Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jusssst a bit outside: the Cincinnati Reds preview

Duty calls to preview the MLB season with 30 things somewhat about each of the 30 teams. At bat: the Cincinnati Reds.
  1. Too long: This is the 15th season since the last Reds division title and 20th since their last World Series championship.

    They are sixth on one writer's MLB Optimism Index, 20 spots ahead of first baseman Joey Votto's hometown team. They have some young talent and some older players who are just running out the clock. They could finish in the black for the first time since 2000.

  2. The Aroldicrats: Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman, whose representation had Jays fans on the hook in the winter, should show why he was worth the fuss. Prospect guru John Sickels figures Chapman should get a minimum of 15 starts in the minor leagues just to adapt to U.S. baseball.

    The Reds, who are playing it coy with Chapman the way teams always do before they farm out a prize prospect, probably haven't had an arm like his since they rented Hall of Famer Tom Seaver from the Mets for a few seasons in the late 1970s and early '80s.

  3. Over-under on wins: 78½

  4. Take the ... Over. This feels like one of those real solid 80- to 82-win National League Central teams. Cincy would need everything to fall into place. How often does that happen?

  5. Woe, Ohio: Greater minds could figure out how this would impact the standings, but Ohio has been one of the hardest-hit states during the U.S.' economic reckoning. The Reds and Cleveland were third-last and second-last in their leagues in attendance last season.

  6. Votto's feeling fine: The sweet-swinging Toronto native will be hard-pressed to have a .981 on-base-plus-slugging like he did last season (really high BABIP and what-not), but he's established as an elite hitter.

  7. The other young arm: For all the Chapman buzz, Rob Neyer feels last season's first-round choice, right-hander Mike Leake, should be Cincy's No. 5 starter.

  8. Still managed by Dusty Baker: He's Cito Gaston without the two World Series titles but mad name-dropping ability.

  9. Where patience is a double entendre: Please don't underestimate that lefty-hitting outfielder Jay Bruce is still only 23 years old and has plenty of time to become more disciplined (he on-based just .314 and .303 his first two seasons).

    It does seem odd his biggest comp for the 23-year-old lefty outfielder is Barry Bonds with infamous bust Wily Mo Pena running a close second.

  10. Great spending: Does any mid-market team better demonstrate baseball's salary structure? The Reds' entire outfield will make $2.2 million this season. Meantime, they have four $10-million-per-players, including closer Francisco Cordero (who chucked a whole 66.2 innings last season) and fast-fading 30-something third baseman Scott Rolen.

  11. Clearing the stables: One storyline for the Reds set up by the Baseball Prospectus 2010 chapter is whether they jettison Cordero and second baseman Brandon Phillips for more cost-efficient replacements (and finally give Todd Frazier a chance to start!).

    It will be great fun watching the oldsters in Cincy who have been kicking around since the Big Red Machine days howl about punting on the season, when dumping salary would help the Reds' chances in 2011 and '12.

  12. One reason any optimism is very guarded: The bullpen overachieved last season (3.56 ERA). Relief performance may largely ruled by randomness.

  13. High maintenance: Right-hander Johnny Cueto is high-risk, high-reward, like a lot of pitchers below age 25.

  14. Speaking of: Please do the in-one-ear routine on young ace Edinson Vólquez, who is out for the season after Tommy John surgery. He'll make it back whenever.

    That's right, a young arm affected by Dusty Baker's decisions. (The Beep notes Vólquez "threw 110 or more pitches in six of his last seven starts in 2008 ... for a Reds team more than 20 games out of first place.")

  15. Waiting for any righty: The Reds play in one of the most generous home run parks (2.31 per game last season), but their only right-handed power comes from Phillips.

  16. Like lightning: Centrefielder Drew Stubbs swiped 46 bases in Triple-A last season.

  17. Can I try my career over? All outfielder Jonny Gomes has ever needed was a freak ballpark that panders to a right-handed hitter and a league that uses the DH.

  18. The curse of Johnny Bench: Another "zero or five" anniversary is that it's been 30 years since the best catcher in National League history moved to another position. The Reds have been starved for success behind the plate pretty much ever since. None of their top 20 prospects are catchers, too.

  19. Mr. Durability: Bronson Arroyo throws 200 very average innings every season. Don't miss the point: He makes it 200.

  20. Overestimate: The other veteran starting pitcher, Aaron Harang, has fast regressed since his 16-6 season three years ago.

  21. The great debate: That fifth starter spot will either go to the 22-year-old Leake, the college boy from Arizona State who's never pitched in the minors, or the 23-year-old lefty Travis Wood, who spent five years in the bus leagues. Nice little debate setting up there over whether college or pro is the better route.

  22. Nine years later, still amazing: Aging shortstop Orlando Cabrera was actually the Expos' cleanup hitter 47 times back in 2001.

  23. Rejoice: Montrealer Phillippe Valiquette is on the Reds' 40-man roster. He's basically the left-handed francophone version of Milwaukee's John Axford, a Canadian specialist reliever who throws serious gas but walks a lot of batters.

  24. Has to be a coincidence: Utilityman Drew Sutton played at Baylor, so he's got at least one Final Four pick left in his bracket. He also has the same last name as a former Kentucky coach, so that might make two.

  25. More great moments in glib comparisons: Good-field no-fit shortstop Paul Janish is to the National League in 2010 as John McDonald was to the AL in 2007.

  26. Future Hall of Very Gooder: Scott Rolen is a seven-time Gold Glover, exudes the kind of grittiness that could make Bob Costas and George Will weep, and he's OPS-plused a lifetime 124. That will get him some Cooperstown support in a few years, but judging by his comps, not nearly enough.

  27. Taking the Reds part a little literally: The Reds signed a Cuban lefty (Chapman), have an outfielder whose names conjures up the old USSR (Wladimir Balentien) and Votto is from Canada, so according to Ann Coulter that makes him a Communist.

  28. The Arthur effect: Lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes has finished 15 of his 18 seasons with a team that finished above. 500, including 10 consecutive. The only time he was in danger of finishing with a losing team was 2008, when he managed to get traded away by a Mariners team on its way to 101 losses.

  29. PECOTA says: 77-85, fifth NL Central, 703 runs scored, 739 against.

    (Houston and Milwaukee are pegged as 78-84 teams, so don't put too much stock in the fifth.)

  30. In English please: The Reds always say they're going someplace fun, but it always turns out to be Denny's.

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