After a dismal 2011 season, the Reds trade for San Diego Padres ace Matt Latos and Chicago Cubs top lefty reliever Sean Marshall, and the signed elite closer Ryan Madson. Cincinnati expects to contend in a weakened National League Central Division in 2012.
The Red's in it to win it attitude puts pressure on Dusty Baker to finally help the team take the next step to World Series contention. If he can't lead them to postseason success in 2012, he will likely get the boot.
So, can he succeed? Looking back at Baker's managing tendencies and recent history, there are several compelling reasons to think he won't survive the season. Let's look at the top 10 reasons Baker is skating on thin ice...
After winning the NL Central in 2010, the Reds looked pointed to make a postseason run for the next several seasons. Star first baseman Joey Votto won the MVP award, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce were all-star caliber hitters, Francisco Cordero was a top closer, and the team's starting pitching held up over the season.
But the team under-performed in 2011 with essentially the same roster, which puts strong pressure on Dusty Baker to manage a rebound in 2012. In particular, he will have to keep Votto happy and productive while coaxing strong seasons out of Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs, Phillips, and Bruce.
Fast forward to February 2012 and everything has changed. Cardinals franchise star Albert Pujols is gone, which will hurt the Cardinals chances. St. Louis retooled by adding Carlos Beltran but it will be difficult to replace Pujols' pervasive impact on the lineup. The Brewers lost elite first baseman Prince Fielder and, likewise, their retooling addition of Aramis Ramirez will not totally replace his production and impact.
The Reds, however, got stronger in the winter by adding Matt Latos, Sean Marshall, and Ryan Madson. Last year there were excuses, which is why Baker still has his job. But there is no escaping the win-now attitude this season.
The Reds acquired Aroldis Chapman in the 2009 off-season to become their ace of the future. Fast forward two years later and his performance has been statistically decent but he has struggled with nagging arm injuries.
Dusty Baker's history of ruining young pitchers, which will get more (and deserved) attention later in the slideshow, suggests that he is also mishandling Chapman. The Cuban star's velocity dipped in 2011 without an equivalent increase in ball control and his ERA ballooned to 3.60. Now, Baker wants to put Chapman in the starting pitching rotation, which is likely to be an expensive disaster considering his arm problems and durability issues.
In 2011, the Red's starting pitching was the worst in the National League. Bronson Arroyo let everyone hit a home run, Mike Leake regressed, and Edinson Volquez finally imploded with a 5.71 ERA. Volquez was the most talented young pitcher Baker ever managed with the Reds, a future ace when he was acquired from Texas in 2007. After four year's of mismanagement by Baker, including the 2008 season when he sent Volquez out for 196 innings after he had never pitched 50 before in a season, Volquez is now an injury-riddled mess.
Now Baker has Mat Latos, the San Diego Padres' young ace who has struggled with nagging arm injuries and durability issues. Those struggles came while he was nurtured carefully by San Diego's staff in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. The Reds gave up two elite prospects to get Latos so, if Baker follows his typical mantra and rides Latos into the ground, he will be fired.
Even with the Mat Latos acquisition, Cueto remains the Reds’ top pitcher. He has improved each of the last four seasons but he became a frontline starter when his innings total was reduced from 180 to 150. If Baker follows his typical tendency and forces Cueto to pitch 200 innings, then he is likely to regress in his age 26-season. You can bet that if Cueto regresses, Baker will not make it past 2012.
The Reds got stronger this winter while their rivals, the Cardinals and Brewers, grew weaker. But several key Reds players are signed only through 2012. Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, Ryan Madson, and Sean Marshall can all leave after this season, which means 2012 represents the Reds’ best chance to win and convince MVP first baseman Joey Votto to stay beyond 2013.
Dusty Baker is a survivor. After managing the Chicago Cubs into the ground and ruining the pitching careers of aces Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, Baker got a fresh start in Cincinnati. So don’t bet on 2012 to finish his career. But, based on his past history and current circumstances, he will be in hot water for the entire 2012 season.
The Reds have to win now, they have adopted that mentality and have a roster that could lose critical pieces next winter. Baker will have to manage those expectations while also nurturing the club’s young and injury prone pitching without overworking them and getting himself fired in the process.