Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There's a distinct aroma of business along
the Ohio River these days.
The unfinished kind, that is.
Oh sure, the Cincinnati Reds crossed a good amount of items off of their
"rebuilding a brand" checklist in 2012 - rebounding from a 79-win season,
capturing the National League's Central Division title out from under the
defending World Series champions and winning their first postseason games in
17 years - but a fair bit were still left on the table, too.
And when a two-game playoff road lead on the San Francisco Giants became an
extra-inning loss in game three, a five-run blowout in game four and a failed
rally from a six-run deficit in game five - all on home turf at Great American
Ball Park - what had been a banner season came away smelling like, well
something distinctly different.
Especially when those Giant fellas went on to win a trophy of their own a few
But hope springs eternal in a baseball-mad town, and the Reds enter 2013
firmly entrenched in the role of favorite for the second time in three years.
Lest anyone forget, they won the 2010 NL Central and were expected to take a
run at repeating in 2011, too, but got off to a terrible start and never
recovered en route to limping to an irrelevant third-place finish, 17 games
off the pace.
There's little to indicate that sort of drop off again, though, considering
the team - or at least what appear to be its most vital parts - are back and
healthy this spring. Third baseman Scott Rolen is gone after making the final
out of the playoff series and injured would-be closer Ryan Madson left after
never throwing a pitch for the Reds.
The organization's most significant trade of the offseason came when center
fielder Drew Stubbs was shipped across the state to Cleveland, but the
consensus is that Cincinnati got the better end of the deal in fellow
outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who had consecutive 20-homer seasons with the
Indians in 2009 and 2010 before slumping to eight (in 85 games) and 16 (in
155) in the last two seasons.
Choo hit .400 in his initial 25 at-bats of the spring, while Stubbs, who hit
.250 in his initial 15 spring games with Cleveland. The now ex-Red stole 100
bases in three full-time seasons in Cincinnati, but led the league in
strikeouts (205) in 2011 and skidded to a .213 batting average last season.
Choo will lead off for the Reds, filling a spot that begged for consistency
throughout Stubbs' stay, though most concede it'll be one and done once Choo
becomes a free agent following the season and the Reds presumably promote
minor-league phenom Billy Hamilton, who stole 155 bases and had a .410 on-base
percentage while splitting time at Single-A and Double-A in 2012.
"(Choo is) the best we have," manager Dusty Baker said.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Reds, with a personnel
evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2012 FINISH (97-65) - First Place (NL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Shin-Soo Choo (OF), Jack Hannahan (3B)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Ryan Madson (RHP), Drew Stubbs (OF), Scott Rolen
PROJECTED LINEUP: Shin-Soo Choo (CF); Brandon Phillips (2B); Joey Votto (1B);
Ryan Ludwick (LF); Jay Bruce (RF); Todd Frazier (3B); Zack Cozart (SS); Ryan
PROJECTED ROTATION: Johnny Cueto (RHP), Mat Latos (RHP), Bronson Arroyo (RHP),
Homer Bailey (RHP), Mike Leake (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Aroldis Chapman (LHP)
MANAGER: Dusty Baker
CAN THE STARTERS DO IT AGAIN?
The Reds were an embarrassment of starting pitching riches last season, with
five pitchers combining for 161 starts (the only miss was when a minor-leaguer
was brought in to start a game in a doubleheader). And while they certainly
cannot bank on that sort of reliability again, they are making out a quintet
that's got four members aged 27 or younger - alongside the rubber-armed
Bronson Arroyo, who's made at least 32 starts for nine consecutive seasons.
Dominican Johnny Cueto broke out for a 19-win season in 2012, though it was
his injury in the NLDS - and unavailability for Game 5 - that many point to as
the reason the Reds went home early. Behind him, Mat Latos was a dominant 14-4
in his first season in Cincinnati and Homer Bailey won a career-best 13 games
and tossed a no-hitter against Pittsburgh. Arroyo is solid if unspectacular,
and Mike Leake's 179 1/3 innings and 30 starts are about as good as a manger
can want from a No. 5 starter.
WHO WILL REPLACE ROLEN?
Rolen's voluntary exit signals the primetime emergence of Todd Frazier at
third base, where he made 66 starts in 2012 after 24 in 2011. Now 27, Frazier
was an important offensive weapon in less than full-time status last season,
hitting .273 with 19 homers and 67 runs batted in over just 422 at-bats while
finishing third in Rookie of the Year balloting. Still, as any Cincinnati
observer will tell you, it's the glove work that's the most concerning element
of his game, particularly as compared to Rolen, who was as good as anyone at
the hot corner in the last decade. Frazier made five errors in 155 chances at
third in 2012 and two in 64 during abbreviated work a season before. And, if
enthusiasm for the job counts, he's got a leg up on critics. "To work on one
position is fun," he said. "It's awesome even being a starter. It's something
I've dreamed of my whole life. Like last year, once you get that opportunity,
take off with it. You have to prove yourself year after year and day after
CAN CHOO TAKE THE LEAD(OFF)?
The main questions in Reds camp as March wore on were less about starting vs.
relieving and more about lineup vs. disabled list as Choo, now 30, battled a
sudden onset of back spasms and was instantly treated with kid gloves by the
Cincinnati medical staff. He'd hit .400 in his first 11 games, which gave the
team a glimpse of what it wanted upon acquiring him for fellow center fielder
Stubbs. "This feeling, same exact feeling during the season, I would play. But
spring training, I still have more time," he said, after a week on the
springtime shelf in Arizona. "I don't want to make it worse. It's more
important to be ready for the season. I want to play every game - 162 games. I
want to make sure I'm healthy to start the season." If that's not the case and
Choo misses significant time in the regular season, the Reds would likely plug
the hole with holdover Chris Heisey (.265, 7 HR, 31 RBI in 2012) or move Jay
Bruce in from right field.
X-FACTOR: LHP AROLDIS CHAPMAN
Another spring, another teasing glance for Reds fans at what the 100-plus mph
lefty might look like in the first inning instead of the ninth. But, just a
few days after Chapman went public with a desire to remain at the back end,
the Cincinnati brass followed suit by announcing that their $30.25 million man
will stay in relief - where he's been for each of 137 big-league appearances
since signing a six-year contract prior to 2010. His initial full year in the
closing role was a major success in 2012, when he pitched to a 1.51 earned run
average and struck out 122 batters in 71 2/3 innings while saving 38 games.
"It was like last year," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "It was what gave
us the best opportunity to win as an organization this year." Assuming the
Reds' starters and middle relievers can get leads to him at the clip they did
last season, it doesn't seem unlikely he can mirror the 2012 numbers.
Unless you lean negative by habit, it's difficult to look at the Reds on the
eve of the 2013 schedule and not see good things. As mentioned, the lineup is
largely intact from a year - and could be better with a full-time Frazier and
a healthy Choo. The starting rotation is young, talented and, at least so far,
free from significant injuries. And the back end of the bullpen, with the
resigned Jonathan Broxton in the eighth and Chapman in the ninth, will
effectively shorten games to seven innings on most nights. Coming off a season
in which they won 97 games and were the best team in the Central by nine over
their nearest pursuer, the Reds are in the enviable position of having
anything less than a World Series berth considered a failure by at least a
segment of the fan base.
The Sports Network