For more than a decade, the Cincinnati Reds have been fruitlessly attempting to repair the big red machine that has been absent since their run of glory. Poor signings and annual injuries to crucial contributors has doomed the Reds in recent years, but a new manager in Dusty Baker and savvy general manager in Wayne Krivisky have high hopes that 2008 is the year the machine gets rolling again.
Krivisky has done a spectacular job of finding undervalued players around the league that have been hampered by a lack of opportunity. Brandon Phillips was practically given away by Cleveland and has turned into arguably the best offensive second basemen in the game. Krivisky also took a gamble on Josh Hamilton last year that paid off with a suprising offensive year. Hamilton was traded in the offseason for pitcher Edinson Volquez who won the fifth spot in the rotation during spring training over highly prized prospect Homer Bailey.
Jeff Keppinger, David Ross and Scott Hattiberg are other players who were given up on by other teams and are now contributing nicely for the Reds. Krivisky may have worked his magic again this season, picking up Corey Patterson off waivers and handing him the starting centerfield job after a sizzling spring. Patterson could flourish in a homer happy ballpark and should get plenty of opportunities to swipe bags under Baker.
The Reds front office has also done a tremendous job of drafting in years past, headlined by outfielder Jay Bruce who is considered by many to be the best prospect in the game. Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto are other Reds draft picks that appear to have very bright futures in the organization. Bailey will start the year in the minors, but Cueto will likely end up as the third man in the Reds rotation after having an impressive spring. Votto will battle Hattiberg for the first base job, but is clearly the future of the position.
With all the pieces falling into place, Cincinnati looks like they are ready to finally compete in the Central. The key to success lies in the rotation, as pitching has haunted the Reds since they moved into Great American Ballpark. The rotation is anchored by Cy Young canditate Aaron Harang who continues to get better every year. This could be the year Harang wins 20 games and finally becomes a houshold name. Bronson Arroyo will need to bounce back from a subpar 2007 in order to give the Reds a dangerous 1-2 punch.
Cueto, Josh Fogg and Volquez will round out the rotation with a lot of question marks, but also plenty of optimism. Cueto has major league stuff and if he can harness his control will have great success. Fogg had a solid second half with the Rockies, and proved he can be a big game pitcher with a solid start in the postseason. Volquez came over in the Hamilton trade and will need to impress in order to keep Bailey in the minors.
The lineup has a nice blend of upstart youngsters and established veterans and should be complimented by Baker's experience and game managing abilities. Brandon Phillips, Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. form a very solid middle of the order and will account for most of the offensive production. Keppinger was another Krivisky find, and really impressed the organization in a brief stint last year. He will likely start the season as the shortstop and will detirmine whether Alex Gonzalez gets his job back when he returns from injury.
A big year from underachiever Edwin Encarnacion would be a welcomed surprise, as he has flashed the potential to be a cornerstone third baseman. If Encarnacion, Patterson and Votto can have big years, the Reds lineup will be a force to be reckoned with.
The Reds spent a pretty penny to land one of the most intimidating closers in the game in Fransisco Cordero. Krivisky and Baker hope that he can have a ripple effect on the rest of the bullpen, putting David Weathers in a more comfortable setup role and allowing youngsters Marcus McBeth and Jared Burton to eat up some innings. The bullpen will be another crucial factor in the Reds success, as they were among the worst teams in the majors in bullpen ERA.
The opening day lineup should look something like this:
CF Corey Patterson
1B Scott Hattiberg
2B Brandon Phillips
LF Adam Dunn
RF Ken Griffey Jr.
3B Edwin Encarnacion
C Javier Valentin
SS Jeff Keppinger
P Aaron Harang