Aroldis Chapman (my NL Rookie of the Year pick)
Johnny Cueto/Homer Bailey (until Chapman is ready)
Bullpen (where Chapman will start)
Francisco Cordero (closer)
(the only capable men at this point)
1B Joey Votto
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Orlando Cabrera
3B Scott Rolen
C Ramon Hernandez
LF Chris Dickerson
RF Jay Bruce
CF Drew Stubbs
Little by little, the Reds are making small, but smart, impact moves. When you are always budget conscience as the small-market Cincinnati Reds are, the moves you make are few and far between and have to be nearly perfect.
Recent history has shown, since the club hasn’t made the postseason since 1996, that the moves they have been able to make simply haven’t worked. The team hasn’t had a legitimate chance at the playoffs since 1999, when it won 96 games only to lose a one game playoff to the big-market New York Mets.
Enter Scott Rolen
The Reds made a move last year, swapping third basemen with the Toronto Blue Jays, the former getting Scott Rolen and the Jays getting failed prospect Edwin Encarnacion.
Rolen has thrived in his new situation, hitting .270 with better defense than Encarnacion, who hit .225 last year. More importantly, the team went 33-27 since he arrived in town at the July 31 trade deadline to finish a respectable 78-84.
Next Add a Dash of Orlando Cabrera
Orlando Cabrera comes over from the American League Central Division champion Minnesota Twins. Perhaps even better known than his vacuum-esque defense is the fact that wherever he goes, the team seems to get dramatically better and, more importantly, makes the playoffs.
Consider the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who won the World Series after he came over in a trade deadline deal with Montreal, or the 2005 Anaheim Angels, who made the playoffs after signing Cabrera, in addition to his half-season with the Twins, which was enough to put them over the top in overcoming a six-game deficit to the Detroit Tigers on Sep. 7.
Finish with Chapman
The big move of the offseason was the Reds absolutely shocking the baseball world and landing this year’s prized international prospect, the highly regarded, and highly coveted Aroldis Chapman, with a $30 million guaranteed deal.
Not only is Chapman 22, giving the normally fiscal Reds years to develop and control him should he live up to the hype, but he was also publicly courted by the usual big-market suspects: Dumb and Dumber—the Bo$ton Red $0x and New York Yankee$.
Why does the Chapman move matter so much? Because in the hitter's park that is Great American Ballpark, hitting has rarely been the issue with the Reds, who seem to be developing nice young players at an impressive clip, namely Jay Bruce and Joey Votto.
The problem is that this is all on the same side of the ball: offense.
Do you know what you call a team with perpetual good offense but no pitching? The Texas Rangers. Prior to this year, for a solid decade they seemed to win 75 games every year due to their lack of pitching. Texas should be their poster child both in what not to do (2000-2008) and the surprising success they managed last year.
Adding Chapman strengthens a usual position of need, not to mention brings renewed hope and excitement to what must be a stagnant fan base with all the years of mediocrity.
Chapman instantly gives them swagger and legitimacy.
He makes young, but inconsistent studs Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez’s jobs that much easier, since they know their rotation is deeper and management doesn’t have to throw Homer Bailey into the mix when he clearly (still) isn’t ready.
Division Not Daunting
The National League Central isn’t exactly the American League East. With only the St. Louis Cardinals as the sure-fire threat, it's not inconceivable to think the Reds could contend this year.
The Brewers are going to win more than they lose, yes, but they seem to tail off at the end of the year, mixed with the fact they don’t appear to have the guys that can go an entire season.
The Cubs are the Cubs, the best perennial losers money can buy. They’ll mess with you with a good team on paper, but will find a way to mess that up.
The Astros lost the leadership of Ivan Rodriguez, and closer Jose Valverde (with no real replacement thus far to date), and overpaid for inconsistent Brandon Lyon, their only major free agent prize—which should say something.
The Pirates we mention by default only, as they are a Triple-A club for the other 28 teams (minus their American League equivalent, the Oakland Triple-A’s.
It won’t be long before this season’s fire sale begins and Mr. Everything Andrew McCutcheon is traded for four prospects we may or may not have heard of, complete with the best spin job money can buy from GM Neal Hunnington, who in his defense, is put in an un-winnable situation.
Thankfully, after Opening Day is over, on the second day of the season, the Pirates can begin with their September call-ups as their season will officially be over.
Few Wild Card Rivals
The Marlins, despite all the odds, will find a way to stay competitive and win 85 games some how. Count on it.
The Braves should hang around all season, and the Mets are anyone’s guess, but like the Cubs, I’m not buying it. They always seem to be a pitcher or two short from really doing what they could.
Like I said, the Cubs and Brewers could stick around, but both will tail off at some point as that is just their way. That leaves only the West, which I see as being either the Giants or the Rockies. Whoever doesn’t get the division is the only threat here.
So in summation, Atlanta, Florida, and Colorado appear to be the only major threats. Seems do-able as we’re just talking the Wild Card here, and any long-suffering Reds fan would probably take that at this point and hope for the best.
Clearly their biggest obstacles will be relief pitching, an area in which I think they are still considerably thin (read: someone will have to step up), and outfield depth. Should the Reds be able to add a table-settler like Johnny Damon or RBI-man like Jermaine Dye, as was once rumored last July, they’d be better served to actually do something.
You get the feeling they are still two hitters and pitchers short, but, like the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL for many years, for the first time in a long time the Reds look to be on their way. And if it all comes together, which is asking a lot, with the potential they have, a .500 season or more isn’t out of the realm of possibility.