The Cincinnati Reds are coming into town for a pair of games beginning tonight and that means it's time for another edition of Amazin' Avenue's Five For Five series preview. The Reds sit in second place in the NL Central at 18-17, two and a half games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. I checked in with RijoSaboCaseyWKRP, manager of SB Nation's Reds Blog "Red Reporter" and this is what he had to say about the team:
SS: Coming off of a disappointing 2011, the Reds are sitting at 18-17 and they came into 2012 with some higher expectations after an offseason facelift that saw them bring in Mat Latos, Sean Marshall and Ryan Madson and re-sign Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips to long-term contracts. Through the first month and a half, what would you say has been the biggest success story and what has been the biggest disappointment?
RR: The players you might expect to be really good - Votto, Bruce, Cueto and Chapman - have been REALLY good. While no one expected Chapman to be this dominant, he's also a pitcher with disgustingly filthy stuff working in a set-up role. Chapman might be the best pitching talent on the team, but compared to expectations, the biggest success story might be Bronson Arroyo or Logan Ondrusek. Arroyo is coming off a season where he nearly set the modern record for starting pitcher HR-rate, but has been staying away from the long-ball this season (by his standards). His breaking balls look crisp and his trick bag of pitches has been Poppins-esque. He has the lowest BB-rate in the NL and the highest SO/BB. Ondrusek, meanwhile, has thrown 15.1 scoreless innings.
The biggest disappointment before the season even started was the Ryan Madson signing you mentioned. It was a great bargain, but he ended up sidelined for the season before even throwing a spring training pitch. Thirty-five games in, I'd say half of the regular starting offense has been disappointing. Phillips might have the biggest gap between performance and expectations, but he's been playing hurt.
SS: Scott Rolen has had an excellent career but he had an underwhelming year in 2011 and was off to another poor start with the bat in 2012 before going down with a shoulder injury. How are the Reds planning on filling third base while Rolen is out and does this look like the end of the line for his career?
RR: Todd Frazier should be soaking up most of Rolen's starts. Frazier has been in limbo - both between positions and levels - for a while, so it's easy to forget he was BA Top 50 overall prior to 2010 and the Reds #1 prospect for a while, at least before the Chapman signing. I'm still not sure how well Frazier is going to pick it at 3B, but his bat has been a pleasant surprise so far.
It's entirely possible we've seen the last of Rolen for the season. By my count, this season was his third major comeback from surgery on his left soulder. While I think it's still a remote possibility that his career is over forever by virtue of the fact that he probably doesn't want to go out this way, he could easily decide (or be convinced by the white coats) that it's no longer advisable to play professional baseball. Still, nothing reported (yet) suggests he's headed for surgery or planning to shut it down for the year.
SS: Flame-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman has been absolutely dominant so far out of the Reds’ bullpen and I recall there was talk of moving him into the rotation last offseason. Is that still part of the plan with Chapman and do you think it’ll ever happen in the near future?
RR: I hope it happens as soon as possible. We even made a hashtag about it ( #LetHimStart). However, the Reds don't have any urgent need to overhaul the rotation (although Mike Leake has been awful). Since the bullpen has been excellent and the rotation plenty good enough, I suspect they'll want to leave well enough alone for now. The plan was for Chapman to resume starting this season, at least until the Madson injury. I think Jocketty et al realize, both from a baseball operations and ticket sales standpoint, that they need to plug him into the rotation VERY soon. Some of his 2 inning outings suggest they're hedging.
SS: For the last year or so, Devin Mesoraco has been rated as one of the top catching prospects in the game but to this point, he’s lost a lot of plate appearances to veteran Ryan Hanigan. How do Reds fans feel about Mesoraco sitting on the bench so much and do you think Dusty Baker will give him the opportunity to play more at some point?
RR: I think they've handled him just fine so far. It's worth remembering that Hanigan is no slouch: he's been in the organization a long time - he knows the pitching staff, he's honed his craft. And he gets on base. There's no indication Mesoraco can match Hanigan yet in doing catcher things: calling a game, working hand-in-glove with starters, nailing runners. To boot, Hanigan has been outhitting him. He's learning on the job and hopefully will gradually get a more even share of playing time. He's going to be special. Johnny Bench told us so.
SS: Joey Votto has developed into one of the finest hitters in the game and he signed a well-deserved long-term deal last month to stay in Cincinnati, likely for the rest of his career. What are your thoughts on the deal and how it may affect the Reds down the road?
RR: I think I put most of my thoughts on the contract here, but FanGraphs summed it up nicely: "At some point in the next 12 years, Joey Votto will stop being worth $20 million per year. If he's worth $30 million per year for a number of seasons up to that point, though, the Reds won't care."
In average annual value, it's a good contract (less AAV than Ryan Braun, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer). Depending on how salary and dollar inflation goes, it could be a very good contract in those terms. With as clear eyes (and full heart) as I can muster, I know that signing a player for a total of 12 years until he's 39 is bad idea. The back-end of the contract could be brutal. If the Reds have the revenue-sharing and future boost from a renegotiated TV deal (I don't see how they could make ), it shouldn't hamstring the payroll even at its costliest.
The franchise success that he's absolutely essential to over the next several seasons could make it worthwhile. And that's all before considering the benefits of having your best player stay with the team for life.
Another big thanks goes out to RijoSaboCaseyWKRP of Red Reporter! Tonight's pitching matchup will feature Johan Santana on the mound for the Mets and he'll face off against struggling righty Mike Leake.