Will Aroldis Chapman get the chance to shake the catchers hand at the end of any games this season?
The Cincinnati Reds have made strides this offseason to ensure their chances for yet another NL Central title. Though those strides may have filled some holes, such as that at leadoff, some of them have also weakened the team in other areas.
These may not be considered major deficiencies in the Reds' lineup, but they will still create challenges that the team must overcome during the 2013 season.
Let's take a look at some of these newly developed "weaknesses" as well as some that may hang around from the 2012 season.
Can Shin-Soo Choo get it done in CF for Cincinnati?
Shin-Soo Choo was an excellent addition for the Reds during the offseason. He will immediately sure up the Achilles that was leadoff in the Reds batting lineup. But Choo, whose natural position is in right field, will be expected to make the switch to center field to replace the departed Drew Stubbs.
An article posted by Jeff Sullivan on FanGraphs.com seems to think this could become a major challenge for Choo and the Reds.
Fans may be surprised to hear that Drew Stubbs actually ranked near the bottom in most major defensive metrics in center field last season. His 2.25 range factor ranked him 20 out of 21 qualifying center fielders. His 0.5 dWAR placed him in an eight-way tie for 24 out of 40 eligible players—again, nothing special.
By comparison, Choo posted a 2.03 range factor in right field (12 of 17 qualifying players) while posting a -1.9 dWAR. That negative dWAR is off the charts—literally—and in a bad way.
You can form your own opinion, but this looks like a weakness to me. In a park where the balls fly, defense is essential and was essential to the staff's 3.34 team ERA.
Aroldis Chapman's departure from the bullpen creates an immediate weakness.
The Reds may have signed Jonathon Broxton to close out the end of games, but with all due respect to him, he is a downgrade. Cincinnati has essentially removed one of the top three closers in baseball from their bullpen—on purpose.
You see, Broxton is most likely going to do a fine job closing out the ninth inning, but he is a downgrade and therefore weakens the bullpen. He did post a 2.82 ERA with four saves in 25 appearances for Cincinnati last season.
But then again, he will become the Reds' third closer in as many years, and that instability in itself could be considered a weakness.
Will Chapman's addition to the starting rotation outweigh the weakness his move is causing in the bullpen?
Mike Leake's role for 2013 is still up in the air.
It's already a foregone conclusion that Aroldis Chapman will be manning the fifth spot in the Reds' rotation and in doing so, he brings uncertainty. Uncertainty should automatically be considered a weakness until it works itself out.
Yes, everything about the Chapman move is contradictory—it's a weakness, yet it's a weakness that has that undeniable potential to develop into a massive strength.
Chapman has that potential and the ability to develop into a dominant starter, but he has not yet.
Another reason the fifth spot needs to now be considered a weakness is the belief that Chapman will most likely be limited to five or six innings during his outings. Mike Leake made 30 starts and tossed two complete games in 2012, going deeper into games than Chapman probably will this year.
That lack of eating innings could bring added wear and tear to a bullpen already weakened by Chapman's departure for the rotation.
Joey Votto has his leadoff hitter, now he needs a cleanup hitter.
The Reds have found their leadoff hitter, but they have yet to find their cleanup hitter. If Ryan Ludwick can produce like he did last season, he will suffice, but Cincinnati and Joey Votto need more.
Ludwick's 26 home runs, 80 RBI and .531 slugging percentage look great on the surface, but 14 of those homers and 38 RBI came during a July and August hot streak. Cincinnati needs consistency from both Ludwick and Jay Bruce.
Until that consistency is evident, those stats will not scare pitchers into rethinking their strategies when pitching to Votto. Ludwick's .296 BA with runners in scoring position received a boost during that midsummer hot streak.
If he can maintain that average throughout the entire season, he may begin to strengthen what is currently the biggest weakness in the Reds' lineup.
Mat Latos could be out for postseason redemption in 2013.
Mat Latos went from hero in Game 1 of the NLDS to scapegoat with one bad inning in Game 5. How will the Reds recover from yet another postseason letdown?
The players may say it will not affect their play, but oftentimes that is not the case. The Reds regressed badly in 2011 after their 2010 postseason implosion. The effects are real, and the team must overcome the psychological battle they will face.
Can they do it? Will they do it?
They should. They have the experience of dealing with it, and hopefully they have learned from that 2011 regression.
Dusty Baker will have his work cut out for him this season. You could say that this will be his most crucial season ever while managing the Reds.
His club was on the verge of the NLCS only to have their ship abruptly change course. He is the captain and must right the ship in 2013 while overcoming a slew of new dilemmas.
With all of this said, we should not forget that ESPN's Buster Olney just ranked them No. 4 when listing the top 10 teams heading into the 2013 season. The Reds are on the brink, and maybe this is the year they cross over.
Don't forget to chime in with your thoughts and comments.
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