2010 Season Forecast: Cincinnati Reds

Last Five Seasons:
2009: 78 – 84 (4th NL Central)
2008: 74 – 88
2007: 72 – 90
2006: 80 – 82
2005: 73 – 89

The Reds haven’t had a winning season since going 85 – 77 in 2000.  It’s time to fix this problem, don’t you think?

Runs Scored: 673 (10th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 723 (8th in the NL)

Season Recap:

Most observers were mixed, but one could see hope on the horizon in guys like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and what looked like four potentially good starters.  I’m sure the Reds fans thought they should have finished better than .500.

The Reds actually got off to a pretty good start.  At one point, Cincinnati was 20 – 14 with Johnny Cueto at 4 – 1, Bronson Arroyo at 5 – 2 and Edinson Volquez at 4 – 2.  And then the bad things started to happen.  Joey Votto got hurt – and his confidence was suddenly shaken, requiring extra time to come to grips with being out of the lineup and being without his father who had passed away.  Volquez went down with an arm injury, taking their ace out of the rotation.  After two months looking like a contender, the Reds fell off in June and then fell APART in July.

Cincinnati was 40 – 39 on the Fourth of July.  And then the roof caved in falling all the way to 45 – 61 after a loss to Chicago on August 3.  The team couldn’t hit – as a group, they batted .240 or less in June, July and August.  In July, Red pitchers had an ERA of 5.58 and while August was better, it was their second worst complete month.

To their credit, the Reds unloaded a few problems (Edwin Encarnacion was traded to Toronto for Scott Rolen, Alex Gonzalez was sent to Boston and Paul Janish played shortstop), and got Willy Taveras and his lousy bat out of the leadoff spot.  Homer Bailey finally started pitching like a winner.  Justin Lehr replaced Micah Owings in the rotation and won five of eight decisions.  The rest of the way, the Reds went 33 – 23, which was better than even St. Louis down the stretch.

Pitchers:

Having looked at the numbers, adjusting for the defense and the park, I noticed this odd fact.  Every pitcher who made a start allowed more runs per nine than the average NL pitcher – a combined 77 runs worse than average.  Bronson Arroyo was the closest to average at -0.95, and having pitched the most innings, he’s the ace.  Johnny Cueto had his second straight season of running out of gas – he needs to step up big time in 2010.  Aaron Harang should be better than this (6 – 14, 4.21)), and yet he’s constantly moving backwards.  Micah Owings is the best hitting pitcher ever, probably, but he would have fit in with the Brewers rotation as badly as he pitched.  Homer Bailey was on the way to positives, but he didn’t quite make it before the season ended.  Even Edinson Volquez didn’t fare exceedingly well in his nine starts.

So, that the Reds went out of the box and signed Aroldis Chapman – who may wind up the fifth starter (crazy, I know it) – was a HUGE step forward.  The 20 year old with a 102 mile an hour fastball might start the year in AA, but in a year or two, he could be a serious ace.

If the Reds want to win, their starters have to step up.  Arroyo has to hold steady, Harang has to find his mojo, Cueto has to become a REAL #2 starter, and Bailey has to make 25 good starts and not 10.  The guy who might make this interesting, but isn’t guaranteed a roster spot is Matt Maloney, who had seven tolerable starts but gave up nine homers.  Everything else looks good (28Ks against 8 walks, for example).

The bullpen was pretty good, though.  Francisco Cordero was great, Nick Massett was solid, and even Arthur Rhodes – who pitched in Baltimore when Mike Flanagan was still pitching – was really good.  If Maloney isn’t going to start, he’s a good long relief option.  After that, you have a few “ifs” in Danny Herrera, Carlos Fisher, and Jared Burton.  These are guys who aren’t bad and would help more IF they could also step forward.

I like Harang to come back some, Cueto and Bailey to improve some more, and Micah Owings to play right field before too long.  I see at least a 25 run net gain.  A streak of confidence might make it 50.  That’s optimistic, though.

Catchers:

It’s the same group as last year – Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan.  Combined, they provided slightly better than league average catching, and slightly below average hitting.  The hope, I guess, is that Hernandez stays healthy, but he’s turning 34 in May, so I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Infielders:

Joey Votto is the real deal – like Ryan Braun, Votto is a threat to win a triple crown.  It would be nice if the Reds wouldn’t do goofy things like force Ramon Hernandez to first base, but when Votto went down, Dusty Baker decided that Hernandez was Victor Martinez.  He’s not.  (He’s actually a better fielder, but not a hitter.)

Brandon Phillips remains a great second baseman; durable, a defender, and one of the most productive players in the game.

After a year of letting Alex Gonzalez try to regain his youth, the Reds are going with veteran Orlando Cabrera.  This HAS to go better, wouldn’t you think?  Paul Janish played spectacularly with the glove, but hits like Mark Belanger, too.

Arriving in a trade, Scott Rolen takes over at third base and if he can fight father time will be a step up over Edwin Encarnacion.

The bench now includes Aaron Miles and Paul Janish, capable gloves even if the bats aren’t really strong.  Drew Sutton is also around, but likely will wind up at AAA.  And, the ancient Miguel Cairo got a Non-Roster Invite – he could sneak in there.

All told, I like this group to be 30 – 40 runs more productive offensively, and perhaps five runs better defensively.  Only Rolen’s health makes me nervous – but at .255 and some power, he’s an improvement.  And, Cabrera could get old this year – but he’ll be better than Gonzalez.

Outfielders:

This is a young group and I think will be better next year because Willy Taveras is gone.  Chris Dickerson isn’t a huge power threat, but he was an above average hitter at 5.4 runs per 27 outs.  Give him 500 at bats, and that’s a step up.  Jonny Gomes will get at bats (and not catch flies) after hitting 20 homers last season.  And I don’t believe that Jay Bruce will hit .223 again (but he might hit 30 homers).  Add to that Drew Stubbs, who hit .267 with some power after taking over for Taveras in center.  I’m not convinced he’s better than Chris Dickerson (in part because that power isn’t to be expected and he doesn’t have enough patience), but BOTH guys would be better than Taveras.

Arriving from Seattle is Wladimir Balentien, who played well after arriving in late July- but had been disappointing as a Mariner.  I like him as a fourth or fifth outfielder.  Can Micah Owings shag flies?  Put him in left field and let the man hit.  Put him at first base when Joey Votto needs a day off and let him hit.  Sheesh.

I see perhaps 50 more runs of offense in 2010 from the outfield, with the defense holding steady – and improving if Gomes is a pinch hitter and not a regular outfielder.

Prospects:

The best players in AAA already started getting playing time – Stubbs, Maloney, Lehr, Bailey.  Aroldis Chapman may not see any minor league time, and we already mentioned him.  So, if you are looking for prospects, we have to look to the lower levels.

Travis Wood is close.  At AA Carolina, he went 9 – 3 with a 1.21 ERA (!), in part because he allowed just two homers and had a 3:1 K/W ratio.  He earned a shot at AAA where he had eight decent starts.  His minor league career has been a bit uneven, so look for Wood to start the year in AAA, but get the first shot at the majors if someone falters.  Chris Heisey had an amazing half season at AA, hitting .347 with 13 homers, walking as often as he struck out, and earning a trip to AAA with Wood.  He didn’t quite keep up the same pace, but his four years in the minors have shown Heisey to be a hitter.  He’ll get another shot at AAA because the Reds have outfield options right now.

Another AA prospect is first baseman Yonder Alonso, the 2008 first round pick out of Miami, who smoked his way through rookie, A, and into AA last year.  He’s got some pop, patience, and a .300 average in the minors.  Alonso’s spot would seem to be blocked in the majors, though – so the question will be can he move to the outfield, or will he be moved for a pitcher.  I think he looks like a young Eddie Murray…  Todd Frazier, a 2007 top pick (1A), has hit well, with patience and power, but might not have the range at short and is blocked at second.  Frazier MIGHT get a shot, though, if someone gets injured.

Recent early picks aren’t making the same progress.  Catcher Devin Mesoraco (2007 – #1) hasn’t hit much in the minors.  Kyle Lotzkar walks a lot of batters (24 in 37.2 innings at A Dayton) but, more importantly, has to recover from a broken bone in his elbow that caused him to miss the 2009 season.

Forecast:

I like the Reds to make a splash in 2010.  I think the offense might be 80 runs better than last year, with improvement in the outfield and at two infield positions.  The defense may be a little better – and there is room for improvement on the staff.  I see Cincinnati scoring 750 runs and allowing perhaps 680 – and it could be less.  I have them at 89 wins, which isn’t out of the range of possibility.  If SOMEBODY can pitch like an ace, look out.

If asked to name a sleeper to make the World Series, it’s the Cincinnati Reds.

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Philadelphia – Where You Can Always Go Home…

It’s not enough that the Philadelphia 76ers resigned Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia Phillies came to terms with a former infielder, Placido Polanco, a gold-glove winning second baseman for the Tigers.  Polanco will become Philadelphia’s new third baseman, as the Philles allowed Pedro Feliz to enjoy free agency…  [ESPN]

Polanco still makes a lot of contact – but his batting average (career .303) has dropped each year since 2007 when he hit .341 for Detroit.  Last year, Polanco hit .285 with 31 doubles and 10 homers – but only 36 walks, so he has a rather pedestrian OBP (.331).  Still, he’s not appreciably less productive than Feliz (12 homers, 30 doubles, 35 walks, and only a .266 average in a park that would appear to be better for hitting).  Polanco hasn’t played third much in a few years but when he did, Polanco was dependable (68 double plays, only 15 errors) and mobile.

And, he gives the Phillies a little extra versatility.  He can move to second to spell Chase Utley, or let Utley play first to spell Ryan Howard.

Look – Polanco can still play second.  I just spent a night putting together the defensive stats for the AL using my ranking system and it shows that Polanco had as much range as anyone at that position last year, almost a dead heat between Polanco, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Hill and Robinson Cano.  (I’ve only done this at a team level so far, so I’ll know a bit more once I break this down for individuals.)  And, he remains dependable and relatively error free.  So, to have spent $18 million for three years (and an option for a fourth year) is probably not so bad.

The other real concern is Polanco’s age.  He’s 34 and while he’s aging gracefully, he’s still aging.  He might look good for a year, but by the third year it might not be so pretty.  On the whole though, two good years make this a good deal for the Phillies – and if they get three good years, $18 million might look like a bargain.

So, with Iverson and Polanco back, who’s next?  Mark Recchi?

Pedroia Can Stay at Second…

The Red Sox signed former Toronto shortstop Marco Scutaro to a two-year deal.  Wow – now THAT’S taking advantage of one really good year…  Scutaro had never played the way he did in 2009 – .282, with a little power, a .379 OBA before, and seeing as he (like Polanco) turned 34 in October, one wonders if he can do that again.  [SI]

Okay – from a defensive standpoint, Toronto shortstops (mostly Marco) were below average in range.  Oddly, they were better than what Boston put out there last year (Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez).

If you were curious, Boston with a range score of -7.89, had the 13th worst range at the shortstop position, while Scutaro and Toronto were 12th at -4.29, which means that for every 800 balls in play, Boston shortstops were involved in nearly 8 fewer plays than the average shortstop.  Since the average team puts about 4300 balls in play or so, Boston’s shortstops basically allowed about 40 more hits than the average shortstop over the course of the season.  The only team worse than Boston was New York, with their gold glove winning shortstop, Derek Jeter, who were at -8.49.  The best defensive shortstop was, by far, Elvis Andrus.  Texas shortstops scored at 13.28, which means they saved their pitchers about 55 hits over the course of the season – or at least 100 more than the guy who was supposedly the best fielding shortstop in the AL.

Anyway – this means that Boston is inheriting an aging infielder coming off a heel injury that shelved Scutaro for the last two weeks of the season, and coming off his best season as a regular ever, as he moves another year away from his supposed prime, and already has below average range.  Long and short, I’m not a fan of this deal.

Oh, and because Scutaro was a top tier free agent and had been offered arbitration, Toronto receives a first round draft pick from Boston and another sandwich pick in between the first and second rounds.

Other News…

The Braves continue to bolster the bullpen, signing one-time Dodger and Red Sox reliever Takashi  Saito.  Saito gets a one-year, $3.2 million deal with incentives.  Saito, now 40, was a closer in LA and a solid set up man in Boston – now he gives the Braves some flexibility when finishing games (Wagner is a lefty; Saito a righty).  [FoxSports]

Having lost Brian Schneider, the Mets signed two potential backup catchers, Chris Coste and Henry Blanco.  They still have Omir Santos, prospect Joshua Thole, and might still be shopping for a front line starter.  [SI]

The Oakland As acquired Jake Fox and Aaron Miles (and cash) from the Cubs for a few prospects.  I’m not totally sold on Aaron Miles, but Jake Fox is a Hitter (!) and should vastly improve the Oakland offense (though you might not notice it playing in the Colisseum).  Miles is probably looking at his last major league season unless he suddenly gets healthy and produces.  At least he can play a lot of positions and act like a coach to other infielders.

The Cubs get prospects.  Pitcher Jeff Gray is a 28-year-old reliever with okay control, but a little hittable.  He’s at best a long reliever…  Matt Spencer was once a pitcher but now is a bit of a free swinging outfielder.  24 in January, I don’t see how he’s going to be a long term prospect.  He has a little power (19 homers in two levels last year, finishing at AA Midland), but I’d rather have Spencer’s teammate Chris Carter.  He can’t hit the way Fox can hit, that’s for sure.  The third prospect is Ronny Morla, a string bean Domincan fireballer, just twenty, who seems to be finding his way in the low minors.  Morla is the one who gives the Cubs a chance to break even on this deal.  Otherwise, I like what Fox could do for Oakland.

Here’s SI’s take on the best and worst farm systems

Happy Birthday!

My brother, Michael, a pretty good ballplayer as a kid anyway, turns 42 today…  Happy Birthday, Bro!

Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett was born on this day back in 1868.  Burkett was the Ty Cobb of his day…  Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Joe Corbett (1875) – brother of boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett and a pretty good pitcher, Shano Collins (1895), Bob Shawkey (1890) – a member of the 1920s Yankees, Harvey Kuenn (1930), Barbaro Garbey (1956), Pat Sheridan (1957), Lee Smith (1957), Tai Iguchi (1974), Kyle Lohse (1978).

As a young kid and adult, I remember Lee Smith pitching for the Cubs.  The first time I got to see a game in Fenway Park, he was then with the Red Sox and I amazed those sitting around me with my understanding of the Smith routine.  By then, he might make eight warm up tosses in the bullpen because he didn’t want to get tired before he dragged his huge carcass to the mound.  He smoked the first two hitters before blowing it – allowing a few hits and the lead runs to score in the top of the eighth or ninth inning.  All I could think about was that I finally got to see Fenway, and when I do, I get to see Lee Smith blow another game.  All that way for something I had seen dozens of times before!!!

That being said, Lee Smith was a great reliever for a long, long time, and probably deserves more consideration for the Hall of Fame.

Think Twice Before Adding Pedro to Fantasy Roster; More Met Injuries…

Well – we got some good news and bad news…  Good News?  Pedro Martinez fanned nine of the first twelve batters he faced, finishing with eleven, in a start against AA Trenton.  Bad News?  He allowed a homer to one kid, and three runs on five hits in six innings.  So, it sounds like Pedro might be able to help in short spurts – two or three innings, maybe.  But, don’t think Pedro is ready to be a major league starter – much less PEDRO – when he gets to Philadelphia.  Will I root and cheer for him?  You bet.  Am I adding him to my fantasy roster?  I’d rather have Jess Todd or Brian Matusz.  [ESPN]

When you think of teams fighting injuries, you think M-E-T-S…  Mets!  Last night, Jonathan Niese, a promising young pitcher, was covering first on a double play grounder when he did the full splits taking the throw.  Trying his first warm up pitch in the next inning, Niese fell over – the results of completely tearing his upper hamstring from the bone of his right leg.  Later, Gary Sheffield aggrevated his hamstring running the bases (Sheff says it’s cramping and needs more electrolytes) – and the bad news for Jose Reyes is that he may not play this year owing to scar tissue and inflammation where his hamstring connects near the knee.  [ESPN/MLB]

The Yankees have opened up a slight lead over the Red Sox in the AL East, and now they open up a series at home against those same Sawks…  For Boston, they won’t have Jason Bay in left field for the first couple of games.   After missing a couple of games, Bay played last night and irritated a sore hammy running out a grounder.  He’s day-to-day for now – we’ll see how rest helps.  [ESPN]

Seattle’s Erik Bedard will undergo an MRI on his ailing shoulder – the same shoulder that has had the ace lefty shelved since late June.  [ESPN]

Washington’s Austin Kearns may undergo surgery on his right thumb – as it is, he’s on the DL.  Having hit .195, it’s any wonder why he’s not in AA rather than the major league roster…  Taking his roster spot is TWELVE YEAR minor leaguer, Jorge Padilla.  [SI]

Well, let’s give you the lowdown on Padilla…  He was in the Phillies chain but never strung together a really good hot streak – by the time he got to AAA, Padilla was rather ordinary – .256, with speed (32 sbs), but little power.  After injuries shelved him, Padilla moved around – AA for the Mets, AA/AAA for Kansas City, and now AA and AAA for Washington where he’s been hitting everything, drawing a few walks, and occasionally knocking the ball out of the park.  Like the story about Cubs infielder, Bobby Scales, it’s great to see Padilla (who turns 30 next week) get a shot after more than 1100 minor league games.   (And, he can probably outhit Kearns by 60 points or so – and is still mobile if not a burner.)

A couple of veteran pitchers inked minor league deals…  Paul Byrd signed with Boston (why hasn’t ANYBODY signed this guy until now?); Brett Tomko’s career has life – he’s got a deal with Oakland.  The mill has it that he’s there to eat up innings so the young A’s starting rotation doesn’t burn out in September.  Wow – that’s a sign you’ve given up on the season.  Wasn’t Randy Lerch available?

Few writers are as good as KC Star alum Joe Posnanski…  Pos writes about how small market teams have fallen on hard times in 2009.  Give it a look-see.  [SI]

Welcome Back!  Joe Martinez pitched for the Giants last night – the same guy who was nailed by a liner up the middle off the bat of Mike Cameron and suffered three skull fractures earlier in the year.  Glad to see he’s back – hope he sticks around.  Aaron Miles was brought off the DL by the Cubs.

Hurry Back!  Giants pitcher Henry Sosa tore a muscle in his shoulder and goes to the 60-day-DL.

Is it Over?  The Cubs released Jason Waddell; Cody Ransom (Yankeees), Ryan Freel (Kansas City) were designated for assignment.  Wow – this has been a tough year for Freel…

Minor Leaguer Suspended 100 Games; Two New Centerfielders Remind Me of Former Cubs

Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee’s first round draft choice in 2006, will serve a 100 day suspension following a third failed drug test. In a previous suspension, Jeffress admitted a weakness for marijuana. Jeffress is regularly listed on the top prospects lists, especially after fanning 102 batters in 79.1 innings at Brevard in the Florida State League. He’s been wild in a stint with Huntsville in AA – and apparently we know why. 

Mike Lowell’s treatment for an aching hip includes having fluid drained and an injection to help relieve inflammation. Boston MAY place him on the DL, but the team is waiting to see if the treatment helps any. This is the same hip on which Lowell had surgery last October. 

The Los Angeles Angels are back in first place, seem to be on a good roll, and now are getting pitchers back on the mound. Ervin Santana may be next, as he continues to pitch in the bullpen and in rehab outings. With good fortune, Santana could be back for the weekend.

Meanwhile, Oakland falls to the cellar in the AL West, and this next bit of news won’t help any.  Rookie Josh Outman isn’t going on the 15-day DL, it’s the 60-day version. He’s scheduled for surgery on his injured throwing elbow. Outman has been solid this season and represents a big loss to the A’s rotation.

Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran is looking for a second opinion on his ailing knee. Options may include microfracture knee surgery.

Khalil Greene returns to the DL to treat an anxiety disorder. Mark DeRosa just took his job, Greene wasn’t hitting (1 for 17 with five strikeouts at one point), making errors at his new position (he’s a shortstop playing third base), and his season batting average meets the Mendoza line. I’d feel stress, too.

The Chicago Cubs placed Aaron Miles on the DL with a hyperextended elbow, and recalled centerfielder Sam Fuld. Based on his AAA numbers, I wouldn’t think that Fuld is a threat to stay with the team full time. He’s not bad – contact hitter, draws some walks, but no power. While he has good speed, he’s not stealing 60 bases for you – though he doesn’t get caught often. His stats look like those of former Cub Bobby Dernier. In his best season, he might help you out – but he’s already 27 and you’d think if he were going to contribute, the Stanford grad would have gotten here by now.

Looking for a little offensive spark, the Texas Rangers called up centerfielder Julio Borbon from AAA Oklahoma City. Borbon is a burner – 53 steals between A+ and AA in 2008, and already 19 steals in AAA this year. He was a late first round pick in 2007 out of Tennessee. He looks like the next Juan Pierre or Henry Cotto (if you remember that far back). Doesn’t strikeout much, makes a lot of contact, and maintains a decent batting average – but isn’t going to slug his way out of a paper bag. 

Joe Posnanski and Bill James have an interesting discussion about the age 33 and what it means to hitters. This is the kind of stuff you need to think about when making fantasy draft picks.

299 and Counting; Zambrano Erupts? No Way!

Randy Johnson stopped Atlanta for his 299th win last night, next up Washington next Wednesday, then (likely) Florida. If that happens, you know where I’ll be.

Moving to the Marlins (sort of), Philadelphia’s Brett Myers left last night’s game with pain in his right hip. MRI and possibly a cortizone shot in his near future. He’ll miss a start.

Carlos Zambrano will likely miss a start after erupting over a close play that went against him in last night’s game against Pittsburgh. He was mad when contact between he and the umpire sealed Zambrano’s fate. Having watched it, though, it looks like the umpire bumped Zambrano and not the other way around. So, Zambrano beat up a gatorade machine.

How about that Daisuke Matsuzaka start? Four wild pitches yesterday, and then two more by relievers, tying an AL record for most wild pitches in the game. Catcher George Kottaras got a little extra exercise last night…

A couple was arrested in Tampa last night, and on the way to jail claimed that they were the steroids suppliers to the Washington Nationals (and Washington Capitals of the NHL). If anyone has seen the Nationals play, you know that they aren’t using steroids – or don’t know what to do with the stuff. Richard Thomas, who was caught with $200,000 worth of steroids, says “the truth will come out…” Isn’t Richard Thomas the guy who played John Boy Walton on TV 30 years ago?

Jake Peavy is pitching through an ankle injury – which is just the type of thing that ruins a shoulder or ankle. If I owned him, I’d be nervous. If I were trading for him (Cubs, Phillies), I’d be more nervous.

Houston’s Brandon Backe returns from the DL – and the Astros can use him out of the bullpen. Wesley Wright returns to AAA Round Rock.

On the Mend? Jorge Posada might be back with the Yankees for the weekend. Cincy’s Edinson Volquez says he can throw without back pain. And, Minnesota’s Joe Crede might be back today.

Melky Cabrera made a fine running catch and crashed into a wall – and now is headed back for treatment on his non-throwing shoulder. He’s day-to-day.

Definitely out? Cubs Aaron Miles (shoulder), A’s Nomar Garciaparra (calf), and Oriole Koji Uehara (hamstring). The last one is especially sad as he’s been doing a good job for Baltimore.

My favorite failed prospect, Daniel Cabrera, was designated for assignment by Washington. Talk about someone who needs a new pitching coach!!! His velocity is down a touch, and (like Matt Lindstrom) he throws a very flat fastball.

A few other transactions hit the wire, but nobody of interest is on the list. Sorry to see the Cubs sent Bobby Scales back to AAA Iowa…

St. Louis’s hot streak has them in first place in the NL Central. Toronto’s loss last night is the ninth straight and moves them off people’s playoff radar…

Buster Olney’s blog on ESPN.com has a bunch of odd stats, of which just a couple are really important. The Indians pitchers are walking a lot of batters, which was contributed to the disappointing start, and the rest are mostly trivial unless they hold up for the rest of the season. However, he has a couple of interesting trade rumors, including Brad Penny to Philadelphia… Hmmm…. Penny has pitched well for Boston and just would like to stay healthy to get a contract for next year.

Andrew Gallo was officially indicted in the death of Nick Adenhart and two others stemming from an alcohol related accident in southern California last April.