With Frazier and Bruce in town this week, frustrated Reds fans are reminded of better days

But the team's rebuild is chugging along
Posted at 9:00 AM, May 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-07 09:00:15-04

CINCINNATI -- The scenes are still fresh in the minds of Reds fans:

  • Todd Frazier, with his brother Charlie pitching, launching his 15th home run in the bonus round to win the 2015 All-Star Home Run Derby in front of the home fans.
  • Jay Bruce circling the bases with his right arm raised after his walk-off home run clinched the 2010 National Central Division title. 

It was the best of times for the Reds.

Now, Frazier and Bruce return to Great American Ball Park in the worst of times.

After being swept in three games by the Milwaukee Brewers last week, the Reds were 7-24, matching their worst start through 31 games since the Great Depression era. Following that series, the Reds dropped two of three games to the Miami Marlins over the weekend.

Following three straight 90-loss and last-place seasons, the Reds' rebuild is progressing, but it has yet to bear fruit.

Manager Bryan Price didn't make it through April.

On Monday, Bruce and Frazier will return to Great American Ball Park as members of the New York Mets for a three-game series, and as representatives of the most recent winning era of Reds baseball.

The Mets are Frazier's third team since he was dealt to the White Sox in a three-team deal in December 2016. Bruce had a brief stint in Cleveland last year before returning to New York, the team he was dealt to three months before Frazier left.

Todd Frazier of the New York Mets reacts after his eighth-inning two-run single against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on April 18 in New York City.

The departures of Bruce, Frazier, and other popular former Reds players like Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips, and Zack Cozart, were a necessary evil in baseball's be-bad-to-get-good world. 

Fans lost some of their most recognizable stars and the Reds let go of a few marketable commodities. The purpose of the moves was clear -- save cash and free up positions for younger prospects.

So, how'd the Reds do in these deals?

This year's historically bad start notwithstanding, not bad.

In exchange for Frazier, the Reds received from the Dodgers two players who are now lineup regulars in shortstop Jose Peraza and right fielder Scott Schebler.

Peraza has had his ups and downs, but he was hitting .294 with two homers, 10 RBIs and five stolen bases in 30 games. Schebler is coming off a 30-home run season. He missed some time after being hit by a pitch, but already had three homers and 11 RBIs in 16 games as part of a four-outfielder rotation.

Infield prospect Brandon Dixon has yet to reach the majors, but he's developing nicely at Triple-A Louisville, batting .281 with five doubles, a homer and six RBIs through 19 games for the Bats.

Moving Frazier has achieved its primary objective to open up third base for Eugenio Suarez who moved from his natural position of shortstop to become one of the game's best defensive third basemen, before signing a $66 million, seven-year contract in March. The Frazier deal also netted Peraza, making him the heir apparent to Cozart at shortstop. 

Frazier belted 40 home runs in his first season in Chicago, but the power production has dipped noticeably the past two seasons. 

In exchange for Bruce, the Reds got left-hander Max Wotell who missed most of the 2017 season with a shoulder injury. They also got a former top prospect in the Mets' organization -- infielder Dilson Herrera.

Herrera, 25, is a curious case.

A career .295 hitter through 652 minor-league games, Herrera began this season at Advanced-A Daytona, where he hit .298 in 21 games with three doubles, two homers and eight RBIs, before being promoted back to Triple-A Louisville.

Problem is, Herrera is a second baseman, and Nic Senzel plays second base for the most part for the Bats. But Senzel, the Reds' top-ranked non-pitching prospect, has played some third, and Suarez's natural position is shortstop.

Other deals were necessary but didn't net much return.

On the eve of spring training 2017, the Reds traded popular second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Braves. Phillips was 35 at the time, and the Reds ate $13 million of his remaining contract and acquired left-hander Andrew McKirahan and right-hander Carlos Portuondo in the process. Both McKirahan and Portuondo have since been released.

Right-handed starter Rookie Davis is the only player remaining from the trade that sent the dynamic closer Chapman to the Yankees, and he's on the 60-day DL.

The Reds lost Cozart to free agency over the winter, despite rampant rumors that he might be dealt at the July non-waiver deadline.

Cozart, an exceptional defensive shortstop with a career .254 average coming into this season, reached his peak offensively in 2017, batting .297 and equaling a career-high with 63 RBIs. Essentially, Cozart played his way out of the Reds' price range before signing a three-year, $38 million deal in December to play third base for the Angels.

While Cozart's departure opened the door for Peraza at short, things haven't gone too well for Cozart in Anaheim, where he has batted .222 with a .280 on-base percentage through 27 games.

As much as fans miss the personalities of Frazier and Bruce, the Gold-Glove caliber defense of Cozart and Phillips, and Chapman's electric fastball, the Reds already are grooming future stars.

At some point, guys like Senzel, Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, Raisel Iglesias, and 18-year-old pitcher Hunter Greene will make their marks. The Reds already have made a long-term investment in Suarez and catcher Tucker Barnhart. 

For now, Joey Votto, whose contract with the Reds doesn't expire until after the 2024 season, is by and large the face of the organization.

As Reds general manager Dick Williams once said, "You can take the house all the way down to the studs, but it's important to leave something standing."

So, Bruce and Frazier will take their bows at Great American Ball Park this week, and fans will either celebrate their past accomplishments or lament the postseason failures that punctuated their careers and the Reds' present situation.

The Reds believe they have done the necessary things for the rebuilding process to be successful.

That will be a tough sell, at least for a while.