Thursday, March 6, 2008

Prospects for the Reds

Baseball season is upon us and Reds fans are anxious. The Reds have failed to produce a winning season in seven years and for a city that used to the occasional pennant run and even a World Series. That anxiety is particularly acute this year. The Reds have a number of aging veterans (Griffey and Dunn) who won’t be around forever and a bevy of young talent (Bailey, Cueto, Volquez, Votto, and Bruce) who are still developing. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades. The problem is how best to use the talent as it stands now. Do the Reds play for the future or is the future now?

The Reds recently acquired Corey Patterson to the consternation of Redland. Patterson was yesterday’s top prospect who never quite materialized. Most likely, he will end up platooning in CF with Hopper. Both are speedsters—Patterson is better defensively, Hopper has better OBP. The move means that Jay Bruce may very well begin the season in the minors, which upsets many Reds fans. They are upset for two reasons—one is the overly optimistic belief that Bruce, who has never seen a major league pitch, will immediately become a star. The other is that new manager Dusty Baker prefers veterans over younger players and is too nepotistic. Without getting into a debate about the relative merits of Dusty Baker (he does produce winners), I don’t think that sitting on Bruce is that bad of an idea. Bruce is only 20, most pro ball players peak around 27-28 and the free agency clock lasts 6 years. Bruce has one more minor league year and therefore it makes financial sense to hold Bruce back—at least until June when he can be brought up and still retain his rookie status. We are much more likely to see Homer Bailey and Edinson Volquez in the rotation early. Both have some major league experience and are ready for the biggies.

The question is whether the Reds are ready to make a run this season. We still have Griffey and Dunn and with Brandon Phillips and Edwin Encarnacion—the Reds have ample power at the plate. Harang and Arroyo give the Reds staff a one/two punch, I like the addition of Josh Fogg, and if even one of the prospects emerges, our pitching staff will be the best the Reds have had in a while. The acquisition of Francisco Cordero helps to solidify a suspect bullpen, with David Weathers to be the primary set up man. The Reds weaknesses remain numerous. We don’t have a strong lefty either in the rotation or the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt may work his way into the rotation, but our lefty relievers are either over the hill or unproven. Our defense is atrocious. Griffey’s mobility is dubious (his contract is an albatross), Dunn is definitely a liability, and Encarnacion isn’t that great. The Reds give up a lot of free runs. For these reasons, I suspect that the Reds may fall short of a division title this year. I remain cautiously optimistic—if some of the younger guys emerge as the real deal, we could be in the running late in a division without a clear frontrunner.

The good news is that next year, the Reds are looking at a significant transformation. We will most likely see a major youth movement—Votto 1B, Bruce OF, Keppinger SS, and a rotation featuring Bailey, Cueto, and Volquez. Shedding Griffey and Dunn (and their contracts), keeping a few veterans in their prime like Phillips, Encarnacion, Harang, Fogg and Cordero—with the possibility of Patterson and Arroyo sticking around--and the Reds are looking pretty good for the next several years.

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