Climbing Out of the Canyon – Part 3
Onward we go in the series of season previews of the NL Central’s teams. Part 1 covered the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, and Part 2 went over the Astros. Journeying down the 2006 standings, we next come to the Cincinnati Reds. Remember, I’m trying to find out if the time has come for the Bucs to climb out of the canyon: Will the 14-year-long losing streak finally be snapped?
Jerry Narron’s ballclub finished the ’06 campaign at 80-82, 3.5 games back of the Cards. Even with a sub-.500 record, Cincy managed to stick around for much of September. Their off-season, according to ESPN:
ADD: Alex Gonzalez, SS; Mike Stanton, RP; Jeff Keppinger, IF; Josh Hamilton, OF (Rule 5); Kirk Saarloos, SP/RP; Jeff Conine, CI/OF
DROP: Royce Clayon, SS; Rich Aurilia, IF; Brendan Harris, UT; Jason LaRue, C; Ryan Franklin, SP/RP; David Schafer, RP; Scott Schoeneweis, RP
Remaining free agents include Eddie Guardado, RP; Todd Hollandsworth, OF; Jason Johnson, SP; and Kent Mercker, RP.
Without a doubt, the Reds are the worst team in the division entering Spring Training. They can’t put together much of an offense, their pitching staff lacks depth and their defense is questionable. Here’s a team that the Bucs will leapfrog for sure–at least for 2007.
Much of Cincinnati’s hope for the future resides in the bat of Joey Votto, a first baseman set to start the year at AAA, and in the arm of Homer Bailey, the wunderkind with an outside chance to break camp with the club. Adam Dunn will be a mainstay at Great American Ballpark–a launching pad for left-handed bats–and Edwin Encarnacion will provide additional power. Brandon Phillips and Chris Denorfia are green players with some upside, and Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang will join Bailey in the future’s rotation. Bill Bray, the prize in the Kearns-Lopez deal, will be at the back end of the bullpen. Seems to me as if the Reds are about 13 or 14 players short of a 25-man roster–although General Manager Wayne Krivsky does have a glut of older players (including Ken Griffey, Jr.) that he can trade at the deadline for relief prospects and bit parts.
Returning the focus to 2007, here’s a projected Opening Day lineup:
Griffey, Jr. CF
The offense will live and die by the long ball in 2007–so at least the Reds are taking advantage of their home turf’s park factor. Unfortunately, with a rotation of Arroyo-Harang-junk, they’ll give up quite a few dingers, too. Eric Milton, Kyle Lohse, Elizardo Ramirez, Paul Wilson and Victor Santos will battle Saarloos and Bailey for spots on the staff. In the ‘pen, it’s likely closer by committee. Todd Coffey and Bill Bray will be solid.
Would the Reds be better off with Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez instead of a deep relief corps? Probably–but Krivsky thought it best to mortgage the future to try to compete in 2006. That means the most intriguing storyline to come out of Cincinnati this year will be the saga of Josh Hamilton. Will the former #1 pick turned drugged-out badboy be able to stick on the major-league roster for a full season and turn his career (and life) around?
The Reds need to win every coin flip if they’re going to succeed in 2007. They need at least two of the journeymen to throw well out of the rotation. They need Griffey to stay healthy. They need Encarnacion and Dunn to show more plate discipline. They need production out of the catcher’s spot–either from David Ross, Javier Valentin, or both. If everything–and I mean everything–works out favorably for them, then perhaps the Reds get back to 80 wins. Right now, I’d set the over/under at 70.
After Part 3, the NL Central still looks weak–could 2007 be the Pirates’ year? The Brewers are next.