Votto Looks to Regain Power Stroke in 2013
While the rest of the baseball world enjoys what figures to be an exciting world series Reds players will wonder what could have been. It is certainly motivation that will make them hungry build upon their 2012 success next year. Cincinnati is in an enviable position with their top players locked in long term and the bulk of their roster under contract for the next few seasons.
The Giants have come back to force a Game Seven in the NLCS. The Reds know firsthand how hard it is to dispose of that club when they are on the brink of elimination. Of course in the other dugout are the Cardinals who are no strangers to October heroics themselves. With the peaking Tigers awaiting the winner it hints for plenty of excitement in store for the World Series. As the rest of the baseball world enjoys this year’s postseason classic, there’s a Cincinnati team that will have their hunger stoked for next season.
After enjoying their highest regular season win total in thirty-six years the Reds were primed for a deep October run that was to supposed to have them playing now instead of watching. Despite a Game One injury to ace Johnny Cueto things started off well enough when they swept the Giants on the road and needed only one win and three chances at home to get it. That win never came and gave them an unwanted jump in their schedule for 2013 preparations.
The Reds are blessed with a lot of youth on their roster and forward-looking contract negotiation has kept them under team control for the immediate future. This bunch was identified as the group to bring the franchise back to contender status and thus far they’ve rewarded them with two division championships. As is the case with any 97-win team returning the bulk of their personnel, the goal will be clear come next spring training: A world series championship.
They’ve already made the first move by retaining the services of Dusty Baker. He completed his nineteenth season as an MLB manager and ranks in the top twenty all time in career wins. The skipper has gone through some embattled periods since arriving in Cincinnati, but his success at the helm has exceeded any of his predecessors in recent history. He will be the first manager since Pete Rose departed in 1989 to have more than five years in the position.
Though sometimes frustrating, Reds hitters did manage to finish around the middle of the NL pack at putting runs across the plate. In the first half of the season there was an over-dependence on Joey Votto and he was at the top of the list of NL MVP candidates until knee surgery put him on the DL in July. During his absence there was resurgence from the rest of the lineup that extended their lead en route to becoming to first team to clinch. After returning, Votto continued to get on base well but he never regained his home run stroke and had nary a single dinger for the remainder of the year. After inking their star to a monster contract before opening day he’s now under team control until 2021. At the start of 2013 the 29 year-old should be primed to continue paying back that investment and ready to fulfill lofty expectations.
Soon after the Votto deal was announced Brandon Phillips also signed an extension that commits him to the Reds through the age of 36. He showed no signs of slowing down as a 31-year old and maintained both his consistent production at the plate and jaw-dropping defense in the field. Phillips also showed flexibility in the lineup and was used in the cleanup spot giving Baker a potent right-handed bat behind Votto. Though he did well in that role, given their preference the Reds would prefer to hit him atop the lineup next season.
Jay Bruce made his second all-star appearance in 2012 and the 25 year-old’s HR/RBI totals have increased in each of his first five MLB seasons. He signed a deal after in 2010 that included a team option that covers him through 2017. His range and arm also provided the Reds with gold-glover caliber defense in right field.
Those are the three main building blocks in the offense the Reds have locked in place. Contract negotiations with Ryan Ludwick are probably atop the front office list right now after the left fielder declined an option to return under his original contract which was no surprise given his performance. Perhaps experience with previous free agents prevented the Reds from guaranteeing more than one year to the 33 year-old, especially after his production started to ebb since leaving St. Louis in 2010. No doubt his relationship with Reds and former Cardinal GM Walt Jocketty helped bring him to Cincinnati where he overcame a slow start to put together a fine season. That earned his way into a position to improve upon the $5M he turned down and don’t be surprised if a multi-year deal is sruck.
This was supposed to be the year that former Reds minor-league player-of-the-year Devin Mesoraco burst onto the scene to challenge for NL Rookie of the Year. Instead Ryan Hanigan continued his steady play and the 31 year-old saw more action in 2012 than any of his previous five MLB seasons. Hanigan plays within his capabilities at the plate and offsets a lack of power with good on-base skills. Defensively he is a big contributor to the success of the Reds’ staff and their pitchers had a 3.05 ERA when he was behind the plate. He is not eligible for free agency until 2015 while the 24 year-old Mesoraco still figures prominently in the Reds future. Dioner Navarro had an excellent season in AAA which earned him a late-season call-up and ultimately a spot on the post season roster. The Reds would love to sign him to another minor league contract, but the veteran will likely prefer to take his chances elsewhere for a spot on an opening day roster.
Zach Cozart turned in a season with ups and downs typical of most rookies. He flashed solid leather at shortstop and finished with a respectable .246 average while providing some pop (15 HR) from the middle infield position. At this stage in his career his plate discipline is not good enough for the top of the lineup where he hit much of this season because of the lack of other options. Cozart figures to be the first Reds shortstop in the opening day lineup for two consecutive seasons since Barry Larkin.
Drew Stubbs’s continued inability to make consistent contact at the plate caused the 27 year-old’s production to drop for a second consecutive season. The former first rounder brings athleticism that the Reds like in centerfield, but he’s never been the answer at leadoff that they’d hoped. Much attention was focused on the Reds success despite an anemic on-base percentage from that lineup spot. Ludwick’s emergence allowed Baker to move Phillips back to the top at the end of the season and Stubb’s high strikeout rate compromises the offense’s efforts less in the bottom of the lineup. No one knows yet what, if any, deals are in store for this off-season so for now Stubbs is expected to be given a shot to turn things around next year.
Right now the lone job that expects transition is the hot-corner, and that would only be a partial one due to the action that Todd Frazier got there filling in for Scott Rolen. The 37 year-old Rolen is at a point where he will be considering riding off into the sunset after a distinguished career. He completed his contract while for the second year in a row injury has limited his action to fewer than 100 games. Meanwhile the 26 year-old Frazier sparked the lineup in his absence and continued to produce when Votto was unavailable en route to gaining consideration for Rookie of the Year. It appears that it’s his turn to take over as a regular in 2013.
The bench is one area that will likely have new faces. 27 year-old Chris Heisey continued to be a solid fourth outfielder but outside of him there is a lot of uncertainty. 38 year-old Miguel Cairo is eligible for free agency after finishing a season below the Mendoza line and 34 year-old Wilson Valdez was not productive and the plate so the Reds may consider non-tendering him. With many minor leaguers moved in deals last offseason, the organization did hold onto their top infielder prospects. Didi Gregoruis and Henry Rodriguez got MLB action after roster expansion and both are in the running for reserve jobs. Xavier Paul was picked up midseason and provided a left-handed bat on the bench. It was the fourth organization in which the 27 year-old outfielder has played and they will be able to keep him around if they choose.
The Pitching Staff:
Whatever preseason expectations were put on this year’s Reds pitching staff were exceeded. 26 year-old Cy Young hopeful Johnny Cueto has gotten better in each of his five MLB seasons. A contract extension in 2010 includes an option through 2015.
Mat Latos overcame a rough April to provide the team with a second ace during the stretch run. He’s only 24 and not eligible for free agency until 2016. It’s a no-brainer for the Reds to either offer him arbitration or a contract in lieu of it in the meantime.
Former first-round selection Homer Bailey had a breakout year in 2012 and posted the best numbers in his six-year career in all important pitching stats. Lack of pitching in 2007 caused him to be rushed to the big leagues too early and it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 26 years old. He avoided arbitration by signing a contract before the season and is not eligible for free agency until 2015.
Veteran Bronson Arroyo bounced back from the worst season of his career to provide durability and depth to the rotation and finished with his lowest ERA since 2006. He’s still under contract through next season and though he’s 35 years old there is less concern about age than with other pitchers that rely more on power than finesse. Development of young arms in their farm system, notably Daniel Corcino and Tony Cingrani, will influence their decision on him next year, but for right now he’s penciled in the 2103 rotation.
Mike Leake wasn’t rushed through the system, he jumped over it altogether when he made his first start in 2010. Though stats in his 2012 campaign dropped off from his previous season he still pitched 179 innings and the 24 year-old is a good man to have in the back end of the rotation. Bullpen injury kept the Reds from converting Aroldis Chapman into a starter and there is a lot of speculation that will be done before the second half of his six-year deal commences next season.
Preseason injury suggested the bullpen would struggle and they proceeded to perform opposite of that expectation. Once Chapman moved into the closer role he was dominant. Watching the 24 year-old Cuban continually pop the mitt at over 100 mph would make one think that he could pitch in any role, any time, any place.
Righty/lefty set-up tandem Jose Arredondo (28) and Sean Marshall (29) both kept ERA’s under three. The Reds extended Marshall’s contract through 2015 and Arredondo avoided arbitration by signing a two-year deal this season. Sam LeCure (28), Logan Ondrusek (27) and Alfredo Simon (31) are not eligible for free agency until 2016.
One free agent the Reds might be interested in keeping is 28 year-old Johnathan Broxton, depending on their plans with Chapman. If he does return that means there will be some proven arms on the outside looking in for a roster spot. 24 year-old rookie J.J. Hoover kept a flat two ERA in 30 IP for the Reds and was lights out closing for Louisville and 30 year-old Nick Massett is under contract for the next two seasons. Bullpen depth will likely cause the Reds to opt for the $2.5M buyout for Ryan Madson after paying him to have Tommy John surgery this season. Oft-injured Bill Bray (29) is not eligible for free agency until 2014 and experience as a lefty specialist may prevent the Reds from non-tendering him.
Of course all the above speculation is pending any offseason transactions made by the Reds front office. Jocketty showed last year that he is willing to pull the trigger if he feels the deal is right. The Reds removed a lot of talent from the top level of their system through trades and promotions. Now one year later, they wouldn’t have room on their active roster even if they were still around. Their absence may limit trade opportunities this time around because clubs looking to bring in prospects are typically under pressure to improve fast and need players closer to mlb-ready. Given the status of the current roster they should have plenty of time to reload over the next few years.
Limited roster spots compared to the talent available is a good problem to have. If a good leadoff option was made available at the right price they would find a place for him. As it is, they’re already winning and most of their players are still early in their careers. That’s the lot in life for small market franchises and after a fifteen year absence from post season the Reds front office is now much more adroit at playing the game. Simply making the playoffs is no longer the goal. Average age and payroll constraints aside, the Reds are expecting large-market success over the foreseeable future.