It's a new season with new dreams but plenty of familiar opponents. Though the names of the teams remain the same, sometimes it's tough to keep track of what's going on with the rest of the league when we don't really care about any of them because we're self-absorbed Mets fans and they all suck anyway so screw those jerks. Thankfully, SB Nation has a full league's worth of experts to help fill in the blanks, so I leaned on Joel Luckhaupt of Red Reporter to bring us up to speed on this year's iteration of the Cincinnati Reds.
Dusty Baker: great manager or the greatest manager? Seriously, you get to see him every day. Is he as bad as he seems? He can't be as bad as he seems.
You know, I tried to give Baker a chance last season. I knew he wouldn't be a good in-game manager, but he had such a reputation as a "player's manager" that I was willing to see how that played out. What I found was that for being a player's manager, he sure doesn't like to take any heat for his players. The worst example was when he came out midway through last year and said, "I have never wanted to win more than I do right here, and I will, but this is Wayne Krivsky's team, not Walt Jocketty's and not mine." I've never heard a manager throw his players under the bus so quickly as Baker did in that sentence. So, not only is he a terrible in-game manager - bunting at bizarre times or with players who have no business bunting, putting on the steal sign when it doesn't make sense, batting Corey Patterson lead-off - but it turns out the whole "player's manager" is crap as well. Then again, that quote from him hardly made a ripple in Cincinnati, so what do I know?
What would have to happen for the Reds to make a run at the Wild Card this year?
The number one thing that needs to happen is for all of the key offensive players (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Phillips) to have big years. The offense on this team is thin, and without those guys stepping up big time, they're going to have a hard time scoring runs. This team is especially lacking in on base ability - only 2 expected regulars had an OBP over .315 last season - but then Dusty doesn't like his team clogging up the bases, so he should be happy. The other thing that needs to happen is for the bullpen to not show it's age. With David Weathers, Arthur Rhodes, Francisco Cordero, and Mike Lincoln as key cogs, the Reds can't afford any of these guys to suddenly "get old." Even with both of those things, though, the playoffs are still likely a stretch for this team. I would guess that 2010 is more likely to be the break out year.
What's the worst-case scenario for the Reds?
I hate to even type this, but arm or shoulder injuries for Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto would pretty ruin any kind of parade hopes for the near future. Thankfully we don't have a manager with a reputation for hurting young arms, or else I'd be nervous about it.
What's one thing the Reds did this offseason that you wish they could undo? Anything you're especially proud of?
Undo? Willy Taveras. He was signed to a 2-year, $6 million deal to play center field, despite the fact that he was coming off of a terrible season and had just been released by the Rockies who were trying to trade him all winter. What's worse is that Taveras would actually still be arbitration eligible in 2010, so the Reds didn't need to give him the 2nd year. That would have freed up room for Drew Stubbs, who supposedly has Gold Glove level defense in CF and might be able to put up similar offensive number to Taveras. At this point, the best thing people are saying about Taveras is that he should be an upgrade over Corey Patterson. So there's that.
Other than Taveras and trading for Ramon Hernandez, the Reds had a very quiet off-season. I'll give Walt Jocketty some credit for not rushing out and trading a bunch of young talent to compete this year. The Reds have some decent young players in the pipeline, and for a team that isn't likely going to have a huge payroll, they need to show some patience and let that youth develop. Surprisingly, Jocketty appears to be in that mindset right now, which is kind of refreshing given that the Reds have been trying to "win now" for the last 3 years when they had no business doing so.
What's the story with Aaron Harang? After terrific seasons in 2006 and 2007, his strikeout rate plummeted i 2008 while his hit and homerun rates shot up. Any long-term concerns here or just a bump in the road?
The story with Aaron Harang is May 25, 2008. Dusty Baker botched his bullpen management in an extra inning game and eventually brought Harang in to pitch 4 innings. Harang was notably awesome that game, striking out 9 of the 15 batters he faced. Of course, he was throwing in the mid-90s, which he never does, so that had something to do with it. But this game wasn't the real issue. The real issue came when Harang made his next start on 3 days rest. From that point on he started having tightness and pain in his forearm and was eventually put on the DL for most of July. He came back in August and struggled his first couple of starts before pitching really well in his last 8 starts.
Based on reports from Spring Training, he's looked pretty good this Spring despite less than impressive numbers. He lost 30 pounds over the Winter, which will hopefully help his stamina during the season. However, if he can't get his strikeouts back up to where they were 2 years ago, it could be another long season. I'd like to say that we should see the Harang of old back out there again this year, but who knows what kind of magic Dusty can manage to work with him this time around.