Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cincinnati Reds: 2009 Season Preview

The Cincinnati Reds, along with their team ownership and management staff, could be accused of a lot of things, but this off-season they cannot be accused of one thing: sitting still. While most media outlets have branded this team a “young” or “up-and-coming” group of potential future standouts, this team has a legitimate shot to contend in the 2009 season. They play in what has become a much tougher division – the National League (NL) Central – where perennial contenders include the big-payroll Chicago Cubs and the smaller-market but bigger-spending St. Louis Cardinals, both of whom will garner the lion’s share of attention for the divisional crown and/or the wild card berth. Get past the Cubs and Cardinals and you cannot miss last year’s “pleasant surprise” club – the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Reds rarely see the national spotlight cast their way, not realistically since their “better days” back in the NL West of the 1970’s and 1980’s. You could say this team has become under-appreciated (much like last season’s “Cinderella” in the Tampa Bay Rays) with a core of young talent surrounded by a veteran coaching staff and top-notch management. Owner Robert (Bob) Castellini wanted to put a winner on the field when he took over day-to-day ownership only a few long seasons ago … but it wasn’t until Dusty Baker (who made the playoffs with the Giants and Cubs in previous jobs) was hired prior to the 2008 season as well as the passing of the GM torch to well-respected front-office man Walt Jocketty (fresh from his success with the St. Louis Cardinals) that things appeared to be heading in a new direction. Former managers like Dave Miley, Jerry Narron, and Pete Mackanin were all solid baseball men … but Dusty is something that those men have never been (at least yet): a proven winner.

Yes, Dusty Baker will manage this team again in 2009 after a 2008 campaign that clearly fell apart. Baker was not solely to blame for the eventual 74-win season, but former GM Wayne Krivsky probably took far too much of the blame (i.e. the scapegoat) for why the team underachieved on the field. Arguably, signing guys like Corey Patterson and Paul Bako to larger-than-needed contracts was part of Krivsky’s eventual undoing, but he was also responsible (and credited) with bringing talent like Bronson Arroyo, Brandon Phillips, and Edinson Volquez here within the past couple of years. This team couldn’t have won 70 games without those three critical names, but, in the same vein, they could have won more if Aaron Harang, Edwin Encarnacion, and (now departed) Ken Griffey, Jr., had all lived up to their respective potentials. Adam Dunn is an enigma, a potential “private” clubhouse leader who gives a “public” persona that he just never cared about this baseball team. Without Dunn (or Griffey, for the matter), the short porch in right field rarely got used for the latter half of 2008. Guys like Jay Bruce and Joey Votto – both viable ROY candidates during the last season – produced in pleasantly unexpected ways both offensively (with HR potential) and defensively (although both experienced unnecessary lapses on the field). What will NOT be missed from Adam Dunn is a poorly-played left field position, where late-season call-up Chris Dickerson provided a much-needed spark both offensively (with impressive speed on the base paths) and defensively (making the spectacular sometimes look routine) in playing circles around what Dunn could have done in LF.

Here’s a quick review of the newest faces (and recently departed) based on off-season trades and free-agent signings:

(1) C Ramon Hernandez acquired from Baltimore Orioles for IF/OF Ryan Freel

(2) OF Willy Taveras signed as a free agent (played for Colorado Rockies in 2008)

(3) Re-signed IF/OF Jerry Hairston, Jr., P David Weathers, 3B Edwin Encarnacion, and P Mike Lincoln, among the more notable names

(4) Lost to free agency: P Jeremy Affeldt, OF Corey Patterson, C Paul Bako

(5) Notable names from 2008 absent in 2009: OF Ken Griffey, Jr., OF Adam Dunn

The first "big" deal was the acquisition of catcher Ramon Hernandez from the Baltimore Orioles for OF/utility man Ryan Freel. Freel's best days certainly appeared to be behind him, with a playing style best characterized as recklessly aggressive, and injuries over the past two seasons limited his availability and productivity. Hernandez saw his stock drop with a poor 2008 season, but his history indicates more upside potential and/or ability than he demonstrated last season. The two other players (minor leaguers) involved do not seem to warrant discussion, but I am happy to see a veteran catcher, particularly one of Latino descent, with a pitching staff of generally younger pitchers (and notable Latino phenoms in Volquez and Johnny Cueto). I think Jocketty played his cards right in this move.

While the free-agent signing of Willy Taveras seems to be met with mixed reviews, I honestly don't see Willy Taveras as the second coming of Corey Patterson for a handful of reasons, to be honest. Taveras was the MLB leader in stolen bases by a mile last season, and his steal % is excellent (over 90% as I recall, best in all of MLB). Yes, his OBP for last season, in all respects, was lousy. However, this team DOES need speed at the top of the order AND Ryan Freel, who was the team’s only other SB guy, has been hurt for most of the last two seasons. Jerry Hairston, who recently re-signed as a free agent, fills some of the speed equation, too, but where does he play longer term?

Edwin Encarnacion just might be a piece of the complex puzzle for the outfield that has been overlooked consistently. Some of the baseball "experts" have pointed to the fact that he plays third base hot and cold ... and makes some of the dumbest errors. Nobody questions he does have an arm, though, as most 3B do. Do with Encarnacion what the Brewers did with Ryan Braun - move him to the LF spot. Although local media (including Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer John Fay) has suggested it won’t happen, I still don’t see why it can’t happen.

GABP (Great American Ballpark) doesn't have to be a power park, plain and simple. For this with the local knowledge, remember the suggestion by Aaron Harang near the end of last season about raising some of the fences? While it seemed to be widely dismissed, it is not such an awful idea, particularly the small wall in right field. Want to equalize the effect for both teams? Raise that fence by a simple few feet (maybe wipe out one to two rows of seats at worst) and make hitters earn the cheap homers that the park allows.

Say what you will about the Griffey effect on the design of GABP ... how many of the "cheap" homers did he actually hit here? Adam Dunn could hit his mammoth shots in any park ... same goes for Reds' killers like Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, and Ryan Howard, to name but a few. Those guys hit the long bombs in ANY park ... not much you can do with a park that allows for the northwest wind and humid summer air to launch those “bad boys” right towards the Ohio River.

Walt Jocketty is not "delusional" ... in fact, I would say his moves so far have been respectable. Why does everyone think this team cannot compete in 2009? If any respectable Reds’ fan is in the "re-sign Dunn" camp that probably exists ... before you go that route, consider that the market isn't really what he wanted. The Reds, dare say it, might actually put him back in uniform before spring training (doubtful at this stage) OR they might just get a guy like Bobby Abreu or Xavier Nady to fill the outfield hole offensively and defensively. Both choices would add depth to a team in need of some veteran presence beyond Harang, Arroyo, and Phillips, among others.

Dunn had five-plus seasons to show us how one-dimensional he was - all power, no fielding. I'm hardly his biggest fan, and I believe he belongs in the American League where they value sluggers who can't field (the DH) just to provide more offense. If he signs with a team like the SF Giants or the LA Dodgers (both whom are seeking sluggers), he might succeed ... SF is a much better bet, though. In his later years, Barry Bonds wasn't playing a very good LF defensively anyway, so the same short porch (into McCovey Cove) at San Fran's ballpark would suit Dunner just fine. If I were the Giants, I would actually consider Dunn as the cheaper alternative to Man-Ram, who comes with too much personal baggage AND plays a lousy OF, too.

Here’s looking forward to a “Reds-Hot” Summer in 2009 … where your Cincinnati Reds just might be the new version of last season’s Tampa Bay Rays.

All content courtesy of Clubhouse Connection ( and respective author JD Rentz. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment