And each year, I overshoot on my prediction of what the Cincinnati Reds are going to achieve.
This spring we embark upon the most important season of Cincinnati Reds baseball since this blog’s inception in 2007. This is the year that a lot of questions are going to be answered. While everyone around this team seems to think that 2011 or 2012 is going to be our year to compete; you’re going to get a pretty good barometer of if that is even in the realm of possibility come October 2010.
This is the season that we find out about what kind of players Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, and Johnny Cueto really are. Dusty Baker is probably managing for his job. If this team is going to be a factor in 2011, 2012 and beyond; you’re going to have to see some signs of life very soon.
The Reds did some things to improve the makeup of their roster in the offseason. Everyone knows about the signing of Cuban phenom Aroldis Chapman. Another great move was bringing in shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Even though he’s 35 years old, he’s a significant offensive upgrade at a position the Reds have struggled to find stability at. He’s also a solid #2 hitter. The Reds also re-signed Jonny Gomes. While he shouldn’t be the everyday guy in left field, he’ll provide strength off of the bench to be the RH part of a platoon in left field and spell Bruce in right field against tough lefties.
You’re going to see an outfield of Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, and any combination of Gomes, Chris Dickerson, Laynce Nix in left field. Stubbs and Bruce are former #1 draft picks for the Reds. These guys are young, but when you’re drafted with that kind of pedigree you’re expected to produce sooner rather then later. It’s an especially pivotal year for Bruce.
If Bruce can produce a decent line and play in 150 games, it could be a big enough boost to change the dynamics of the entire lineup. It’s not out of the realm to expect .270/35/100 from Bruce; who was victimized by an injury and poor luck on batted balls in play last season.
Around the infield you’ve got Scott Rolen, Cabrera, Brandon Phillips, and Joey Votto. That will make up the 2-5 in the batting order. The Reds seem to favor Ramon Hernandez over Ryan Hanigan as the starting catcher. It might sound silly but if this team is going to surprise, Hernandez is going to have to return to form of his last decent season which was several years ago. Other then that, if Rolen can stay healthy and the others do what they’ve became expected commodities at doing; you’ll have a solid output both offensively and defensively from this group.
The bench will be comprised by a lesser-known group of guys. Laynce Nix, Wladimir Balentien, Miguel Cairo, Paul Janish, and Hanigan should all be names you’ll see. Don’t expect to see Todd Frazier (another #1 draft pick) until late in the year. Same for Yonder Alonso, who is without a position.
When you look at the starting 8 defensively; they’re an extremely sound group in the field. This is a team that will catch and throw the ball exceptionally well.
The pitching is the big ‘X’ factor. Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo were bulls down the stretch. Arroyo is an innings eater who many are hoping is a #2 starter for the Reds, and Bailey looked like he’d finally figured out the big leagues the final six weeks of last season. If that Bailey returns you have a guy with #1 stuff going against #4 starters. One thing to take into consideration is the Reds have lost what they thought was a sure-fire ace starter in Edison Volquez. It’s a lost year for him due to Tommy John surgery. That means that guys like Johnny Cueto and Aaron Harang will have to emerge as a true #1 if this team is to do anything. Harang is probably past his prime, but making every start and giving you his career average of quality starts per season would be huge. Cueto needs to take the next step and win around 15 games bare-minimum. Still figuring to be in the mix is Matt Maloney (LH) and Micah Owings (RHP). Mike Leake was last year’s #1 pick, and he isn’t too far off from arrival.
The bullpen will be a strong point, as it often is for the Reds. Francisco Cordero saved 39 games last season with an ERA just over 2. Nick Masset looked to be as good of a set-up man as there was in baseball for much of the season. Arthur Rhodes is as good as it gets for an inning or two. They’ve got an impressive stable of arms from both sides. Look for guys to emerge like Pedro Viola, Danny Ray Herrera, Jared Burton, and Carlos Fisher. This should again be the strength of this club.
Dusty Baker has to go out and make good in-game decisions. His lineups are laughable at times, taking his team out of the game before there is a pitch delivered. He’s got to prove he won’t shred young arms and that he knows how to handle guys who aren’t veterans. Basically, he’s got to become someone he isn’t for a season. Baker is a good man and I believe his players care about him, but it comes down to winning.
Cincinnati has to finish above .500 for the first time in over five seasons and remain in the hunt late for so many reasons. There’s a lot riding on this season for a lot of these guys. This isn’t all that young of a team outside the few booming and budding prospects who are growing up fast. The time is now. Marty Brennaman isn’t getting any younger and he’s waited a long time to call games for another winner.
At the end of 2010, we’re going to know if this franchise is a serious contender, or a lifelong pretender. And as for our pick, call us crazy but we think they’ll finish second behind the Cardinals with a shot at the wildcard.