2024 Prediction: Yeah, I don't think he's done. As weird as it would look, I think he suits up for someone else in a DH role, knocks some of his last-ever career homers, and finishes his career his way. 

Coming Tomorrow- I don't usually do a post on Christmas, so Tuesday the next one will go up. That post is on a team that didn't have much of a chance but still had some intriguing storylines pop up.